Organic Consumers Association

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International Monsanto Tribunal Frequently Asked Questions

What: International Monsanto Tribunal
Where: The Hague, Netherlands
When: October 15-16, 2016

1. Why an international tribunal?

We believe that only through civic action will we be able to achieve compensation for Monsanto’s actions.

World governments and courts have failed to hold Monsanto accountable for the devastating impact its products and practices have had on human health and the environment. And domestic courts have proven ineffective and/or impractical as a pathway to recourse for individuals who have filed lawsuits against Monsanto.

Each year, Monsanto spends enormous amounts of money on legal defense to fend off the cases brought by the victims of its activities. In cases where Monsanto is unable to influence the courts in its favor, the company merely settles out of court because it is more profitable to settle, than to discontinue its business-as-usual practices.

This pattern of either winning or settling makes victims reluctant to invest time and money in litigation that will never lead to the establishment of a legal precedent that ultimately forces Monsanto to make any meaningful changes in its products or practices.

2. Will the tribunal force Monsanto to compensate victims?

The International Monsanto Tribunal is not an official institution established by governments, thus it does not have the power to adopt binding decisions. It is not a substitute for the courts, established at domestic level, who could hear claims against Monsanto, or of mechanisms such as the United Nations Forum on Business and Human Rights1, an international body established for the purpose of investigating the activities of transnational corporations.

3. If the tribunal can’t issue binding decisions, what will it accomplish?

The tribunal will accomplish the following:

•    The tribunal’s panel of international judges will issue opinions which will provide victims and their legal counsel the arguments and legal grounds for further lawsuits against Monsanto within their national jurisdictions.
•    The tribunal will consider whether or not the crime of ecocide should be added to the Rome Statute, as has been previously proposed2 but not yet adopted. Under the current Rome Statute, the International Criminal Court (ICC) can try alleged perpetrators of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of aggression, but not yet ecocide.
•    The tribunal will highlight the need to change international law so that victims of transnational companies have a means to legal redress.
•    The tribunal raise public awareness, and the awareness of policy makers, of Monsanto’s practices and their impact on the environment and human rights, and the dangers of industrial and chemical agriculture and the need to transform the global industrial agriculture system from a degenerative, to a regenerative, paradigm.
•    The tribunal will contribute to the ongoing debate on what it means to hold a company responsible for violating fundamental rights including but not limited to the right to food, health, information etc.

4. How will the International Monsanto Tribunal function?

The Tribunal will collect testimony from individuals around the world who have been harmed by Monsanto’s products. Olivier De Schutter3, law professor at the University of Louvain and former UN special rapporteur on the right to food, with the assistance of 40 law students, will review the records of all the victims and identify the charges. They will prepare legal briefs that the plaintiffs and their legal representation can use in the arguments they will present during the two-day tribunal. The judges will hear the cases of 20 plaintiffs from the South and North Americas, Europe, Asia and Africa. The plaintiffs will have experienced counsel to represent them.

The Tribunal will employ as its legal guidelines the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, adopted by the Council of the UN Human Rights June 2011. The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights is the international authority on the responsibilities of business with regard to human rights. The guidelines state that companies must respect all human rights, including the right to life, the right to health and the right to a healthy environment. The principles will serve as the basis on which plaintiffs will build their cases for demanding compensation from Monsanto for damage caused by the company’s activities.

The tribunal judges will apply international human rights and international humanitarian law to answer the six questions defined in the Terms of Reference (see below).

The judges will follow the same procedures as those followed by the International Court of Justice4 when it is asked to deliver an Advisory Opinion, under chapter IV of its Statute. The arguments addressed by the tribunal will be legal, not political, and the tribunal will deliver its opinion based exclusively on its legal assessment.  

The hearing will take place October 15 – 16 in The Hague, Netherlands. On the basis of the testimony and the written briefs, the judges will issue an opinion on each of the six questions they have been asked to answer. The judges’ opinions will be announced in December 2016, and will form the basis for future lawsuits against Monsanto and other agribusiness corporations.

5. What are the six questions (Frame of Reference) which will be used by the tribunal judges?

In their preparation for the tribunal, and during witness testimony, the judges will consider six questions that are relevant not just in relation to Monsanto, but to all companies involved in shaping the future of agriculture. The six questions are:

1. Right to a healthy environment: Did the firm Monsanto violate, by its activities, the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, as recognized in international human rights law (Res. 25/21 of the Human Rights Council, of 15 April 2014), taking into account the responsibilities imposed on corporations by the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, as endorsed by the Human Rights Council in Resolution 17/4 of 16 June 2011?

2. Right to food: Did the firm Monsanto violate, by its activities, the right to food, as recognized in Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, in Articles 24.2(c) and (e) and 27.3 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and in Articles 25(f) and 28.1 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, taking into account the responsibilities imposed on corporations by the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, as endorsed by the Human Rights Council in Resolution 17/4 of 16 June 2011?

3. Right to health: Did the firm Monsanto violate, by its activities, the right to the highest attainable standard of health, as recognized in Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, or the right of child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health, as recognized by Article 24 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, taking into account the responsibilities imposed on corporations by the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, as endorsed by the Human Rights Council in Resolution 17/4 of 16 June 2011?

