Symbolic Tribunal Finds Monsanto’s Actions Violate Global Food, Health and Environmental Rights

Controversial agrotech company Monsanto has been the subject of hearings held by an international tribunal to investigate potential wrongdoing by the company. The tribunal found that the company has violated multiple rights concerning food and public health.
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    Judges, witnesses and experts gather for the first session of the People's Assembly, the hearings of the Monsanto Tribunal at the Hague in the Netherlands. (Photo: Monsanto Tribunal Follow/flickr/cc)

    Judges, witnesses and experts gather for the first session of the People’s Assembly, the hearings of the Monsanto Tribunal at the Hague in the Netherlands. (Photo: Monsanto Tribunal

    THE HAGUE– Six months after hearings were held, the Monsanto tribunal – an international group created to assess the many accusations surrounding the controversial corporation – issued its findings last week in a public presentation in The Hague. Monsanto has drawn strong criticism from around the world for years, most recently following international studies and revelations of the carcinogenic nature of their best-selling pesticide Roundup, also known as glyphosate.

    In the past, Monsanto also helped contribute to atomic bomb research and was one of the several companies that produced Agent Orange, which was used to deforest large sections of Vietnam during the U.S. invasion of the country. Agent Orange caused half a million Vietnamese children to be born with deformities and poisoned over 3 million people. Agent Orange is still used as a pesticide for genetically modified (GM) corn in the US.

    In addition, Monsanto’s business model for the dissemination of its biotech products has created untold suffering around the world, particularly in India. After genetically modified crops were introduced in the country in 2002, poor Indian farmers became trapped in vicious debt cycles after adopting GM seeds and herbicides. In 2009, the number of GM-debt related suicides was so high that an Indian farmer was estimated to commit suicide every 30 minutes. The situation in India has been seen repeated in several other countries, but Monsanto has yet to be held accountable.

    But the tribunal has made the case that they can change that. Created with the intention “to hold Monsanto accountable for human rights violations, for crimes against humanity, and for ecocide,” the tribunal, itself composed of well-known agricultural activists and related experts, originally posed six questions:

    • Did Monsanto violate “the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, as recognized in international human rights law” through its activities?
    • Did Monsanto violate “the right to food, as recognized in Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights”?
    • Did Monsanto violate “the right to the highest attainable standard of health”?
    • Did Monsanto violate “the freedom indispensable for scientific research” and “the freedoms of thought and expression”?
    • Was Monsanto “complicit in the commission of a war crime” by providing the U.S. with Agent Orange and other chemicals during the Vietnam War?
    • Could the past and present activities of Monsanto constitute a crime of ecocide, understood as causing serious damage or destroying the environment, so as to significantly and durably alter the global commons or ecosystem services upon which certain human groups rely?

    The tribunal’s recently released advisory opinion was issued by a panel of five judges of several nationalities – representing Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Mexico and Senegal – who were all “legal professionals or practicing judges called upon to render an advisory opinion on the basis of a legal analysis and reasoning.”

    The judges offered four conclusive opinions regarding Monsanto’s activities, finding that Monsanto had “negatively affected” the right to food, the right to the highest attainable standard of health, the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, and the freedom indispensable for scientific research.

    However, they refrained from providing a conclusive opinion on Monsanto’s complicity in past war crimes, stating that no “relevant evidence has been provided before the tribunal in this respect.” The issue of ecocide was also not addressed, as it is not considered to be an international crime.

    While the tribunal did issue several condemnations of Monsanto’s current and past activities, the organization itself is purely symbolic, as the tribunal did not file a legal complaint against Monsanto. Instead, the tribunal stated that they were merely seeking to analyze the controversial company’s actions against the UN’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, ultimately providing an “opinion based exclusively on legal consideration, grounded in international human rights law.” They asserted that opinion tribunals “have had a considerable impact” and that “they contribute to the progressive development of international law.”

    Monsanto issued a statement following the release of the tribunal’s conclusions, largely dismissing their findings:

    You may have seen a press release today that highlights an Advisory Opinion on the “Monsanto Tribunal.” We stand committed to real dialogue with those who are genuinely interested in sustainable agriculture; human rights to food, health and a safe environment; who we are and what we do. The original event was staged by a select group of anti-agriculture technology and anti-Monsanto critics who played organizers, judge and jury. It denied existing scientific evidence and judicial outcomes on several topics; and was organized with a pre-determined outcome. The opinion – characterized by the Tribunal panel itself as advisory only – was the anticipated next communication from this group.

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