The Monsanto Tribunal, to be held in The Hague to investigate the alleged crimes committed by Monsanto, is about to commence and organisations from around the world, including in India, are hoping for a major precedent to be set in international law.
The Monsanto Tribunal, an international initiative led by the civil society, is being held to seek accountability from Monsanto, a multi-national agrochemical and biotechnology corporation, for the alleged human rights violations, crimes against humanity, and ‘ecocide’ the company is said to have participated in. The evaluation and research of these allegations is the main agenda of the Trial, which is set to be held between October 14 and 16 in The Hague in the Netherlands. Activists seek to establish the act of ‘ecocide’, or deliberately causing grave environmental damage, as a recognised crime under International Law. Among some of the crimes that Monsanto has reportedly committed, human and environmental damages have been commonly agreed upon by all the organisations present at the tribunal. The trial will follow the format of the International Court of Justice and will host 30 witnesses and legal experts from five continents who will testify in The Hague before five international judges.
— Monsanto Tribunal (@monsantotribun) October 8, 2016
Parallel to the trial, an event known as the People’s Assembly is set to take place to bring together social movements to discuss and further plan the future of sustainable practices in agriculture, in an effort to counter the problems associated with industrial agriculture.
The tribunal has seen worldwide support from groups including the Organic Consumers Association (OCA), IFOAM International Organics and Millions Against Monsanto, among a variety of farming and environmental groups. Under the section titled ‘Impact on farmers and the right to food’, Indian scientist and farmers-leader Krishan Bir has been slated to speak at the trial. Navadanya from India, led by activist Dr Vandana Shiva, has also played an important part in bringing the trial together. Vandana, member of the steering committee of The Monsanto Tribunal, has worked extensively in India to voice the concerns of farmers who have reportedly been affected by the policies of Monsanto in the country.
— Dr. Vandana Shiva (@drvandanashiva) October 12, 2016
Truant Bt seeds
India is an agrarian economy that has had a turbulent relationship with Monsanto in the recent past. Earlier this year, Monsanto decided to pull out of plans of launching its new cotton seeds, in an upgrade from the previous Bt cotton seeds that the company sold to the country through a joint venture with a local Indian company. This happened after Monsanto was reportedly asked to share its technology with local partners and Monsanto alleged that it had not received due royalties for the previous generation of seeds it had introduced to the Indian market, claiming a patent over it.
The introduction of Bt cotton by Monsanto in 2002 in India had led to a dramatic increase in production across the acreage under cotton cultivation, most of whom took to using the Bt seeds, but there have been side effects, which farmers and food activists have been protesting over for the past decade. Licensing agreements with local seed companies has given Monsanto a near monopoly on cotton seeds in India. That is the biggest worry for activists, who question the constant need for repurchase of the seeds and problems surrounding ‘shelf life’ of seeds. There has also been a demand for an investigation by the National Human Rights Commission in India to look into the epidemic of farmer suicides in the country, which has a high incidence in the Bt cotton region of the country.
— Navdanya (@NavdanyaBija) October 10, 2016
The loophole, though, is that even if the allegations against Monsanto are proved at the tribunal, the current trial is still not legally binding. However, participants remain hopeful in establishing Monsanto’s alleged perpetuation of ecocide, defined by the tribunal 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.” They hope that proving this can lead to creation of an international precedent for the prosecution of the crime and thereby encourage the International Criminal Court (ICC) to include the crime in the Rome Statute.