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Monsanto has violated the basic human right to a healthy environment and food

Judges at The Hague called on international lawmakers to hold corporations like Monsanto accountable


Monsanto has violated the basic human right to a healthy environment and food(Credit: AP/Francois Mori)
This article originally appeared on AlterNet.


“Most opinion tribunals have had a considerable impact, and it is now accepted that they contribute to the progressive development of international law.” — International Monsanto Tribunal Advisory Opinion, The Hague, April 18, 2017

On Tuesday, April 18, representatives of the Organic Consumers Association and our Regeneration International project gathered in The Hague, Netherlands, along with members of other civil society groups, scientists and journalists.

We assembled to hear the opinions of the five judges who presided over the International Monsanto Tribunal. After taking six months to review the testimony of 28 witnesses who testified during the two-day citizens’ tribunal held in The Hague last October, the judges were ready to report on their 53-page Advisory Opinion.

The upshot of the judges’ opinion? Monsanto has engaged in practices that have violated the basic human right to a healthy environment, the right to food, the right to health, and the right of scientists to freely conduct indispensable research.

The judges also called on international lawmakers to hold corporations like Monsanto accountable, to place human rights above the rights of corporations, and to “clearly assert the protection of the environment and establish the crime of ecocide.”

The completion of the Tribunal judges’ work coincides with heightened scrutiny of Monsanto, during a period when the company seeks to complete a merger with Germany-based Bayer. In addition to our organization’s recently filed lawsuit against Monsanto, the St. Louis-based chemical maker is facing more than 800 lawsuits by people who developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma after being exposed to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide. As a result of recently-made-public court documents related to those lawsuits, pressure is mounting for Congress to investigate alleged collusion between former EPA officials and Monsanto to bury the truth about the health risks of Roundup.

The timing couldn’t have been better for the Monsanto Tribunal to announce its opinions. But is time running out for us to hold Monsanto accountable — and replace its failed, degenerative model with a food and farming system that regenerates soil, health and local economies?

Citizens’ tribunals historically contribute to developing international law

The Monsanto Tribunal judges had barely finished delivering their opinions before Monsanto spit out the usual pablum, claiming to be committed to finding “real solutions” to the challenges of hunger, food security and the role of farmers to “nourish our growing world sustainably.”

In a statement issued by the biotech giant’s Global Human Rights Steering Committee (who knew?), Monsanto claimed the Tribunal was “staged by a select group of anti-agriculture technology and anti-Monsanto critics who played organizers, judge and jury.”

In fact, organizers of the Tribunal had no say in the judges’ final opinion. And the judges themselves are all independent, highly qualified lawyers and legal experts, recognized by the international legal community for their accomplishments and credentials.

In their Advisory Opinion, the judges didn’t directly address criticism of the Monsanto Tribunal specifically, nor did they address attempts to delegitimize citizens’ tribunals (which the judges referred to as “Opinion Tribunals”) in general. But the judges did outline what an Opinion Tribunal is mand is not, and why they are important:

Their objective is twofold: alerting public opinion, stakeholders and policy-makers to acts considered as unacceptable and unjustifiable under legal standards; contributing to the advancement of national and international law.

The work and conclusions of opinion tribunals are shared with all relevant actors and widely disseminated in the national and international community. Most opinion tribunals have had a considerable impact, and it is now accepted that they contribute to the progressive development of international law.

Judges: Monsanto violated basic human rights

As we wrote last year, the Monsanto Tribunal judges were asked to consider six questions, referred to as the “Terms of Reference.” During two days of testimony, the judges heard from 28 witnesses (representing about 15 countries) on matters relating to the six questions.

On four of those questions — whether or not Monsanto violated the right to a healthy environment, right to food, right to health, and right to freedom of expression and academic research — the judges concluded in all cases that yes, Monsanto’s activities have violated all of those rights. (Detailed answers to all questions are included in the Advisory Opinion.)

On the question of war crimes, related to Monsanto supplying Agent Orange to the U.S. military during the Vietnam War, the judges concluded:

Because of the current state of international law and the absence of specific evidence, the Tribunal cannot give any definitive answer to the question it was asked. Nevertheless, it seems that Monsanto knew how its products would be used and had information on the consequences for human health and the environment. The Tribunal is of the view that, would the crime of Ecocide be added in International law, the reported facts could fall within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

And that brings us to question six: Could the 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?

Possibly — if ecocide were recognized as an international crime, under the Rome Statute. Because it isn’t, at least not yet, the judges could only add to existing calls for the International Law Commission to amend the Rome Statute to include ecocide on its list of international crimes.

On complicity in war crimes, the Tribunal judges wrote:

The Tribunal assesses that international law should now precisely and clearly assert the protection of the environment and the crime of ecocide. The Tribunal concludes that if such a crime of ecocide were recognized in international criminal law, the activities of Monsanto could possibly constitute a crime of ecocide. Several of the company’s activities may fall within this infraction, such as the manufacture and supply of glyphosate-based herbicides to Colombia in the context of its plan for aerial application on coca crops, which negatively impacted the environment and the health of local populations; the large-scale use of dangerous agrochemicals in industrial agriculture; and the engineering, production, introduction and release of genetically engineered crops. Severe contamination of plant diversity, soils and waters would also fall within the qualification of ecocide. Finally, the introduction of persistent organic pollutants such as PCB into the environment causing widespread, long-lasting and severe environmental harm and affecting the right of the future generations could fall within the qualification of ecocide as well.

