Monday, 19 December 2011

International tribunal finds agrochemical TNCs ‘guilty’ of violating human rights

Based on evidence presented before it, the Tribunal found the defendant agrochemical TNCs “responsible for gross, widespread and systematic violations of the right to health and life, economic, social and cultural rights, as well as of civil and political rights, and women and children’s rights.”

By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO


MANILA – In a momentous gathering earlier last week in Bangalore, India, The Permanent People’s Tribunal (PPT) laid down a guilty verdict against six of the world’s biggest agrochemical companies Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer, Dow Chemical, DuPont and BASF.

Jobert Pahilga, a Filipino lawyer representing the Sentro Para Sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo (Sentra) was among the legal counsels who helped the PPT arrive at the verdict. He stood as one of the prosecutors against the agrochemical firms.

The PPT, founded in 1979 in Italy, is an international opinion tribunal that looks into complaints of human rights violations. Borne out of the tribunals on the Vietnam War and Latin American dictatorships, the PPT has held 37 sessions so far using the rigorous conventional court format. While its verdicts are not legally binding, these can set precedent for future legal actions against Defendants, and can pressure governments and institutions.

The PPT session on agrochemical TNCs drew the support of individuals and organizations around the world. More than 400 organizations representing civil society and people’s organizations of farmers, fisherfolk, pastoralists, and indigenous peoples, as well as 7,000 concerned individuals signed on to an international petition circulated by the Pesticide Action Network (PAN).

Pahiliga, who also stands as the lead counsel of Hacienda Luisita farm workers, said the verdict upheld the people’s collective sentiment against agrochemical giants which have laid waste to the lives and livelihood of millions all over the world.

“The tribunal is a commencement of the people’s struggle against exploiting and destructive agrochemical giants. This verdict must be disseminated to the people for appropriate political and collective action,” Pahilga said.

In a statement, the PAN, the largest assemblage of groups critical of the operations of agro-chemical corporations also hailed the PPT’s verdict . Victims and survivors of the pesticide industry from all over the world, represented by PAN International, testified before a distinguished international jury to indict the “Big 6” for human rights violations.

Sarojeni Rengam, PAN Asia Pacific Executive Director, said the Tribunal’s verdict is a victory for peoples who have been most affected by the Big 6’s control over food and agriculture. She delivered the People’s Submission, or the response of people’s organizations that took part in the tribunal.

“We are elated with the verdict. It affirms what people all over the world already know and are experiencing: that the pesticide industry is to blame and should be held accountable for the systematic poisoning of human health and the environment, loss of food sovereignty and self-determination, and increased world hunger and poverty,” she said.

Based on evidence presented before it, the Tribunal found the defendant agrochemical TNCs “responsible for gross, widespread and systematic violations of the right to health and life, economic, social and cultural rights, as well as of civil and political rights, and women and children’s rights.”

The Tribunal also found agrochemical TNCs responsible for violation of indigenous peoples’ human rights, and further found that “their systematic acts of corporate governance have caused avoidable catastrophic risks, increasing the prospects of extinction of biodiversity, including species whose continued existence is necessary for reproduction of human life.”

Jurors for the PPT Session on Agrochemical TNCs are Indian legal scholar Upendra Baxi, British scientist Dr. Ricarda Steinbrecher, African environmental lawyer Ibrahima Ly, German economist Elmar Altvater, Italian professor Paolo Ramazotti, and PPT Secretary General Dr. Gianni Tognoni.

TNCs and government-states guilty of destructive collusion
The Tribunal said that the home States of the Big 6, namely the United States, Switzerland, and Germany, “failed to comply with their internationally accepted responsibility to promote and protect human rights,” by not adequately regulating, monitoring and disciplining these corporations.

The Tribunal further said that these States have “unjustifiably promoted a double standard approach prohibiting the production of hazardous chemicals at home while allowing their own TNCs unrestrained license for these enterprises in other States, especially of the Global South.”

The Tribunal also found host States responsible for failure to protect the human rights of its citizens by offering “magic carpet type hospitality” to agrochemical TNCs and therefore not adequately protecting social movement activists or independent scientists from harassment, not limiting the “global corporate ownership of knowledge production in universities and related research sites,” “not recognizing the value of indigenous knowledge and social relationships they create and sustain,” and “not fully pursuing alternative and less hazardous forms of agricultural production without having learnt the full lessons from the First Green Revolution.”

The Tribunal also found that the policies of World Trade Organization (WTO) in relation to Intellectual Property Rights are “not balanced with any sincere regard for the grave long-term hazards to humans and nature already posed by the activities of agribusiness and agrochemical industries.”

