[3-30-10] In the Matter of Syngenta: GMOs, Pesticides and Violence

A Terra de Direitos - Organization for Human Rights (http://terradedireitos.org.br/) published a case study on the various human rights violations by Syngenta Seeds, multinational agribusiness corporation which produces genetically modified seeds and pesticides. The actions that violate include murder, physical and moral violence against landless rural workers, maintenance of private armed militias, carrying out forced evictions without a court order, tampering with poisons, soil contamination with pesticides, contamination of agro-biodiversity with GM seeds, criminalization of social movements, among many other actions. Read below the full text. In the Matter of Syngenta: GMOs, Pesticides and Violence This case brings several main aspects of human rights violations by Syngenta Seeds, multinational agribusiness corporation which produces genetically modified seeds and pesticides. The actions that violate include murder, physical and moral violence against the landless rural workers, maintenance of private militias armed, carrying out forced evictions without a court order, tampering with poisons, soil contamination with pesticides, contamination of agro-biodiversity with GM seeds, criminalization of social, among many other actions. A Terra de Direitos has initiated direct action against the transnational since the complaint made by IBAMA in 2006, together with Via Campesina. The main reason was to perform experiments with illegal transgenic seeds in the buffer zone of Iguaçu National Park, the city of Santa Tereza do Oeste, west of Paraná. The company was fined a million dollars. Aiming to denounce human rights violations by Syngenta, the Movement of Landless Rural Workers (MST) occupied the area. After the occupation, the workers were attacked by an armed private militia, hired by Syngenta that caused injury to more than 10 people and the death of landless rural worker Valmir Motta de Oliveira, also known as Keno. The case was reported in Brazil, in international courts and also in the country of origin of the company [Switzerland]. Beyond the procedural questions about the use of militias, the death of Keno and the illegal planting of GMOs, the case raises Syngenta Seeds controversy over the role of transnational corporations, which have many incentives, have many rights but have a few obligations, which makes it very difficult to hold them accountable for rights violations. Historical Context: Since 1998 the Brazilian subsidiary of the Swiss company Syngenta Seeds maintained an experimental field, with an area of 127 hectares, in Santa Tereza do Oeste, 6 km from the Iguaçu National Park. Disregarding environmental laws and the Park Management Plan, the company made a series of environmental crimes, conducting experiments with genetically modified soya and maize, which in March 2006 led to IBAMA fining it 1 million reais. To denounce the crimes committed by Syngenta, the activists from Via Campesina occupied the experiment station, on March 14, 2006, during the implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP / MOP) in Brazil. The occupation of the experimental field had wider repercussions and international support, including organizing a visit by environmentalists from over 15 countries occupied the area during the Convention. The 70 families remained in the area until November 2006 when the state of Parana enforced the injunction of ejectment issued by the State Court of Cascavel. Still, the families returned to the site after the area was expropriated by the State Government for creating a Center for Agroecology. After 16 months of resistance, on July 18, 2007, fulfilling a court order, the families moved to the settlement Benário Olga, also in Santa Tereza do Oeste. In October 2007, some 200 workers from Via Campesina reoccupied the Experimental Farm after rumors that Syngenta would resume the illegal experiments, which would expose the park and nearby conventional crops to the danger of contamination by GM crops. In addition, Syngenta had not paid the fine imposed by IBAMA. Hours after the reoccupation, more than 30 heavily armed men dressed in uniform and the company "NF Security” invaded the area and fired workers. After shooting Valmir Mota ("Keno") shot in the leg, they executed a point blank shot in the chest. The militia also tried to shoot the worker Isabel do Nascimento de Souza in the head, which resulted in the loss of one eye and the movement of the left part of the body. Three other workers were injured and a security guard was killed by members of his own militia to shoot wildly, as indicated by police. The "NF Security” was acting erratically in the area, together with the Western Rural Society (ORS) and the Movement of Rural Producers (MPR), representatives of local landowners. Actions undertaken: Via Campesina demanded punishment of those responsible for crimes - especially the principals - the disbandment of armed militias in the region and the immediate closure of the NF Security company. The concern was also to ensure security and protection to the lives of other leaders, prime targets of attack as well as all employees of Via Campesina in the region. A prosecution was brought as a result of crimes committed during the action against the NF Security company workers and rural workers. No person and no principal of the Syngenta Corporation was terminated. Only the owner of NF Security and nine gunmen were denounced for their crimes. Unexpectedly, the Public Ministry accused eight of Paraná MST for the murder of the security guard and Keno and for the injuries committed by the gunmen of the NF Security against the workers themselves. The MP felt - and the judiciary accepted the thesis - that workers are responsible for the crimes solely because they occupied of the experimental station of Syngenta. MP says that the workers, in performing