RULING BY THE PERMANENT PEOPLE'S TRIBUNAL : COLOMBIA 'S BIODIVERSITY SESSION
HEARING ABOUT BIODIVERSITY
(Translated by Kevin Funk, a volunteer CSN translator)
In continuation with past hearings that have examined the problem of multinational corporations in Colombia, in their activities of natural resource extraction with the support of the Colombian security forces and paramilitary groups, the Permanent Peoples' Tribunal was in session in the humanitarian zone of Nueva Esperanza in Dios in the Cacarica river basin, bajo Atrato chocoano on February 25 and 26, 2007. The hearing was presided over by the Argentine jurist Marcelo Ferreira – Chair of the Human Rights Program in the School of Philosophy and Arts at the University of Buenos Aires – delegated by the president of the Tribunal in the presence of the judges Richard Carrere, international coordinator of the World Rainforest Movement, and João Ricardo dos Santos Costa, member of the Judges’ Association for Democracy in Brazil and World Judges Forum. Acting as co-judges were the Chadian Andebeng Labeu Madeleine Alingue, president of the corporation the Pan-African Alliance for Colombia, and expert in South-South cooperation; the Colombian journalist and writer Alfredo Molano, the lawyer Francine Damasceno Pinheiro, member of the Landless Workers’ Movement in Brazil and social sciences teacher, and Lorenzo Loncon, indigenous Chilean delegate from the Mapuche people.
The Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal, in continuation with the Russel tribunals backed by the Foundation Leslio Basso, has as its goal to give visibility to and describe in legal terms situations of massive violations of fundamental rights, for which institutional responses are not being found.
In the previous days, some of the judges traveled across the region accompanied by a large group of national and international observers, to verify the impacts of the presence of some national and multinational corporations on the environment and society in the region. These aforementioned judges wish to hereby expressly state that they saw with their own eyes the suffering of the people of this land and the degradation of nature.
The hearing took place in the same week in which the 10 year anniversary was being commemorated of a violent and massive expulsion which destroyed numerous communities in the region, forcing inhabitants to abandon their lands, which were then occupied for the activities of transnational corporations. The above-mentioned operative was designated by the Colombian army as “Operation Genesis,” and brought with it many killings. Amongst them we must highlight the decapitation of Marino López Mena; soon after cutting off his head the victimizers played soccer with it in front of the community in an act of punishment typical of state terrorism. The closure was carried out precisely on the tenth anniversary of his death.
The hearing was carried out in a settlement that was set up as a humanitarian zone after the return of some of those who were violently displaced in 1997 and who have exercised heroic resistance during various years, deciding to remain in the territory in spite of the continuous harassment and threats from the Colombian armed forces and paramilitary groups. Close to three hundred people attended the hearing from different regions of the country, where these and other multinational corporations have caused similar damage to the environment, relying on paramilitary groups for the achievement of their objectives.
Delegates also participated from solidarity organizations from 17 countries in Europe, and North and South America.
The sessions of the hearing were developed on different conceptual levels, such as: expositions of the context about biodiversity and biopiracy, palm trees and biofuels, environmental and agrarian policies, and Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in Colombia
On another level charges were presented against various transnational corporations, some of which have subsidiaries in Colombia. Each charge was backed by the testimonies of people who have directly suffered the impact of their activities and by documentary evidence presented by the accusers and witnesses. The Tribunal proceeded to incorporate the documentary and testimonial evidence for its presentation at the final hearing of the Colombia session of the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal, which will be held in July 2008.
Likewise, and prior to the hearing, a pre-hearing was held in Medellín on February 22 concerning fumigations and the militarization of Colombia, the conclusions of which were presented to this hearing and were added to the charges.
The company Smurfit Kapa – Cartón de Colombia was accused of the violation of human, environmental, social, and cultural rights. Specifically for: destruction of tropical rainforests, Andean forests, and other ecosystems, and for destroying the social fabric, the traditional and cultural means of production of the communities; eliminating and polluting water sources; influencing the formulation of governmental policies in the country and pressuring state officials in favor of the interests of the multinational; hiding information related to the business and manipulating the media as much on a regional scale as a national one; using false propositions, information, and publicity to justify its activities and disguise the resulting impacts; accusing and criminalizing with false arguments those who denounce its misconduct.
The business MULTIFRUITS Inc., subsidiary of the North American transnational DELMONTE, is accused of the practice of an illegal banana agribusiness planned on 22,000 hectares, in which rubber and palm trees will be included on the country house areas of La Balsa, San José, Varsova and Bendito Bocachica; profiting from the settlement of the paramilitary structures in the Balsa since February 26, 1997, which generated the displacement of more than 2500 Afro-Colombians, the ransacking and destruction of their means of survival, and the crime of MARINO LOPEZ as well as the utilization of this site as a center of paramilitary operations, amongst which they tortured, disappeared, and executed civilians, among them several of the 85 victims from this community; in which they maintain control through pressure tactics with the denomination of the "Black Eagles" in spite of the announcement of their demobilization in 2005; they are also accused of irreparable environmental damage to the ecosystem, as well as the taking away of lands for agribusiness, and in regards to the common graves of the victims of crimes against humanity.