International law has “failed woefully,” but we have to hope

We can’t do justice here to the Tribunal judges’ 53-page Advisory Opinion. The Opinion, which include 120 citations, paints a detailed picture of how Monsanto violates human rights and ravages the environment, on a global scale. In their published Opinion, the judges call for changes in international law in order to give priority to human rights, over the rights of corporations, and to hold corporations accountable for violating human and environmental rights.

While according companies like Monsanto unprecedented rights and entitlements, international law has failed woefully to impose any corresponding obligation to protect human rights and the environment. However, it is beyond the scope of this advisory opinion to consider the breadth of reforms required to re-align the respective priorities of commercial and public interests that must be brought about under international law. Therefore, the Tribunal strongly encourages authoritative bodies to address the legal and practical limitations that currently confine the scope, content and ultimately the effectiveness of international human rights law.

As she wrapped up the April 18 press conference in The Hague, Tribunal Judge Françoise Tulkens said that while the judges’ work was done, the work of civil society has just begun.

“Now this Advisory Opinion is in your hands, it’s for you to use it. You, as in civil servants, as in lawyers and judges, if it’s possible . . .  maybe this Opinion will serve in the development of international law, and of course international law does develop under the impetus of civil society, so for that maybe we have to wait one year, two years, decades, maybe centuries, I don’t know, but we still have to hope that it’s possible.”

As we hope for international law to start holding corporations like Monsanto (or Bayer or Dow or Syngenta) accountable for the devastating consequences of their poisonous chemicals, we must also look for hopeful solutions for feeding the world’s growing population. Monsanto will have you believe that its failed GMO monoculture model provides those solutions—but increasingly, the world is wising up to that lie.

In 3 Big Myths about Modern Agriculture, David R. Montgomery, professor of Earth and Space Sciences at the University of Washington, says that conventional farming practices that degrade soil health undermine humanity’s ability to continue feeding everyone over the long run. Montgomery writes:

I no longer see debates about the future of agriculture as simply conventional versus organic. In my view, we’ve oversimplified the complexity of the land and underutilized the ingenuity of farmers. I now see adopting farming practices that build soil health as the key to a stable and resilient agriculture.

Do we have decades or centuries, as Tulkens suggests, for international law to crack down on Monsanto? Probably not, if climate scientists’ predictions are correct. But as humans with rights, and consumers with responsibility for our purchasing decisions, we can help fuel a Regeneration Revolution that can both cool the planet and feed the world — without poison.

Watch the Monsanto Tribunal April 18 press conference

Summary of the Monsanto Tribunal Advisory Opinion

Monsanto Tribunal Advisory Opinion — full document

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Demand Immediate release of Environmental activist PL SIGN PETITION #StandWithPiyush



Activist Piyush Manush, part of the Salem Citizen’s Forum, was arrested under charges of criminal intimidation when he chained himself to a road-roller on Friday to protest the construction of Mulvadi bridge.

On July 15th after meeting him in jail his wife was so upset because he told her he was being slapped and hit – but only when lawyer Maayan met him he has told him that he has been beaten badly by over 30 people – kept in solitary confinement and in dark rooms.


Manush chained himself to the road-roller along with two others as the first day of construction began for the Mulvadi bridge. They alleged that due procedure was not followed.

Swifter than ever, the police reached the spot and arrested them under three charges – disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant, Punishment for wrongful restraint, wrongful confinement and criminal intimidation, a non-bailable offence.

The Mulvadi bridge will be built over a railway crossing, but will only allow one-way traffic. Manush and the forum suggested an alternative that will allow two-way traffic.

Those of you who know Piyush and his work already can appreciate how many “powerful” folks he would have antagonised through his selfless work. You will also remember how he was the first one to jump in to create bamboo rafts by spending sleepless nights to save floods-stranded Chennai citizens in that recent disaster. He is also well known for his work on lake revival and protection in Salem amongst many other causes.

Friends of Piyush have been silently putting in efforts for more than 8 days now with the hope each day that he will be released. However, the police is acting funnily and we need to make sure that he comes out, and comes out unharmed



Demand release of activist Piyush Manush, mass-email this letter to Jayalalitha

Here is NAPM’s appeal to Jayalalita govt to release environmental activist Piyush Manush. The letter is given below, and can be sent to the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister at [email protected]
National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) condemns this complete arbitrary arrest of environmental activist Piyush Sethia, who has been a crusader for several national level issues including Bhopal Gas Survivors, rights of adivasis and founder of Salem Citizen Forum. He has worked hard to change the face of the city Salem by organising citizens led efforts to revive lakes, forests, wet lands and so on and is know for his work of promoting alternative handicrafts and creating environmental awareness.
His arrest on completely false charges can only be termed as political vendetta and an action by disgruntled officials who have been irked by several initiates Salem Ciizens Forum has taken over years now.
It’s condemnable that he is being tortured in the prison and his bail plea too has been rejected on not tenable grounds, while other two arrested along with him as has been granted bail.
NAPM is writing to Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu demanding immediate release of Piyush and demands action against the officials who are guilty for not following the law and also for inflicting torture on Piyush.
We stand in solidarity with Salem Citizen Forum, Piyush and his family in their struggle for the rights of the people and against environmental destruction.
In solidarity,
Selvi J Jayalalitha,

Hon. Chief Minster, Tamil Nadu
Fax: 044-25671441

Thiru Apurva varma, I.A.S.,
Principal Secretary to Government
[email protected]

Respected Madam:


We write as concerned citizens and environmental justice activists in support of Piyush Sethia of Salem, Tamil Nadu who has been arrested, denied bail and beaten inside Salem Central prison. Piyush is a noted environmental activist of Salem Citizen’s Forum (SCF). He has been booked under IPC sections 341,188, 353 and 506 (2).

