They are accused of violating more than 20 instruments of international human rights law through promoting reliance on the sale and use of dangerous and unsafe pesticides including endosulfan, paraquat and neonicotinoids.
The Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal (PPT), an international opinion tribunal created in 1979, will hear expert testimony from scientists, medical doctors and lawyers to prove the charges. Victims who have been injured by these products – from farmers, farmworkers, mothers and consumers from around the world – will also testify to the causes and nature of their injuries.
The cases will be heard over a four-day trial in Bangalore, India beginning December 3. While the Tribunal has no legal weight, and cannot force sanctions on companies, it aims to expose and raise awareness of large-scale human rights violations.
Pesticides Action Network (PAN) International, a global network comprised of 600 organisations in 90 countries, has spent years collecting information to bring about the indictments and is seeking justice for more than 25 specific cases – such as Silvino Talavera, an 11-year-old from Paraguay who died days after breathing in a cloud of Monsanto’s RoundUp herbicide sprayed by a crop duster. The trial will also hear evidence of the link between pesticide use and a decline in bees.
The corporations, known as the ‘Big 6’ control 74 per cent of the global pesticide market, as well as dominating the global seed market.
Bayer reject the allegations saying they are a, ‘wholesale distortion of the role of pesticides in our society.’ Monsanto, Syngenta and Dow, after being contacted by the Ecologist, were unavailable for comment.
An estimated 355,000 people are believed to die each year from unintentional pesticide poisoning, according the World Health Organization. Nick Mole from PAN UK said the trial would give a voice to the otherwise voiceless victims of pesticides.
‘The pesticide industry is massive and incredibly powerful. It is difficult to prove corporate manslaughter even when these products are killing hundreds of people a year,’ he says. ‘We’ve spoken to people who have been abused and we are allowing them to give voice to their individual stories. We will be presenting the outcome of the Tribunal to the corporations and will be inviting their response,’ he says.
It is hoped that the verdict, to be delivered on December 6, will lead to greater discussions at UN institutions on holding agrochemical corporations accountable for crimes relating to the impact of their products.
The PPT grew out of the work by Italian Senator Lelio Basso, and serves as a grassroots, ad hoc court to consider charges and to issue verdicts on complaints of human rights violations submitted by victims or their representative groups.
Since 1979, the PPT has held 35 sessions exposing various forms of human rights abuses in cases from the Bhopal disaster, Tibet sovereignty and the intervention of the US in Nicaragua.