Tribunal gathers evidence of Monsanto´s ecocide
Picture: The judges of the tribunal listened to the reports of the witnesses. Photo © Karin Heinze
The Monsanto Tribunal was held in the middle of October in The Hague. A panel of five prestigious judges from Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Mexico and Senegal listened to witnesses from all over the world. Lawyers, farmers, mothers, health experts and scientists made serious accusations against the American chemicals and seed corporation Monsanto. The judges want to present their findings to the International Court of the United Nations at the end of the year. The aim is to incorporate ecocide into international law. The People´s Assembly, that was held in parallel to the Tribunal, has already “condemned“ Monsanto.
After three very busy days the Monsanto Tribunal and the Poeple's Assembly came to an end late in the afternoon of 16 October . The witness hearings and the speeches of the lawyers were followed in five languages via livestream by around 750 participants on the spot and by a big audience all over the world. At the conclusion, six complex legal issues and the degree to which the US corporation Monsanto has infringed international law were discussed by the lawyers. The international panel of judges (the Tribunal) was tasked with gathering together and documenting the statements made by the victims and their representatives so that they can eventually submit their recommendations to the International Court of the United Nations. The aim is to incorporate ecocide into international law. They may well succeed because the body of evidence is overwhelming.
Picture: The People´s Assembly began on 14 October and here too people reported on the criminal behaviour of Monsanto, and groups worked on devising ecological concepts for the future. Photo © Karin Heinze
No sign of Monsanto and Bayer
The roughly 750 participants from 30 nations were left to themselves, because both the defendant, the US corporation Monsanto, and its future owner, the German company Bayer, did not attend any of the events – despite being invited. In a statement published shortly before the Tribunal Monsanto wrote that it was a sham trial with the outcome a foregone conclusion, a claim that the presiding judge at the Tribunal Françoise Tulkens denied at the start of the hearings. She said the five prestigious international judges would proceed in keeping with the principles of the International Court and would examine all statements without prejudice. She said in an interview with Le Monde that she felt there was an obligation to find the right legal instruments to address these issues. Pointing to the fact that it was not yet the owner of Monsanto, the Bayer corporation declined to make a statement. However, Manager Werner Baumann said that Monsanto had only itself to blame for its poor reputation and that Bayer wanted, after the takeover, to focus on an approach reflecting a partnership and not on confrontation.[nbsp]
The fate of individuals and groups
Sabine Grataloup, Pablo Mutumbajoy, Ignacio Pereyra. Three witnesses who became the face of the innumerable direct and indirect victims of Monsanto worldwide. Three of around 30 people who were prepared to state their case to the Monsanto Tribunal in The Hague in mid October. That took courage because it became clear how long the arm of the US corporation actually is and how individuals and organisations have been subject to repression. There was a tense atmosphere in the “court room“ - the victims experienced the satisfaction of finally having a forum willing to listen to their tales of woe. The witnesses also hope that ecocide being recognised in international law will mean that legal action can be taken against Monsanto for the crimes it is being accused of.
Picture: Sabine Grataloup and Maria Liz Robledo blame the deformity of their children on the Monsanto poison glyphosat. Photo © Karin Heinze
Witnesses accuse Monsanto of telling lies
Sabine Grataloup was the first witness to appear before the Tribunal on 15 October. This French woman described the problems of her son Theo, now nine years old. He was born without the lower part of his trachea. Dozens of operations followed for him just to survive. Grataloup holds Monsanto responsible. While she was pregnant she sprayed glyphosate (brand name Roundup) on her farm. She was sure it was not dangerous, which is what the firm stated about its product (and is still claiming today). When a doctor drew her attention to pesticides as a possible cause of the deformity, she began to look into it. She came across studies in Argentina that addressed the connection between the active agent glyphosate and the failure of the windpipe to develop.
Picture: The Argentinian lawyer Juan Ignacio Pereyra and his colleague have gathered evidence that proves a connection between glyphosate and deformities. Photo © Karin Heinze
In the course of the further hearings the Argentinian lawyer Juan Ignacio Pereyra, who represents victims of pesticide spraying in his country and also testified as a witness, presented the judges with documentation on this issue. He said that the connection between geneticallymodified soya being first sown, the intensive use of pesticides containing glyphosate and the increase in the rates of deformity, cancer and miscarriage was clear for all to see. “Today we find glyphosate in rivers, in rain and in the air,“ he maintained. He said it is a lie to claim that it becomes non-toxic when it comes into contact with the soil.
Picture: The German Toxicologist Dr. Peter Clausing gave his testimony. Photo © Karin Heinze
Army of “dependent scientists“
Reports from Argentina, Brazil, Columbia, Paraguay, Sri Lanka, and also from France revealed both the full extent of the damage casued by glyphosate and the political and institutional ramifications. The small farmer Pedro Pablo Mutumbajoy started by reading his text somewhat hesitatingly, but as he read on he became more and more robust in what he had to say. What he said is beyond belief. In the course of 20 years 22 million litres of high- concentration glyphosate was sprayed on an area of almost two million hectares in Columbia, mainly by plane. “It landed not only on the coca plantations of the rebels, that the government wanted to destroy, but also on the land of everyone else. People and animals were exposed to this toxic rain.“ The result: deformities in humans and animals. “I've seen a calf being born without front legs. I'd never seen anything like that before,“ he explained. Witnesses from other Latin American countries had similar stories to tell. The legal situation is, however, complicated: he said it is difficult to make a case against the state and against Monsanto. The corporation has a whole army of paid scientists who produce the appropriate studies to show that glyphosate is harmless. The corporation is, moreover, well connected, with contacts all the way up the highest level of government.