International financial institutions, named in the indictment as the International Monetary Fund-World Bank, do not follow “a strict regime of human rights conditionalities” and “have yet to develop policies concerning their support for hazardous manufacture, application or process,” said the Tribunal.

The Tribunal recommended that national governments should “prosecute the Defendant agrochemical companies in terms of criminal liability rather than civil liability.” It also urged governments to take action to “restructure international law” to ensure the accountability of transnational corporations, to “accept a less heavy burden of proof on the victims and to fully commit to and legislate for the precautionary principle,” and “to prevent TNCs from directly or indirectly harassing and intimidating scientists, farmers and human rights and environmental defenders.”

It also urged international organizations and intergovernmental institutions to uphold human rights and the welfare of populations, and protect of biodiversity and ecosystems by subordinating the interests of corporations pursuing patents.

“The Tribunal’s recommendations must immediately be acted upon, for they echo what civil society and people’s organizations have been demanding for a very long time.”

In the People’s Submission, Rengam said, the prosecution of the Big 6 must be started to bring justice to fruition for the thousands of victims and survivors of the pesticide industry. The precautionary principle must be put into place and the patent regime abolished, as recommended by the Tribunal.

“That is the only way to stop these human rights violations, which continue every day without impunity,” she said. She went on to say that the PPT’s verdict marks the beginning of an escalated international people’s movement against agrochemical TNCs.

“The next step towards justice and liberation from the Big 6’s control will be determined by the people’s unity, strength, and determination to stand up against corporate greed and aggression, just as was shown in this victorious PPT Session,” she said.

Victims of agrochemicals companies speak

Victims of the agrochemical firms also spoke out.

“The testimonies of these witnesses clearly show that the Big 6 is guilty of gross, systematic, and widespread violations of human rights by what they have done and what they have failed to do. They are guilty of wilful manufacturing and selling products that have harmed humans and the environment, of manipulating science and the truth, of violating the sovereign right of peoples. They are guilty of evading responsibility for their crimes and denying victims proper redress,” said Pahilga as one of the prosecutors.

In her testimony, Petrona Villasboa, the mother of eleven-year old Paraguayan Silvino Talavera who died last January 7, 2003 because of exposure to glyphosate being applied to Monsanto’s genetically engineered RR soybeans,said they had proof that there was poison in the boy’s blood.

“We want Monsanto accountable for the death of my son,” she said.

Nagama Raman, a former oil palm plantation worker who was forced to resign because of ill health caused by paraquat spraying, told the Tribunal: “Paraquat is banned in Switzerland (Syngenta’s home state), why then is it still sold and used in Malaysia?”

Dr. Abou Thiam from Africa, testified that there are 100,000 tons of prohibited and obsolete pesticides in the region which are often stored in deteriorating and leaky containers. He said the obsolete dumps in Africa “are like ecological bombs waiting to go off.”

A former child labourer from India, Ashwini, testified that she worked from the time she was seven years old up to her 11th year in cotton plantations. There, she applied pesticides for $0.50 a day.

It is estimated that around 170,000 children, mostly girls, are exposed to Bayer’s endosulfan, monocrotophos, and other toxic chemicals while working in cotton plantations.

In the meantime, an American scientist Dr. Tyrone Hayes conducted studies linking atrazine to the feminization of frogs. He testified during the tribunal that Syngenta asked him to manipulate data, hide data, or purchase his data.

When Hayes refused to do so, he said that he was threatened and harassed repeatedly by the company.

A British beekeeper Graham White testified that queen bees that used to live two to three years now only live two to three months because of Bayer’s neonicotinoid pesticides. This has serious effects not only on the livelihood of beekepers but on food security as well.

PAN International recommended to the PPT the elimination of highly hazardous pesticides, the protection of genetic resources, the advancement of food sovereignty and ecological agriculture, restructuring of international financial institutions, and upholding the precautionary principle.

“This overwhelming show of support from around the world bolsters the legitimacy of this Tribunal as a recourse for people who have been denied justice by their own governments and international institutions that aid and abet chemical companies in their war against all forms of life,” said Rengam.

In March 2007, the PPT held its Second Session on human rights violations in the Philippines. Organizations Hustisya!, Desaparecidos, Selda, Karapatan, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, Public Interest Law Center, Peace for Life, Philippine Peace Center, IBON Foundation, Ecumenical Bishops Forum, and the United Church of Christ in the Philippines in the name of the Filipino people and of the national minorities testified against the President of the Republic of the Philippines Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and its representatives; the President of the United States of America George Walker Bush; the International Monetary Fund (IMF); the World Bank (WB); World Trade Organization (WTO); Multinational Corporations (MNCs) and Foreigns Banks doing business in the Philippines.