On 8.07.2016, when Piyush and other members of SCF were protesting against the railway authorities for starting the construction work of Mulvadi gate over-bridge in Salem without giving prior notice to the people in the area and without laying an alternate road, police arrested Piyush and two other activists, Eesan Karthik and Muthu of SCF.

On 14.07.2016, the Salem Magistrate’s court dismissed Piyush’s bail application while granting conditional bail to the other two activists. Piyush has been kept in solitary confinement since the day of his arrest. And as per Piyush’s wife and his lawyer, Piyush is being subjected to physical and mental harassment and not allowed to receive reading material or allowed to speak to his wife and other supporters freely. Infact, some of the supporters in Salem are being intimidated and threatened via phone calls to isolate Piyush. According to Piyush’s lawyer, Piyush was beaten ‘for a good half an hour before they sent him to solitary confinement’. Yesterday Piyush informed his lawyer that ‘he was abused by a group of unknown persons numbering nearly 30 inside the prison several times’. We are shocked at this high-handedness of prison authorities and custodial assault on Piyush.

Piyush has done commendable work in the field of Environmental Protection and Climate Change mitigation. We would like to bring to your notice some of them:

  1. He leads Salem Citizens Forum to revive many water bodies in Salem city like Mukaneri,Ammapettai eri Kundukkal eri, Ismailkhan eri, Arisipalayam Theppakulam and Pallappatti well.

  2. He has created a co-operative forest in Dharmpuri extending upto 150 acres, with the support of his friends and well wishers. This mountain forest acts as a water catchment area for Ettimarathupatti Canal which supplies irrigation water to 17 villages in the vicinity.

  3. He has led many citizens’ initiative to protect the natural resources of Salem and its surrounding areas. He has also initiated many green and sustainable livelihood projects and protected the Salem, Yercaud and Hoggenekkal Dam areas from environmental damage.

  4. In the recent floods of Chennai and Cuddalore, Piyush and members of SCF, Nizhal and Dharmapuri People’s Forum mobilized 35 containers of relief material and tirelessly worked to reach the materials in time. This won Piyush a CNN-IBN award recently. He was also named as one of the advisors of Nilam, Neer, Neethi (Land, Water, Justice) initiative of Ananda Vikatan group which was kicked off following the floods to protect water bodies in Tamil Nadu.

We demand:

Immediate release of Piyush and all charges foisted against him and other activists be withdrawn forthwith.

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Mumbai – #1BillionRising – Maya Rao performs the ‘ WALK’ #Rise4Revolution #Vaw



Theatre Artiste maya Rao perform here monologue the ' Walk' at one billion rising OBR) 2016 program at St Xavier in Mumbai

Theatre Artiste maya Rao perform here monologue the ‘ Walk‘ at one billion rising
OBR) 2016 program at St Xavier in Mumbai

1 in 3 women across the planet will be beaten or raped during her lifetime. That’s ONE BILLION WOMEN AND GIRLS. Every February through March 8th, thousands of Risings take place in hundreds of countries across the world and within local communities – to show the world what one billion looks like and shine a light on the rampant impunity and injustice that survivors of various forms of violence face. People around the world rise through dance to express rage against injustices, and the power of global solidarity and collective action. They dance to express joy and community and celebrate the fact that together, violence can be defeated. They rise to show a determination to create a new kind of consciousness – one where violence will be resisted until it is unthinkable.


It has been a most amazing THREE years of the campaign: One Billion Rising (2013), One Billion Rising for Justice (2014) and One Billion Rising: Revolution (2015).





In Mumbai, Theatre Artiste Maya Rao performed her monologue

the ‘Walk’ in response to the horrific gang rape in a Delhi bus on 16 December, 2012. The performance has been performed in a range of spaces – on the street, schools, colleges, shopping malls, theatre festivals.

According to Maya, ” The Walk is not just about the freedom to walk the street at any hour of day or night without fear; it’s about taking hold of the night to think, reflect, talk to each other; it’s about doing all the things that  girls   can do no more.

The event was organised by NGO, Akshara, at St Xavier College where more than 300 students were provoked to a Q and A,

Maya Rao’s intense performance left the youth gathered in St. Xavier college deep in thought.. about claiming public spaces, about owning the city, about taking risk, about giving and accepting consent…about ability to say NO and say Yes and accept NO…

Mumbai rising with Millennials…………… making promises of change, building a movement, walking towards revolution……… one step at a time

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Shameless – #AirIndia made a disabled woman passenger crawl #Vaw #WTFnews

I was howling and crawling, Air India is lying’: disability activist’s account of AI’s insensitivity
“I asked him, “You are a human being right?” and he just laughed it off in embarrassment”

I was howling and crawling, Air India is lying’: disability activist’s account of AI’s insensitivity
“I asked him, “You are a human being right?” and he just laughed it off in embarrassment”
TNM Staff| Sunday, January 31, 2016 – 11:39

On Friday evening, disability activist Anita Ghai landed at Delhi airport from Dehradun on an Air India flight. A seasoned traveller, she waited with patience for her wheelchair to arrive, for which she had put in a request earlier as per procedure. But it did not, and in a shockingly insensitive incident, she was made to crawl on the tarmac from the aircraft to the coach.

Here is Anita Ghai’s full account of what happened, as told to The News Minute.

There was no problem at the Dehradun airport when I boarded the flight.

I told the air hostess there to inform the staff at Delhi that a wheelchair will be required there. I am a seasoned traveller and a person with disability, so I know that I have to remind them that this has to be arranged. I told her three times, in fact she got irritated too, but I reminded her like I always do.