Picture: The Columbian small farmer Pedro Pablo Mutumbajoy talking about the misuse of glyphosate in his country and the consequences. Photo © Karin Heinze
Studies prove the connection
The reports on the fate of farmers in Sri Lanka are just as depressing. These simple farmers don't have the knowledge or the means to defend themselves, explained an expert from Sri Lanka who had worked on similar cases. The farmer Kolon Saman and the expert for environmental health Channa Jayasumana from Sri Lanka reported that an epidemic of chronic kidney complaints has occurred and is connected to the use of sprays containing glyphosate. “The small farmers have poisoned themselves not only by using pesticides but also by drinking water from the river,“ is how Saman explained the death of more than 20,000 farmers. In this case the government reacted: in 2015, Sri Lanka was the first state in the world to ban glyphosate. “We hope many countries will follow our example,“ said Jayasumana.
Picture: Representatives from Sri Lanka talking about chronic kidney disease and the reaction of their government – it has banned the import of glyphosate. Photo © Karin Heinze
How far the power of Monsanto can reach was illustrated by the fate of the French professor and researcher Gilles Eric Séralini . His colleague Nicolas Defarge recounted how Séralini, after publishing his research criticising Monsanto, was denigrated as an untrustworthy man of science. “That's one of the worst things that can happen to a researcher,“ he said. His reputation has still not recovered.
Picture: Nicolas Defarge (middle), from the team of the French researcher Gilles-Eric Séralini, is the victim of a smear campign by Monsanto. Photo © Karin Heinze
Picture: The Canadian scientist Shiv Chopra lost his job verloren and there is a link to Monsanto. Photo © Karin Heinze
The lawyers found: “Guilty on all counts“
The list of charges against Monsanto is long. The complex accusations took the form of six issues. On the basis of witness statements, the panel of judges aims to clarify whether the corporation has by its actions infringed international legal agreements . Among other things, it is a question of infringing the right to safe, clean and healthy food and surroundings, the violation of the freedom to carry out independent research and even aiding and abetting war crimes though the use of the defoliant Agent Orange during the Vietnam war. The French lawyer William Bourdon got to the core of the issue in his speech and he expressed the feelings of the victims and many of the people present when he said: “There has to be an end to freedom from prosecution for these crimes.
Picture: William Bourdon making it very clear that freedom from prosecution for the crimes that Monsanto is accused of is no longer acceptable. Photo © Karin Heinze
Picture: Lawyer Maogato Jackson. Photo © Karin Heinze
Ecocide: Creating the legal basis
Judge Françoise Tulkens chaired the Tribunal objectively and authoritatively. An experienced judge , formerly the vice-president of the European Court of Human Rights and currently the second chairperson of the scientific committee of the European Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA), thanked all the witnesses and summarised in her concluding statement what the next stage would be. “We can't deliver a verdict, but we are mandated to make recommendations.“ She said that, together with her four colleagues, she would carefully examine all the submitted documentation, the witness statements and the arguments put forward by the lawyers. The verdict and the recommendation of the Tribunal to the International Court of the United Nations that ecocide (serious crimes against the environment) should be incorprated into international law are expected in December at the earliest. Recognising ecocide as a criminal offence in international law would create the legal basis for rendering decision-makers in companies like Monsanto personally liable to prosecution. The public thanked the Tribunal with standing ovations.
Picture: The Tribunal with chair Francoise Tulkens (middle), who conducted the hearings with great authority. Photo © Karin Heinze
Family gathering of the international eco movement
Running parallel to the witness hearings at the Student´s Bazaar the People´s Assembly, one of 100 similar events all round the world, was held in the student centre. It was an opportunity to get information and to discuss the many different problems caused by genetically modified seed, pesticides and organic piracy. In workshops the 750 participants devised solutions for an ecological future that would counter climate change, impoverishment of soils and the rapid decline in biodiversity .
Picture: Some of the initiators of the Monsanto Tribunal and the People´s Assembly: Hans Herren, Vandana Shiva, André Leu, Renate Künast, Ronnie Cummins, Nnimmo Bassey (from the left side) Photo © Karin Heinze
International eco celebrities were well represented in The Hague. Seed activist Vandana Shiva from India (Navdanya), IFOAM President André Leu from Australia, Monsanto-prosecutors Percy und Louise Schmeiser from Canada, scientist Hans Herren, the creator of the foundation Biovision, ex-consumer protection minister Renate Künast, France's ex-minister for the environment Corinne Lepage and, as patron of the event , author and film director Marie-Monique Robin. They were all busy the whole time giving interviews with the many representatives of the media. Via livestream and social media the messages from the People´s Assembly and the Tribunal spread across the globe. Over 1000 associations and organisations support the Monsanto Tribunal, so that the vision of IFOAM President André Leu and US activist Ronnie Cummins (OCA) could become reality: “We've got to join forces and pull together to achieve an ecological future.“
Picture: Scientists telling people about their research into pesticides and the impact on human health and the environment. Photo © Karin Heinze
Picture: public at the People´s Assembly. Photo © Karin Heinze
Background: Tribunal and People´s Assembly
The initiators define the Monsanto Tribunal as an “international civil society initiative“. Under the patronage of the French author and film-maker Marie-Monique Robin, the three-day event was run by the organisation team, assisted by hundreds of volunteers. Financed only by donations, the event brought witnesses from every continent in the world to The Hague so that they could have their say in front of the Tribunal.
Picture: action in front of the building where the Monsanto Tribunal took place. Photo © Karin Heinze
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Impressions from the Monsanto Tribunal and the People´s Assembly. Photos © Karin Heinze
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