The First Session on the Philippines, in the meantime, was in 1980 in Antwerp, Belgium on the violations of the fundamental rights of the Filipino People and the Bangsa-Moro minority by the Ferdinand Marcos’ dictatorship. The complaints were brought to the judgment of the PPT by the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).

No pesticides day

The PAN AP in the Philippines also led local actions coinciding with the PPT Tribunal in India and to commemorate ” No Pesticides Day.” The group said agrochemical companies and plantations should be held accountable for chemical disasters in the Philippines.

December 3, dubbed as World No Pesticides Day, is the 20th anniversary of the Bhopal tragedy in India wherein the chemical spill of the pesticides company Union Carbide (now Dow Chemicals) in 1984 caused the instant death of 8,000 people and injured more than 500,000.

The campaign kicked off in Mindanao. Villagers victimized by pesticide use in nearby banana plantations in Mindanao attended two forums jointly hosted by local farmer organizations and PAN AP titled “Pesticide Poisoning and Corporate Accountability: Remembering the Bhopal Tragedy.*

Dr. Romeo Quijano, president of PAN Philippines and a professor of the University of the Philippines, talked on the adverse effects of pesticides on health and the environment.

Dr. Quijano is currently battling in court a damage suit filed by Lapanday Agricultural Development Corporation owned by former Agriculture secretary Luis Lorenzo Jr., for an expose’ on the banana plantation’s harmful pesticide use affecting a nearby village in Digos, Davao del Sur called Kamukhaan. The Kamukhaan case has gained wide public support since it was first published in 2000, yet until now the villagers continue to fall sick, having no respite from the plantation’s pesticide use.

Hundreds of villagers who attended PAN AP’s forums in Digos and Nabunturan, Davao del Norte, related well to the yearly commemoration of the Bhopal tragedy, since they find it similar to their situation living near or working in banana plantations using highly toxic pesticides. For instance, paraquat, produced by Syngenta Corporation, have been used by plantations such as AMS Farming Corporation, Davao Agricultural Ventures Corp, Del Monte Fresh Produce Phils., Dole Philippines Inc, FS Dizon & Sons Inc., Kenram (Phils.), Inc., Lapanday Foods Corporation, Marsman-Drysdale Agribusiness Group, Oribanex Trading Corp, Stanfilco,Tadeco, Tri Star Group of Companies and Tropifresh, most of which are found in Mindanao.

Paraquat is part of the “Dirty Dozen” list of pesticides that have been proven to cause severe health and environmental damage. It is already banned in Malaysia and other European countries. Unfortunately, the Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority revoked a previous order restricting its use due to intense lobbying by Syngenta. Right now, there is an international effort led by environmental NGOs such as PAN, Berne Declaration, and the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation to stop its production, importation, and use, particularly in Third World countries like the Philippines.

“Agrochemical transnationals and big plantations must be made accountable for the country’s worst chemical disasters in far-flung areas such as Kamukhaan. At the same time, the government must resist the influence of these corporations in order to stop the terrible waste of human life and the environment caused by pesticides,” said Dr. Quijano.

In Manila, Nueva Ecija, Laguna, Bicol, Cordillera, and Cagayan Valley, the RESIST alliance (Resistance and Solidarity Against Agrochemical TNCs) also held a a series of forums and photo-exhibit entitled “The Politics of Pesticides: Changing the World’s Agriculture and People’s Resistance” that began December 8. The Magsasaka at Siyentipiko Para sa Pag-Unlad ng Agrikultura (MASIPAG) also held a forum in North Cotabato from December 6-7 about genetically-modified organisms. The forum focused on how GMO crops actually increase pesticide use. Producers of GMOs, such as Monsanto, are the same agro-chemical transnationals who introduced pesticides in agriculture.

December 3, dubbed as World No Pesticides Day, is the 20th anniversary of the Bhopal tragedy in India wherein the chemical spill of the pesticides company Union Carbide (now Dow Chemicals) in 1984 caused the instant death of 8,000 people and injured more than 500,000.

The International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal reports that today, more than 150,000 people are still reeling from the health effects of the world’s worst chemical disaster two decades ago. These include children born to parents who survived the disaster, who are suffering from cancer, neurological damage, nausea, breathlessness, numb limbs, headaches, body aches, fevers, anxiety attacks, chaotic menstrual cycles, depression and mental illness.

This year, the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal, has also called this year’s two-decade commemoration as the International Day of Action Against Corporate Crime, in order to pressure Dow Chemicals to face criminal charges filed against them in the Bhopal District Court.


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