I am a very patient traveller, I know that I can only get down after all the passengers deplane, so I always wait.

My friend Indrani Majumdar was travelling with me, I asked her to go ahead but she insisted that she will stay back with me

We kept waiting, and till 8 15PM there was no sign of the wheelchair. (The flight landed at 7 30PM)

Then I had to get down from the entrance of the aircraft to the tarmac by squatting on the small staircase. It was a small aircraft so there were just three steps, but I had to squat on each step and get down.  I would not have been able to get down if it was a huge aircraft with a high staircase.

There was an airline staffer from Delhi, and he had no clue about what to do, he did not know whether the wheelchair was asked for or not. I asked him, “You are a human being right?” and he just laughed it off in embarrassment without any proper answer.

The captain of the flight was trying to get me help, he tried to contact the control room but he could not get to them.

After about 10 minutes, the coach came near the aircraft, and to my shock there was no wheelchair even in the coach. Now I was furious. I asked them if they can please get the coach to the entrance of the flight, but they said it was not possible due to security reasons. The coach was about 20 meters away. I can understand security concerns, but what am I to do then? I had to crawl. There was no other way.

I was so traumatized at that time. I can speak to you now, but at that time, I was just howling and crawling.

I got the wheel chair only at the arrival hall, not before that.

Air India is blatantly lying when they say they gave me a wheel chair.

I am going to write to the Managing Director of Air India on Monday. I have lodged a complaint with the duty manager already. But I have not got a single call from them since (as of Sunday morning). Nobody has called me and they are instead lying now, which is what making me furious.

I am not asking for anything but an unconditional apology from Air India. They just cannot do this to people with disabilities.

I have been travelling for almost 30 years, and I am 57-years old. There have been delays in the past, but never have I been denied a wheelchair. This is the first time it has happened to me, be it Air India or any other airline.


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Prof Haragopal -Saffronisation of Education and History in India





Mumbai , – Prof. G Haragopal, from  Professor with the Centre for Human Rights (School Of Social Sciences),  University of Hyderabad addressed the public meeting  organised Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights (CPDR) Mumbai , titled  “Acche Din? One Year After” on Saturday

2th May at Mumbai Marathi Patrakar Sangh, Mumbai.

The Rashtriya Swamayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has never deviated from its core ideology of forming a ‘Hindu Rastra, it is the systematic attempt of rewriting history with saffron ink through its vast network of educational institutes like vidya bharti, one of the largest chain of private schools in India, catering mainly to lower middle class, Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram (VKA) which specialises in hostels for adivasi children along with other activities and Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation, which runs single pre-school teacher centres, where students are taught basic reading and writing of Sanskrit and Sanskrit behaviours, is a clear indicator of RSS’s slow but deliberate attempt of “saffronising” the education system of the country. And in the process, feeding large number of young brains with their core ideology of Hindutva.

With these organisations at the helm of affairs, the rabid distortions in historical texts and the influence on young minds under such ideology is capable of communalising the situation in no time and flaring up of sentiments in the name of patriotism and nationalism, and creating fundamentalists and extremists out of the innocent young children, who are constantly fed with an ideology of superiority of one sect and demonising of another.


Prof Haragopal  urged the civil society and the activists to resist the communalisation of education and also focus on the implementation of the right to education and take part in the all India campaign on these issues.

Asserting the secular fabric of India, he underscored that  education is a conscience of a nation and that it must respond to social ‘needs’ and not ‘wants’, Prof. Haragopal stressed on the need for education that can train the younger generation to respect all the facets of diversity of the country.



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Death Penalty: Is it Justice or Human Right Violation?


By Mousumi Roy

08 August, 2014

Shocking lawlessness, bribery, sex crimes, murders etc do happen in many countries. But the manner in which these are happening in India in recent years and are rising alarmingly causing great concern.

Major cities in India are not safe for women. The plight of women in villages can be inferred. People are crying for blood of the Delhi rape accused, Rape case of photo journalist in Mumbai has also been dealt through fast track court. But in rural India, many dalit women are raped, caste based clashes lead to abduction, murder of women, even child girls are not being spared. None of these incidents of aggression, violence against women are of any lesser significance. We have to take up all these issues, raise voices. Rise of sexual assaults against women in recent time are shaming India. These are sad and depressing incidents. It is not a matter of law alone, a matter of human decency too. Although women in India have excelled in various spheres of life over the years, they are still subjugated and no one can actually tell for how long this subjugation will exist. Attempts are indeed being made to bring equality, to uplift socio-economic conditions. More efforts are needed to bring in gender equality. Above all, it is the mindset which needs to be changed, coupled with education, awareness drive and sincere efforts will only bring about results.

Abductions, murders, terror acts are also on the rise. Money power of rich people, political influences and protections to offenders, are also to be blamed for increase in crime rates. Our Police forces are meant for providing protection and security of VIPs and guarding their close relatives and are not seem to be for common people.

India being known as a great democratic nation, has got its own elaborate legal system and judiciary in place but poor and ineffective implementation encouraging crimes from cheating to bribing, eve teasing to raping, murdering and many more. Prolong process in our judiciary system, delay in verdict etc are failing to win confidence and trust by our citizen.

Attitudes and prejudices are built up over generations and are reinforced by conformity. We become desensitized to wrong-doing. Empathy is a more powerful and sustainable catalyst for long term change towards a more peaceful society than just law enforcement can ever be. Life sentence, hanging, stoning to death, castrating are all symptomatic approaches to the problem, like a painkiller, unless the tumor is removed, the pain will return with vengeance. It is not just about a filthy contorted mind, it is about how the sickness, perversion is established in a young mind which grows up in inhuman conditions. Priority of the government should focus on education, health, sanitation, security and quick deliverance of justice with harsh punishment.

