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By Watcharapol Daengsubha
Last weekend, farmers, scientists and activists from all over the world gathered at the Monsanto Tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, to present the case against destruction caused by one of the corporate giants that promotes industrial farming.
Monsanto Tribunal in The Hague on Oct. 15.Greenpeace
The symbolic Monsanto Tribunal aimed to hold Monsanto—the giant agrochemical company—to account for its alleged atrocities against humanity and the environment. This event is far from over. It will echo back through the food system as the tribunal's participants bring home lessons, solutions and renewed hope for change.
First day of the tribunal, judges Tulkens (left) and Dior Fall Sow.Greenpeace
Five internationally renowned judges heard 30 witnesses. Experts gave their accounts of the environmental damage wrought by Monsanto. One testimony described how monoculture has caused a great loss to seed variety. They compared the patenting of seeds to a new form of colonization.
Seng Channeang, Cambodian small-scale farmer.Greenpeace
These testimonies will give people all over the world a well-documented legal brief to be used in lawsuits against other similar corporations.
"Although this is not legally binding, it is legally sound," said Arnaud Apoteker, member of the steering committee of the tribunal. "The witnesses were presenting real cases to real judges. The lessons from this event can be used in ensuing local battles."
One of the 30 witnesses, Feliciano Ucam Poot, a Mayan farmer from Mexico, submitted evidence to support his allegations that glyphosate and other chemicals are linked to children's sickness.
"Before the introduction of glyphosate and other agrochemicals, I did not see our people suffer from sickness like this," he said. "A lot of people are suffering like us and this tribunal will ensure that our stories will be heard around the world."
Scene from the Monsanto Tribunal Press Conference on Oct. 15.Greenpeace
Do we need these agrochemicals to feed the world? A question asked of Hans Herren, a renowned scientist and president of the Millennium Institute at the Monsanto Tribunal. "By producing less waste we can feed 10 million people. We need to make more health per acre, not calories per acre," he said.
Running parallel to the tribunal hearings was a People's Assembly, where people from around the world discussed solutions to the impacts caused by industrial agriculture. As many of the witnesses pointed out, one of the greatest challenges they face is to make their voices heard. This assembly provided a much needed forum for communities to come together and find sustainable solutions to common problems.
The People's Assembly, The Hague.Greenpeace
"We should fight for ourselves. Nobody is free from danger if our food is toxic," said Farida Akhter of UBINIG (Policy Research for Development Alternatives), Bangladesh.
The stories of people like Feliciano and the concerns of Farida are echoed by millions of voices from across the world; from beekeepers in Mexico to small scale producers in France and farmers in India.
The judges of the tribunal will assess these allegations, examine all evidence put forth and publish their findings in December.
Judges at the Monsanto Tribunal.Greenpeace
These issues aren't limited to farmers and environmentalists—they concern us all. We all have a choice: As citizens and consumers, we can all make decisions to shape the future we want.
Here are 12 things you can do to start the eco-food revolution.
Watcharapol Daengsubha is a food and ecological agriculture campaigner with Greenpeace Southeast Asia.
Starting tomorrow, 30 witnesses and legal experts from five different continents will testify before five international judges at the three-day Monsanto Tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands. Their testimonies will attempt to hold the agrochemical giant accountable for their alleged "crimes against humanity" and destruction of the environment, or "ecocide."
This symbolic trial, which will be live streamed from Oct. 15, 8:30 a.m. GMT+2 on the tribunal website, will follow guidelines of the United Nations's international court of justice and will have no legal standing. Rather, its purpose is to gather legal counsel from the judges as well as legal grounds for future litigation.
"The aim of the tribunal is to give a legal opinion on the environmental and health damage caused by the multinational Monsanto," the tribunal organizers state on their website. "This will add to the international debate to include the crime of Ecocide into international criminal law. It will also give people all over the world a well documented legal file to be used in lawsuits against Monsanto and similar chemical companies."
Monsanto, which is inching closer to a $66 billion takeover from German pharmaceuticals giant Bayer, has faced a never-ending slew of health and environmental controversies over its products since, well, the beginning of the twentieth century.
Monsanto's historical line-up of products includes banned and highly toxic chemicals such as 2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid (a dioxin-containing component of the defoliant Agent Orange); PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyl); and Lasso, a herbicide banned in Europe. Glyphosate, the controversial main ingredient in Monsanto's best-selling weedkiller RoundUp, is the most widely used pesticide in the world. Monsanto is also the world's largest genetically modified (GMO) seed maker, giving them a major hand over the world food supply.
The trial, which will proceed on the same weekend as World Food Day, is organized by Organic Consumers Association, International Foundation for Organic Agriculture (IFOAM) Organics International, Navdanya, Regeneration International, Millions Against Monsanto as well as dozens of global food, farming and environmental justice groups.
Tribunal organizer Vandana Shiva is an outspoken critic of Monsanto. "Monsanto has come to be seen as one of the most dangerous corporations on the planet," the physicist, author, activist and founder of Navdanya said in a statement.
"It has earned this reputation through a history of producing products toxic to humans and the environment, as well as well-documented manipulation of scientific evidence, disingenuous PR efforts and applying relentless political pressure worldwide to promote its products. Life, society and democracy are under threat. We refuse to allow this future to unfold."
Andre Leu, president of IFOAM, said, "Monsanto is able to ignore the human and environmental damage caused by its products, and maintain its devastating activities through a strategy of systemic concealment: by lobbying regulatory agencies and governments, by resorting to lying and corruption, by financing fraudulent scientific studies, by pressuring independent scientists, and by manipulating the press and media. Monsanto's history reads like a text-book case of impunity, benefiting transnational corporations and their executives, whose activities contribute to climate and biosphere crises and threaten the safety of the planet."
Monsanto will not be present at the trial, calling it a "staged" event organized by the organic food industry "where the outcome is pre-determined."
"As this is a stunt staged and supported by the International Foundation for Organic Agriculture (IFOAM)—an umbrella organization of organic agriculture organizations, and their associates such as Navdanya and others who are fundamentally opposed to modern agriculture—we will not participate," states an open letter signed by the company's Human Rights Steering Committee.
"To address these ever increasing challenges collaboratively and advance our commitment to human rights, we welcome a genuine constructive conversation with diverse ideas and perspectives about food and agriculture production," the letter also states. "These conversations are much needed to help find sustainable solutions to those challenges."
Tribunal organizers have responded to Monsanto's allegations of a mock court. "Other similar tribunals have found both for and against corporations," Damien Short, director of the Human Rights Consortium at London University, told The Guardian. "This is a test of international law. It has moral force and the tribunal's decision will be evidence-based. Peoples' tribunals are testing the law."
"Under existing [international] law, it is impossible to bring criminal charges against a company like Monsanto or its management, for possible crimes against human health and the integrity of the environment," Lucy Rees, speaking on behalf of End Ecocide on Earth, also told the publication.
Greenpeace has been a vocal supporter of the tribunal. "The industrial scale of agriculture today has broken our food system," the environmental group said. "Giant agri-businesses fail to take into account the health of the environment and the communities who depend on it. Monoculture and dependence on chemical fertilizers and pesticides are taking its toll on the planet, animals and us."
According to a tribunal newsletter, witnesses and experts who will be present at the trial includes health experts, "victims" and representatives from communities affected by the spraying of pesticides in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, France, India, Sri Lanka and Paraguay; farmers and seed savers from Australia, Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Canada, France; beekeepers from Yucatan, Mexico; and scientists from Brazil, Germany, France, the UK and the U.S. Former UN special rapporteur on the right to food Olivier De Schutter will also testify.