4. Freedom of expression and academic research: Did the firm Monsanto violate the freedom indispensable for scientific research, as guaranteed by Article 15(3) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, as well as the freedoms of thought and expression guaranteed in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, taking into account the responsibilities imposed on corporations by the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, as endorsed by the Human Rights Council in Resolution 17/4 of 16 June 2011?

5. Complicity in war crimes: Is the firm Monsanto complicit in the commission of a war crime, as defined in Article 8(2) of the International Criminal Court, by providing materials to the United States Army in the context of operation "Ranch Hand" launched in Viet Nam in 1962?

6. Ecocide: 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?

6. Who organized the IMT?    

Members of civil society from different professional backgrounds who all have expertise in relation to the subjects and issues to be addressed by the tribunal took the initiative to organize the tribunal.  This group has rallied representatives of civil society with relevant expertise to the effort. They form the Monsanto Tribunal organizing committee, essentially all volunteers who are willing to provide their expertise for this project.

The IMT is being led by 10 Steering Committee members who are also part of a larger organizing committee. The Steering Committee members are: Vandana Shiva, Corinne Lepage, Marie-Monique Robin, Olivier De Schutter, Gilles-Éric Séralini, Hans Herren, Arnaud Apoteker, Valerie Cabanes, Ronnie Cummins and Andre Leu. (Bios for these members, plus the full list of organizing committee members, can be found here5). 

7. Why focus on Monsanto?

Monsanto's history is symbolic of the impunity of transnational corporations and their management, who contribute to climate change and the depletion of the biosphere and threaten the security of the planet and the health of its inhabitants. Monsanto represents the worst of the worst when it comes to buying political influence and inflicting harm on our ecosystem and its inhabitants.

Since the early 20th century, Monsanto has marketed highly toxic products that have contaminated the environment and permanently sickened or killed thousands of people around the world. The most toxic of its products include:

•     PCBs: one of the 12 persistent organic pollutants (POPs), which affect human and animal fertility
•    2,4,5 T (2,4-D):6 a component of Agent Orange containing dioxin which was used by the US military during the Vietnam war and continues to be a major cause of birth defects and cancers
•    Lasso: an herbicide now banned in Europe
•    Roundup: the most widely used herbicide in the world, cause of one of the biggest health and environmental tragedies in modern history. This highly toxic weed killer is used with transgenic monocultures, mainly soybeans, corn and rapeseed for animal feed or for the production of biofuels.

With 21,000 employees in 66 countries and $15 billion in revenue (€14.2 billion), Monsanto is a heavyweight in the agro-food industry. It is the source of at least one third of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, and is largely responsible for the depletion of soil, water and biodiversity and the marginalization of millions of small farmers.  Monsanto also threatens food sovereignty through the use of patents on seeds and privatization of living organisms.

 8. Will Monsanto participate in the tribunal?

The tribunal will comply with the general principles of law of civil procedure. Monsanto will be invited to defend the legality of its acts, and to challenge the claims of alleged victims. Any briefs submitted to the tribunal by Monsanto will be made public, allowing for a transparent discussion to take place.

9. If Monsanto does not participate, will the tribunal’s final opinions be legitimate?

The tribunal derives its legitimacy from its transparency of process, and by its adherence to the same procedures as those followed by the International Court of Justice.

10. Who is funding the tribunal?

The tribunal is funded by the citizens of the world and by civil society organisations, including the Organic Consumers Association and Regeneration International. Anyone can make a donation to the Tribunal by clicking here7 or here.

11. How can I participate and/or stay on top of the tribunal’s progress?

To a large extent, the success of the tribunal will depend on citizen participation and media coverage. We encourage citizens to participate and to reach out to their networks to publicize the tribunal. Individuals can learn more about how to participate, and how to keep up with progress, by signing up on the tribunal website8, where there the tribunal will also be livestreamed. To submit witness testimony, email claims@monsanto-tribunal.org

Additionally, we encourage people to organize global protests and marches against Monsanto on October 16, World Food Day, when the official tribunal wraps up.

On October 14-15, a People’s Assembly will take place in The Hague, in conjunction with the official tribunal. More about the People’s Assembly will be made public on the tribunal website as details are finalized.

Notes:

1 United Nations Forum on Business and Human Rights: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Business/Forum/Pages/2015ForumBHR.aspx

2 Rome Statute - ecocide: http://eradicatingecocide.com/the-law/what-is-ecocide/

3 Olivier De Schutter: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olivier_De_Schutter

4 International Court of Justice: http://www.icj-cij.org/homepage/

5 Monsanto Tribunal Organizing Committee: http://www.monsanto-tribunal.org/why-a-tribunal/about-us/

6 Monsanto’s involvement in development of 2,4,5 T and 2,4-D: http://www.monsanto.com/newsviews/pages/agent-orange-background-monsanto-involvement.aspx

7 Donate to the Monsanto Tribunal through Organic Consumers Association: http://orgcns.org/1Vx489F

8 Monsanto Tribunal website: http://www.monsanto-tribunal.org/  

 

 

 

 

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