Many human rights activists argue if we cannot allow someone to live we cannot take his/her life also. Any kind of crime, brutal acts, killing individuals, civilians, terrorist activities or evils against societies or nations must be treated as punishable offence and harshest possible punishment must be imposed. But by taking away life by imposing death penalty, we are not allowing him to realize, feel what sufferings has caused for his crime. So attempts should be made to allow him to live and make him understand through the process of rigorous and harshest life-long imprisonment and make him suffer until his death. This can be projected as an example of harshest punishment.

Victims’ concerns about impunity focus on the actions of criminals, stopping them from committing further crime and holding them accountable for the crimes. The needs of the surviving family members of victims are justice for the crime. The death penalty can divide and damage families. Unlike any other punishment, the death penalty sometimes creates irreconcilable conflict amongst the surviving family members. The reality of the death penalty system is- it just doesn’t work. It doesn’t make the public or police safer, it is prone to mistakes that snare innocent people, and it is not a good use of scarce public resources. The death penalty creates additional victims. When the state carries out an execution, the surviving family member becomes victim of homicide. The death penalty is a false promise to victims. Proponents of the death penalty put forth the notion that an execution can be a solution to the pain experienced by a survivor of a murder victim. The hardest thing for a victim is to accept that they cannot change the past. But what sometimes ends up happening is the murder claims two victims.

As citizen of democratic nation, one should view the death penalty not as a criminal justice sanction, but as a human rights violation. In order to aspire to live in a society, in a world where human life is cherished and the dignity of all is respected, hope and optimism should exist. Our planet can live without the death penalty and hope the day will come when “Death Penalty” as capital punishment is abolished.

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#DeathPenalty Is Incompatible With Human Dignity


By Charles J. Ogletree Jr., The Washington Post

19 July 14

 have wondered countless times over the past 30 years whether I would live to see the end of the death penalty in the United States. I now know that day will come, and I believe that the current Supreme Court will be its architect.

In its ruling in Hall v. Florida in May, the court — with Justice Anthony M. Kennedy at the helm — reminded us that the core value animating the Eighth Amendment’s cruel and unusual punishments clause is the preservation of human dignity against the affront of unnecessarily harsh punishmentHall, which prohibited a rigid test in use in Florida for gauging whether a defendant is intellectually disabled, was the most recent in a series of opinions in which the court has juxtaposed retribution — the idea of vengeance for a wrongdoing, which serves as the chief justification for the death penalty — with a recognition of our hopelessly complex and fallible human nature.

What was important about Hall is the way Kennedy described the logic behind exempting intellectually disabled individuals from execution: “to impose the harshest of punishments on an intellectually disabled person violates his or her inherent dignity as a human being” because the “diminished capacity of the intellectually disabled lessens moral culpability and hence the retributive value of the punishment.” Though the court previously barred imposition of the death penalty upon intellectually disabled people, as well as juvenile offenders, Hall marked the first time that it went so far as to claim that imposing the death penalty upon offenders with these kinds of functional impairments serves “no legitimate penological purpose.”

This is why I see an end coming to the death penalty in this country. The overwhelming majority of those facing execution today have what the court termed in Hall to be diminished culpability. Severe functional deficits are the rule, not the exception, among the individuals who populate the nation’s death rows. A new study by Robert J. Smith, Sophie Cull and Zoë Robinson, published in Hastings Law Journal, of the social histories of 100 people executed during 2012 and 2013 showed that the vast majority of executed offenders suffered from one or more significant cognitive and behavioral deficits.

One-third of the offenders had intellectual disabilities, borderline intellectual function or traumatic brain injuries, a similarly debilitating impairment. For example, the Texas Department of Corrections determined that Elroy Chester had an IQ of 69. He attended special education classes throughout school and never functioned at a higher level than third grade. The state had previously enrolled Chester into its Mentally Retarded Offenders Program. Despite these findings, Texas executed him on June 12, 2013.

More than half of the 100 had a severe mental illness such as schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder or psychosis. For example, for more than 40 years, Florida’s own psychiatrists found that John Ferguson suffered from severe mental illness. Ferguson had a fixed delusion that he was the “Prince of God” who could not be killed and would rise up after his execution and fight alongside Jesus to save the United States from a communist plot. When Ferguson was executed on Aug. 5, 2013, his last words were: “I just want everyone to know that I am the Prince of God and I will rise again.” A Florida court had called Mr. Ferguson’s delusions “normal Christian beliefs.”

Many other executed offenders endured unspeakable abuse as children. Consider Daniel Cook, whose mother drank alcohol and abused drugs while she was pregnant with him. His mother and grandparents molested him as a young child, and his father physically abused him by, for example, lighting a cigarette and using it to burn Daniel’s genitals. Eventually the state placed Daniel in foster care, but the abuse didn’t stop. A foster parent chained him nude to a bed and raped him while other adults watched from the next room through a one-way mirror. The prosecutor responsible for Cook’s death sentence stood behind him during the clemency process, telling authorities that he would have taken the death penalty off of the table had he known of his torturous childhood. Arizona refused to commute Cook’s sentence, however, and he died by lethal injection on Aug. 8, 2012.

As the execution of Elroy Chester, John Ferguson, Daniel Cook and many more like them illustrates, barring the death penalty for intellectually disabled and juvenile offenders did not solve the death penalty’s dignity problem. Rather, those cases gave us cause to look more closely at the people whom we execute. And when you look closely, what you find is that the practice of the death penalty and the commitment to human dignity are not compatible.

