The hearings of the Tribunal took place on October 15th and 16th 2016 in the Institute of Social Studies (ISS) in the Hague. Five internationally renowned judges heard 30 witnesses and experts from 5 continents. The legal opinion was delivered by the Judges on April 18th 2017.
The aim of the Tribunal is to give a legal opinion on the environmental and health damage caused by the multinational Monsanto. This will add to the international debate to include the crime of Ecocide into international criminal law. It will also give people all over the world a well documented legal file to be used in lawsuits against Monsanto and similar chemical companies.
Critics of Monsanto claim that the company has been able to ignore the human and environmental damage caused by its products and pursue it devastating activities through a systematic concealment strategy through lobbying regulators and government authorities, lying, corruption, commissioning bogus scientific studies, putting pressure on independent scientists, and manipulating the press.
Our endeavor is based on the observation that only through civic action will we be able to achieve compensation for victims of the American multinational. The procedures are a veritable obstacle course for the victims. They are reluctant to invest time and money in litigation, especially since there is no reason to believe in a positive outcome. Frequently, when a company like Monsanto is the defendant, the company settles out of court, whereby circumventing the establishment of a negative legal precedent.
Currently, it is impossible under law to bring criminal charges against a company like Monsanto or its management, for their crimes against human health and the integrity of the environment.
Each year, Monsanto spends enormous amounts on legal defense to fend off the cases brought by the victims of its activities. This does not encourage the company to change its practices. So long as it remains more profitable for shareholders to take risks in the community – even if that means compensating the victims occasionally - these practices will persist.
Monsanto's history is a paradigm for 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.
Monsanto is not the only focus of our efforts. Monsanto will serve as an example for the entire agro-industrial system whereby putting on trial all multinationals and companies that employ entrepreneurial behavior that ignore the damage wrecked on health and the environment by their actions.
General purpose of the Tribunal:
To get a ruling – even symbolic - against Monsanto by a bench of real judges, after veritable proceedings in an international court, and contribute to the establishment of international mechanisms to bring justice to victims of multinationals.
Expected Results/Impact of the Tribunal:
Public opinion and policy makers will gain heightened understanding of Monsanto’s practices and their impact on the environment and human rights. The Tribunal will raise awareness of the dangers of industrial and chemical agriculture and the need a shift in agricultural 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.
The Tribunal's work will give victims and their legal counsel the arguments and legal grounds for further lawsuits against Monsanto within their national jurisdictions.
The Tribunal will highlight the need to change international law so that victims of transnational companies have a means to legal redress.
The Tribunal will show, through the example of Monsanto, why the crime of ecocide must be recognized under international law.
The functioning of the Tribunal:
* The Tribunal employed 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 Rome Statute establishing the International Criminal Court (ICC) giving it jurisdiction to try alleged perpetrators of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of aggression.
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. They define society’s expectations vis-à-vis businesses. They served as the basis on which plaintiffs were building their case for demanding compensation from Monsanto for damage caused by the company’s activities. The Court considered whether Monsanto's conduct could be considered criminal pursuant to existing international criminal law, or under the law of ecocide, which is gaining support for consideration as an offence.
* Prior to the event, working groups studied the impact of Monsanto's activities in the following 6 areas:
The Terms of Reference are as follows:
Question 1: 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?
Question 2: 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?
Question 3: 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?
Question 4: 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?
Question 5: Is the firm Monsanto complicit in the commission of a war crime, as defined in Article 8(2) of the Statute 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?
Question 6: 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 Monsanto Tribunal collected testimonies and an important information gathering effort was made. Olivier De Schutter, law professor at the University of Louvain, with the assistance of forty law students, reviewed the records of all the victims and identified the charges. They prepared legal briefs that the plaintiffs and their legal representation could use in their arguments.
* Illustrious lawyers and judges from five continents were involved in the Tribunal’s work. The court had two co-presidents.
* The Monsanto Tribunal heard the cases of 20 plaintiffs from the South and North Americas, Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia. The plaintiffs had experienced counsel to represent them.
* The Tribunal complied with the general principles of law of civil procedure. Monsanto company was invited to make submissions. Monsanto - as a defendant - was expected to be heard in response to allegations, to defend the legality of its acts, and to challenge the claims of alleged victims. However, Monsanto did not respond and chose not to be present. Monsanto's open letter, published a few days before the hearings, was placed on the record to be taken into account by the panel of judges.
* As with the International Court of Justice, the President received all documents. Lawyers prepared and submitted their findings to the judges. They also appeared before the judges to plead their case. Victims (or anyone in the audience) were able to submit documents to the judges and plaintiffs were speaking at the hearing. The judges are deliberating and will hand down a decision (advisory opinion) – based on the evidence - on the 6 questions.
* The court hands down its legal opinion on April 18th, 2017.
Expertise Opinions to the service of the Tribunal:
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 Monsanto 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.
Students from the following universities also brought their expertise to the endeavor by taking part in the research and case review phase:
Civil society: see the list of supporting organisations here.
Civil Society Organisations from five continents contributed to vetting judges, lawyers, plaintiffs and witnesses.
They are invited to participate in outreach and awareness raising activities in their respective countries and citizen mobilization.
They were active in organizing the People’s Assembly, which was organized as a parallel event to the Monsanto Tribunal.