Around 200 people gathered today in Bangalore, India for the first day of the Permanent People's Tribunal (PPT) Session on Agrochemical Transnational Corporations (TNCs). Farmers and farmworkers, families of victims, environmental and health advocates, scientists, and lawyers have all their hopes pinned high on the outcome of the PPT, an international opinion tribunal that aims to indict the "Big Six" of the pesticide industry for human rights violations.
Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer, Dupont, Dow Chemical, and BASF are being indicted for violations related to the manufacture and sale of hazardous pesticides and technologies that have disastrous impacts on human life, the environment, and livelihoods.
The PPT coincides with the 27th anniversary of the Bhopal Tragedy, which most clearly illustrates the lack of accountability of agrochemical TNCs. Pesticide Action Network (PAN) International, organisers of the PPT, expresses its support to the protest actions led today by the people of Bhopal, who have vowed to stop trains and mobilize by the thousands in order to highlight their demand for justice.
"In remembering Bhopal, the frustration of the people is that the poisoning continues. Thousands continue to suffer each day, while the company responsible continues to profit because internationally, there is no framework to make them accountable. The parent company cannot be sued, that's why Dow Chemical got away scot-free and only paid meager compensation. Today, the Bhopal Tragedy continues in different forms, through different ways of control by agrochemical TNCs on people, their lives, land, food and resources," said Irene Fernandez, chairperson of PAN Asia Pacific and a technical witness for the PPT.
Witnesses from around the world will present cases of human rights violations by the Big Six before a distinguished international panel of jurors. Jurors for the PPT include the Indian legal scholar Upendra Baxi, British scientist Dr. Ricarda Steinbrecher, African environmental lawyer Ibrahima Ly, Japanese professor Masayoshi Tarui, German economist Elmar Altvater, Italian professor Paolo Ramazotti, and PPT Secretary General Dr. Gianni Togoni.
These cases include Bayer's endosulfan poisoning in Kasargod village, Syngenta's paraquat poisoning of Malaysian palm oil plantation workers, and child labour and pesticide poisoning in Indian cotton plantations. Doctors and a victim from Kasargod, a Malaysian plantation worker, and an Indian child labourer will testify.
Also to be presented is the death of the child Silvino Talavera by poisoning of Monsanto's Round-up Ready, which is widely used on genetically-engineered (GE) soybeans in Latin America. Silvino's mother Petrona Villasboa will testify.
Meanwhile, U.S. farmer Dave Runyon will testify on the contamination of fields by Monsanto's GE crops and how the company has sued aggrieved farmers. British beekeeper Graham White will serve as a witness on the worldwide death of bees caused by Bayer's neonicotinoid pesticides. U.S. scientist Tyrone Hayes will speak on Syngenta's harassment and attempts to supress studies on the dangers of atrazine.
The killing of a Brazilian farm worker in Syngenta's fields, pesticide stockpiles in Africa, and poisoning of the Arctic region by persistent organic pollutants produced by the Big 6 throughout the decades, will be presented as well.
"Today, people from all corners of the world have come together to indict these agrochemical TNCs, which have caused massive harm to people and the environment by trampling on the most basic human rights to life, health, and livelihood. This Tribunal highlights the need to have mechanisms to hold agrochemical corporations accountable," said Javier Souza, chair of PAN International and coordinator for PAN Latin America.
The PPT, founded in 1979 in Italy, looks into complaints of human rights violations submitted by communities. Borne out of the tribunals on the Vietnam War and Latin American dictatorships, the PPT has held 35 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, which in this case are agrochemical TNCs. Defendants in this Tribunal also include the governments of the companies' home states (U.S., Switzerland, and Germany), and the International Monetary Fund-World Bank and World Trade Organization.
"This Tribunal is a recourse to justice for those who have found none under the current legal mechanisms at the national and international level. We hope that the result of this PPT will serve as a reminder to governments and institutions of their responsibility to safeguard the rights of the people against corporate aggression and impunity. Human rights will continue to be violated as long as companies are allowed to get away with it. As long as agriculture, the heart of the world's food system, is controlled by companies that value profit over life, more tragedies such as Bhopal are bound to happen," said Sarojeni Rengam, executive director of PAN AP.
The verdict is set to be released on December 6, the end of the four-day tribunal.
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