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This Is Not The Rajapaksa Regime Anymore, This Is The Gotabaya Regime


July 9, 2014 | Colombo Telegraph,Opinion |


By Nimalka Fernando –


Dr. Nimalka Fernando

The MOD & The NGO Surveillance Secretariat, Keep Your Letter In Your Archives As A Document To Remind You Of Your Collective Shame!

The Rajapakse regime has either become completely retarded or imbued with a deep sense of paraplegic paranoia. It seems as though the Defense Secretary has become so “high and mighty” that he has once again forgotten that his motherland has citizens like us with a strong backbone.

I was totally baffled to see the letter signed by a “Mr. D.M.S Dissanayake” who is supposed to be the Director/Registrar of the National Secretariat for Non Governmental Organizations on a Ministry of Defence and Urban Development letterhead addressed to all Non-Governmental Organizations. The main part of this letter focuses on ‘Non-Governmental Organizations acting beyond their mandate’  with emphasis on “It has been revealed that certain Non Government Organisations conduct press conferences, workshops, training for journalists and dissemination of press releases which is beyond their mandate.  We reiterate that all Non Government Organisations should prevent from such unauthorized activities with immediate effect”. I can only laugh at this document since while trying to take away our freedom of expression I do not think the person who signed this letter understood what he was writing or expressing.

The activities of the NGOs are defined and conducted under the statutes developed by members of an organization. In simple language this is what we call “a Constitution”. The Constitution in most NGOs will encompass a vision and mission statement in very general terms. The NGO’s objectives and activities are broadly drawn up and an action plan is evolved in consultation with the people that the NGO works with.  A work plan is then drawn up by the members of an NGO and approved at relevant meetings. All of this is based on the vision and mission of an NGO. The vision and mission is our mandate. Among the many strategies adopted by NGOs holding workshops, press briefings, training and disseminating information about our activities through press releases form the core of action. It is through such activities we share our vision our mission and our ideas. As an example of implementing our vision we can even walk around on the streets along the beautified gardens of Colombo or hold a workshop somewhere  promoting our vision for peace and against religious extremism. We do this to raise awareness on serious issues. This is an activity we implement within the mandate given to us by our constituency from all over Sri Lanka. It is our constituency that gives us this mandate and not the State, the ruling class or a political party as popularly believed by archaic political buffoons frozen in the 1970’s and 80’s. I’m sure they haven’t even read Chapter 3 of Sri Lanka’s present constitution. When Mahinda Rajapakse went to Geneva with files tucked  inside his brief case did the then regime ever asked him whether he had a mandate to do so. He went to Geneva remember wearing an INGO badge. Inside that building he was representing an INGO.

Further we must remind you that in the contemporary world our activities are broadly defined based on the principles of the various UN Conventions and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We as NGOs view poverty eradication not merely as a developmental issue but as a struggle to enhance our entitlements. The NGO Secretariat has also forgotten this fundamental principle.

Now according to this circular sent by the person who is heading the NGO Secretariat all these activities become prohibited forthwith. He has acquired powers from “somewhere” to say that such activities are `unauthorized’. Mr. Dissanayake this is truly a disappointment and if you are a senior civil servant you should have known better than this. To me, this document does not look like a document drafted by a civil servant. Instead it looks like a document drafted by a military person who believes that they are operating a police state. You have in fact signed a document which threatens the very core of democratic life and norms in Sri Lanka.  This is what makes me wonder whether the NGO secretariat consists of respected civil servants or persons drawn from the military establishment to serve a retired Colonel.

Surely Mr. Dissanayake you cannot be serious?  How can you without giving reasons nor explaining the term “unauthorized” make our legitimate activities “unauthorized”? Who decided what is unauthorized an under what circumstances? Who deemed that the NGOs cannot hold press conferences? By issuing this circular you have chosen to make a complete mockery of law and order because you have relegated our government and defense establishment to an institution that takes ‘pot shots’ at NGO’s while turning a blind eye to the Gnasara’s of this world spreading hatred and violence. What would be even more worrying is that you were fully aware of the implications of your actions and in the spirit in which your amalgamated ministry chose to breakdown “unauthorized structures” in the Colombo city and elsewhere you now presume that NGOs can also be bulldozed into oblivion.

By the use of the word “unauthorized” you make your shameful political objectives clear to me. You are being utilized by a regime which sees NGOs as a form of resistance against fascism. While all the ‘yes men’ in the UPFA stayed silent in the face of injustice it is us who  continued to combat the machinations of the extremist bloc within the UPFA who were deliberately built a militarized political ethos and destroyed the existing checks and balances in our society. With the impeachment of Chief Justice Bandaranayake this bloc brought all tiers of the state under its control. This is not the Rajapakse regime anymore, this is the Gotabhaya regime. Its most popular word is unauthorized, and it uses this word to describe anything that it does not like and bulldozes it.

There are repeated calls from the CSOs and also by the international community especially during the Universal Periodic review for the removal of the MOD oversight of NGOs.  It is our position that MOD is not our line Ministry.  The incapacity to understand the dynamics of NGOs is well reflected in this letter.  Your letter does not even refer to a law, a regulation or court decision and hence there seems to be no reference to the authority from which you decided to tell us that we cannot hold media briefings and hold training programs.  It is obvious to me that your have exceeded your mandate for surveillance when you decided to heed the request of your boss and send this letter to try and intimidate NGO’s.