the occupation, assumed the risk of being victims of armed reaction from Syngenta and for this reason must answer criminally for the violence they suffered. Wide dissemination of information is also deployed in campaigns such as launched by the Advisory Services for Alternative Agriculture Project (AS-PTA) - "For a Brazil free of GMOs" - which has proved an effective instrument of political struggle. The institutional impact of these actions resulted also in a public hearing in the House of Representatives on 04/16/08, at the initiative of Legislation to discuss proposals to face the crimes committed against rural workers in Parana. A Terra de Direitos submitted to the Ministry of Justice a complaint against the Western Rural Society, NF Security Company, ordering the immediate closure and accountability of their partners. In June 2008, during the course of "Operation Sweep VII," the security company had the license to operate revoked by the Federal Police for acting illegally. (Read: "PF fining 53 clandestine security companies"). Internationally, the Special Rapporteur of the United Nations (UN) on Summary Executions, arbitrary and extrajudicial killings, Philip Alston, received in November 2007 a document on the case. The report - delivered together by members of Via Campesina and MST - denounced the actions of armed militias in the field and maintained that the NF Security company was just a nice facade to a paramilitary group in the service of farmers in the region. The case began to receive broad international support, with hundreds of people participated in protests in repudiation of the murder of Keno in several countries, including South Korea, Indonesia, Congo, Spain, Chile, Canada, Croatia, and Venezuela. Henry Saragih, general coordinator of Via Campesina, called demonstrations for the rights of rural workers and as a repudiation of Syngenta, while in Switzerland the farmers’ organization Uniterre asked the president, Micheline Calmy-Rey, to monitor the case in Brazil. These actions were strengthened by the actions of Swiss parliamentarians, who ordered measurements against Syngenta for the damages suffered by the victims of the attack and the measures be adopted in relation to the Brazilian subsidiary, to prevent further similar events. Because of this, in March 2008, the Swiss ambassador to Brazil, Rudolf Bärfuss officially apologized to the widow of Keno, Iris Oliveira, on behalf of his country. Another important effective tactic was the dialogue with minority shareholders of the company, which during the General Assembly of the company in April 2008, charged measures for a peaceful solution to the conflict, so that the company complied with the Brazilian laws and assume their responsibility for what occurred. It is likely that the donation of the experimental area to the State of Paraná, in October of that year, has passed this motion. Amnesty International, in turn, from the interchange with a Terra de Direitos, issued an appeal calling for action of the authorities responsible for the deaths of the MST leader. Beyond, more than 200 organizations have spoken publicly, worldwide, against the action of Syngenta in Parana. The entire legal strategy resulted in the assessment of the case by the Permanent Peoples' Tribunal during a session in Lima, Peru in May 2008 that recognized the responsibility of Syngenta Seeds Ltd. for the violation of Human Rights. Despite all the mobilization around the case, court proceedings are still underway in Brazil. The complexity of the case is evident in all three classes of processes associated with it: a) proceedings relating to expropriation of the area; b) cases concerning the administrative fine received by the company; and c) criminal cases relating to assaults and murders committed by the NF Security company, hires by Syngenta. In detail: a) In November 2006 the Government of Parana State, through Decree No. 7487, published on 09 November 2006, expropriated the Experimental Station to install a center for agroecology at the site and try to recover the environmental damage caused by the company. However, in January 2007, Syngenta was granted an injunction at the Court of Paraná, which suspended the effects of the Decree of Expropriation of the area set aside in January 2008. Despite this and due to the negative publicity generated by the case, Syngenta decided to donate the area to the State Government in October 2008. Finally, on 12/5/2009, the project was fulfilled with the announcement of the inauguration of the Center for Teaching and Research in Agroecology Valmir Motta de Oliveira and the Monument to the Life of Keno. b) Syngenta has legally challenged the fine of one million dollars. In November 2007 the judge handed down a favorable decision to IBAMA, confirming the fine. Syngenta, not satisfied, appealed the decision. The Federal Regional Court of the 4th Region in January 2007, upheld the appeal, annulled the fine, claiming compliance with the opinions given by National Technical Commission on Biosafety - CTNBio - at the expense of environmental regulations. INCRA has appealed that decision, which still must be analyzed by the STF and STJ. c) Processing before the 1st Criminal Court of Cascavel the Criminal Action No. 2007.3982-4, still under investigation, pending hearing of several witnesses. The prosecution alleges that the NF Security company hired by Syngenta, to be an armed gang with the aim of performing illegal evictions of farm workers in camps fighting for agrarian reform. It is noteworthy that, despite all the evidence and expressions of several groups involving the pointing of Syngenta with the facts, the company was not directly related to crimes in the course of criminal action. The process, however, has mainly been used to criminalize the workers, who, although victims of violence were also reported as defendants, of which a Terra de Direitos acts as a defender.