Since I believe that the Constitution of Sri Lanka is still valid to us and we still live in a Democratic society we are entitled to form associations and assemblies and engage in democratic activism like training, dissemination of our ideas.  We have always promoted ideas for peace and co-existence, national integration and affirmed equality of all people living in this beautiful country. As a feminist I fight for the day when Sri Lanka will respect its Constitutional obligations and affirm equal status of women.  This is a indicator of democracy – at least one. I do not think the first Lady is my symbol/nor indicator  of equality for all Sri Lankan women.

Truly, do you believe in the vision of the brothers who run this government and have a fancy imagination that we live in North Korea? The city has to be designed to suit the fancy of the `Kurakkan’ design. People have to eat like the `Kurakkan’ family and clad themselves in Kurakkan Satakkas. Women are modeled after the `Kurrakan’ lady. There has to be an extent to this abomination and vulgarity. For our own sanity and your own sanity this has to stop. The world abhorred Kim Il Sung and Joseph Stalin. I had the privilege of meeting the victim a young human rights defender from North Korea while recently whose life story is depicted in the famous file Camp 14. Even though we do not have such camps I am of the opinion that our minds have been put into camps and our society and social mind sets have been put into camps by the three brothers. Therefore the background to this `order’ has to be viewed with great fear in some sense. But we cannot let this fear get the better of us and we cannot let Sri Lanka suffer the same fate as North Korea or Stalinist Russia.

Mahinda Rajapakse knows the power and impact of the civil society because he worked with us. In fact many people around him who provide strategic planning ideas come from the NGO community and have been trained by the Berghoff Foundation which this government threw out. The consultants who lectured the Members of Parliament during the weekend workshops in Beruwela should be honest enough to agree with me. But I do not expect honesty from theme anymore. The traits of the regime they advise are dishonesty and misinformation. They are now trying to curtail our dynamic engagement with the media as the regime is facing unpopularity.

Mr. Dissanayake, it is only a court of law that could decide whether the work and activities we are engaged in are “unauthorized”. Let there be an adjudication of such. Many people will disagree with me regarding this position since pursuing such a course of action would be like seeking a judgment from the thief’s mother as the highest authority to decide such a matter is held by a Rajapakse stooge. Nonetheless I think the institution requires testing and we should challenge such an authority. We will conduct our work as usual and it is up to you to prove that what we are doing is `unauthorized’. You can choose to draw a line in the sand but we can choose to cross it. Try and stop us.

Civil society and Democratic citizens will defy this nonsensical letter purported to have originated from the Registrar of the NGO Secretariat. If this letter is authentic I can only be saddened by the fact that this civil servant does not know the subject of his task nor is attuned to international norms and standards governing our operations. The government pledged to work in corporation with NGO’s during the Universal Periodic review. Sri Lanka agreed to corporate with civil society. One of the learning experiences for the members of the Human Rights Commission who received some orientations during their visit to Geneva in March 2013 under the Commonwealth assistance program would have been the importance of having a constructive engagement with NGOs undoubtedly.

Therefore I wish to call upon Mr Dissanayake and all those who are behind this circular to withdraw this letter forthwith. I would like to also urge all my colleagues to throw this document into the dustbin. I would like to request the MOD and the NGO surveillance Secretariat to keep your letter in your archives as a document to remind you of your collective shame.

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A Treaty to End Corporate Abuses ? #humanrights

JULY 1, 2014

Governments at the UN’s Human Rights Council stunned companies last week when they voted to start negotiations on a treaty to address corporate responsibility for human rights abuses. If done right, this could lead to much-needed action by governments to approve common-sense rules on companies and ensure victims of corporate abuses can seek justice. Yet there are pitfalls as well.

It’s a polarizing issue, pitting many developing countries at the council, led by Ecuador and South Africa, against the United States and European Union. Critics warn it will draw the ire of some of the world’s largest companies. Western countries that are home to major multinationals have threatened to sit out the negotiations. There’s a real danger we could end up with a contentious treaty that doesn’t actually solve the problem.

That would be a shame: we need stronger human rights rules. Companies have been implicated in a litany of abuses around the world and almost never pay a price for them, because governments fail to impose even basic regulations, such as requiring businesses to review and monitor rights risks.

Three years ago, the council unanimously approved the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which included no firm requirements and no monitoring of progress. It’s no surprise that implementation has been woefully inadequate. Frustrated by continued inaction in the face of widespread abuses, activists mobilized to line up government support for a binding treaty.

The vote may have been premature. A fundamental flaw lies in Ecuador’s insistence that the treaty focus on multinational companies, even though any company can cause problems and most standards, including the UN principles, don’t draw this artificial distinction. Otherwise you could have a situation where an international apparel company was bound by human rights standards, but abusive local factories aren’t. A treaty with credibility should cover all businesses, whether they have ties to global brands or not. That doesn’t excuse governments from enacting national laws to protect workers and others affected by business gone bad, or to allow victims to seek justice in national courts.

The treaty process represents an opportunity to better safeguard communities and individuals around the globe from abuses involving companies. Perhaps the best outcome is for the governments to negotiate transparently, consult widely with all stakeholders, and act in good faith. Politicizing this process would be an insult to victims and a squandered chance for human rights.


Read mor ehere –

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How I learned that Torture is a Bad Thing: Notes of a Lawyer


By Sarim Naved,

It was during my first year in practice that I first met a victim of torture. The concept of ‘torture’, before that day, existed for me only as a concept. In the scheme of things, it was a bad thing, but I must confess that I never actually spared a thought for what it actually meant. Much like most people, I had vague notions of good torture and bad torture. There were certain situations where torture didn’t offend as much as it did in other situations. I have since come to realise that the essence of torture is humiliation. Violence offends most when it is perpetrated against the defenceless. For every gain made through questionable means, there is a corresponding loss through the dehumanisation of a human being, the effects of which are not only felt by the victim but also manifest through the repulsion and anger birthed through the excesses of the perpetrators.

I was in Tihar Jail to advise a client, a man, accused of being in league with terrorists. A crucial stage of the trial was coming up, that of the statement of the accused, and he had wanted to meet me to understand what would be expected of him. I explained the process to him and then I told him that the last question the judge would ask him would be, “Do you have anything else to say?” He pondered on this for a moment. Then he said, “I wanted to show you something, there is something that I have written down, I want to tell the judge that. Could you please read it?” He reached down into the polythene bag he was carrying. All undertrials, at least the educated ones, carry a polythene bag or a plastic folder with their case documents. These are pulled out in their meetings with lawyers with a degree of desperation, hoping against hope that something will be found in those papers, something which has been missed till then, which will guarantee their freedom.. He looked into his bag and fumbled around with trembling hands and located two sheets of folded paper. He mumbled some incomplete sentences about not knowing whether he should say this. His demeanour had changed, his eyes danced around the room furtively trying to avoid my gaze. With some puzzlement, I took the papers. It was an account of his interrogation, the first few days of custody when the suspect is under police remand. The things that had been done to him, that he had experienced, did not make sense. I do not want to infringe on his privacy or to bring in an element of morbidity by reproducing it here. Suffice it to say that I still wish I had not read those two pages.

Report on a recent case of Torture and Custodial Death  in Mumbai Mirror Report on a recent case of Torture and Custodial Death in Mumbai Mirror

One had read about human beings doing such things to others but this was different. This was a living, breathing, somewhat avuncular human being who had been made into something less. Both of us sat there, trying not to look each other in the eye. He asked me again what I thought, whether he should tell the judge all this. I gave him the truthful answer, which was that it wouldn’t make a difference. The judge was a good judge but he would assume that these things were lies told by a man desperate to save himself. The policemen who were capable of such things would get away scot-free. As a friend was to later observe when she met a torture victim for an academic study that some kinds of torture are so demeaning that it becomes hard to even look at the victim. I don’t know whether this happens because of sympathy or disgust but either explanation is not a happy one. Infliction of violence, repeatedly and with an intent to demean and to break, creates ripples much beyond the intentions of the perpetrator.

By itself, the fact that torture existed was not news, but this meeting introduced me to another aspect of power and the way it dehumanises. I could not sleep for the next two nights and as bothered as I was by having this knowledge thrust upon me I found my anger welling up against this man, the victim. It is always most comforting when faced with senseless barbarism to blame the victim. It’s a way of assuring one’s own safety from that particular type of violence. If the dehumanisation of that man could have such an insidious effect on me and I was nothing more than a bystander, what effect would it have on this man? His family knew something of what happened to him. They were in the next room for part  of his torture. The threat was that if you don’t tell us what we want, we will do the same to your wife and children. Needless to say, the man complied and signed on whatever documents they brought to him. This is what he told me, but none of these documents were even used in the trial. A person’s dignity was peeled away and that too, for nothing. Would his family, his friends, not talk about it? What anger they would feel that a person could be treated like this by the Indian state? Whatever was done by these police officers, even if they felt this man was a criminal, could not but inspire much mistrust and hatred against the State.

The more one thinks about it, the less sense this tolerance of custodial violence makes. Investigations by the police in India are not always of the highest order or done very competently. The emphasis, judging by the chargesheets filed in court, is not always on investigation but on proving the Investigating Officer’s theory. There are laughable inconsistencies in the record of the case and witnesses trip over themselves in testifying to details that are not true. What is most unfortunate is that the Courts often try to step in to make up for what seems the carelessness of the police. Reasonable doubt then becomes a benefit that is allowed to the police and not to the accused. Criminal law is turned on its head. The prevalence of this kind of policing is tragic for the police, for victims of crime and for all of us who simply want our lives to be safe. Every false prosecution means that the true perpetrator of a crime walks free and every instance of violence by the police, the most visible face of the State, inspires more violence.

Another client, a very poor man, recently told me very happily that the police did not torture him but only slapped him a few times. There is a larger narrative of violence that is impossible to ignore. While congratulating ourselves on a society which, on the surface is largely law-abiding, is comfortable with violence, whether it be against women, Dalits, minorities or anybody who is disempowered. All that is required is an excuse. Dalits are attacked because they dare challenge the status quo, Muslims and Christians because they are anti-national and as for women, the excuses are too many to list here.  Tolerance of violence in one situation necessarily leads to tolerance of violence in other situations. Neat segmentation of state excesses being deemed acceptable in certain situations is a fantasy. Apart from the moral arguments against torture, this is the pragmatic argument.

At the risk of sounding naïve, let me end on a hopeful note. The legal system in India works, albeit slowly and in very mysterious ways. There are policemen who show kindness to people in custody and there are judges who try and ensure fairness in proceedings before them. As another person, accused of being associated with terrorists, told me. “These policemen”, meaning the staff at Tihar, “are good people”. He hated the policemen who framed him and tortured him but not the jail staff who had been kind to him on various occasions. Hope, if any, comes from these police officers who can change the dominant narrative of marginalisation and uncontrolled police excess. The adulation of police officers who bring in immediate results without regard for pesky things like the truth needs to give way to a more nuanced understanding of policing, which is based on investigation and deduction. Crimes will soemtimes go unsolved but an unsolved crime is better than the false comfort of knowing that somebody, anybody, is being punished for the crime. In our desperation to not be victimised, let us not condone the victimisation of others.

Sarim Naved is a human rights lawyer based in Delhi.

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