The business PIZANO Inc., and its subsidiary MADERAS DEL DARIÉN, is accused of destructive use, in a mechanized way, of the wood resources of the Cacarica; having caused profound damage in the land, the forest resources, and in the living conditions of the Afro-Colombian communities that inhabit the extraction areas; profiting from the extensive exploitation of wood, affecting principally the formation of forests in the municipalities of Riosucio and Carmen del Darién in the department of Chocó; the indiscriminate exploitation of the "catival" species (Priora copaifera), which is classified as endangered, and the generation of an acute impact on the tropical rainforest, as well as the forced displacement of more than 2500 Afro-Colombians and mestizos and a third of the indigenous population of the region after Operation Genesis, in which the collusion of the paramilitaries of the Autodefensas Campesinas de Córdoba y Urabá (today the Bloque elmer Cárdenas) was evident, and in which mass killings were carried out against the population, their lands and crops were burnt, and extrajudicial executions, sexual violence, and other serious human rights violations occurred. Responsibility was attributed to the Colombian state for its action and omission in crimes against humanity, genocide and terrorism, in all of the demonstrations that noted that they were committed by members of the 17th Brigade of the national army in collaboration with paramilitary groups that are located in this zone as well as for maintaining the impunity for every crime committed against the victims and for not having investigated, judged, or sanctioned in due form the members of the security forces and the paramilitaries which act in collusion with them.
The business URAPALMA Inc. was accused of having acted in conjunction with other palm tree companies and the Colombian state in the illegal growing of between 4000 and 7000 hectares of palms with a projection of 22,000 inside the collective lands of Afro-Colombian communities; operations that were possible thanks to the carrying out of and impunity for more than 113 crimes against humanity, 13 forced displacements, 15 cases of torture, 17 arbitrary detentions, 19 lootings of country houses, 14 paramilitary incursions, aggression into the humanitarian zone, 4 killings or extrajudicial executions, and the so-called "demobilization," which has made possible the development of new death threats and control over the population. The company is accused of having favored and promoted violence, and having intended to legalize property in favor of its interests through mechanisms such as: entering into land-use contracts, the buying and selling of improvements to owners, subscription to forged certificates for usage agreements, the forming of front groups of campesinos, developing figures such as the so-called Strategic Alliances in order to obtain public resources, the falsification of public and private documents, the alteration of sales resolutions of vacant lots, and the terms of agreement, amongst others.
The transnational corporation Monsanto is accused of supplying the component Roundup Ultra, without any sense of consciousness or legal responsibility, to be sprayed in the air in the eradication of crops of illicit usage with glyphosate, used since 1984 and converted into the principal strategy of Plan Colombia, implemented jointly by the governments of Colombia and the United States; for flagrant and knowing complicity in violating Article 14 of Protocol 1 of the Geneva Conventions, which prohibits making civilians suffer from hunger as a method of combat and attacking the civilian population's necessary means of subsistence, such as food items, crops, livestock, reserves of potable water and irrigation systems; for selling to the Colombian government with the support of the U.S. government toxic substances frequently utilized as a weapon of war, thus becoming an accomplice in the chemical warfare being waged against the civilian population; for violating international norms which mandate that state bodies and their private consortia protect and respect biodiversity and the environment, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, and Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization concerning the rights of indigenous peoples and ethnic communities; for its neglect of the humanitarian, social, and land-related consequences of its massive and indiscriminate aerial fumigations, which utilize substances produced by this transnational.
The Dyncorp company is accused of fomenting war and political instability, and of profiting from the incitement of conflicts, and of maintaining them through its provision of services; benefiting from mercenaries which instigate and promote a deterioration in the living conditions of a population suffering from this militarization, the loss of thousands of lives and with them the delicate social fabric to which they belong; the destruction of natural resources; the amounts lost to humanity in cultural and ecological terms; supporting serious humanitarian crises, and shameless food crises; the loss of public goods, the violating of human dignity, the destruction and the pain. They are held responsible for human rights violations against Colombian and also Ecuadorian communities, which suffer the impacts of its business activities, all of which are serious affronts to humanity; carrying out a deliberate policy in violation of human rights, formulated by the U.S. government and accepted by the Colombian government.
In the tests provided to the Tribunal it is clear that the policies promoted and imposed by the Colombian state are a serious attack against biodiversity in farms and forests, areas which were used in a sustainable manner for centuries by indigenous, Afro-Colombian and campesino communities.
- The displacement of the indigenous, Afro-Colombian, and campesino populations imply the loss of species and varieties, as well as the traditional knowledge of them.
- The expulsion of traditional communities and the substitution of subsistence agriculture with industrial monoculture, affecting food sovereignty locally and nationally.
- The massive and indiscriminate application of herbicides results in the destruction of forests and groups as well as related fauna.
- The introduction of moncultivation of bananas, pineapples, eucalyptus, cypress, and palm oil substitutes ecosystems of enormous biodiversity for green deserts of a lone specie. The massive use of pesticides in monocultures affects the few species of fauna that manage to survive in monocultures. The set of agrochemicals used also effects water resources, which also impacts the health of local populations, as well as the flora and fauna associated with rivers, streams, lakes, and wetlands.
The testimony of one witness clearly summarizes the situation, saying that: "palm oil is being paid for by the blood of our brothers and sisters, friends, and family members..." "we don't have anywhere to work because the land is covered with palm trees."
The industrial monoculture of palm trees and other species presents itself likewise as a very effective method for controlling land, and indirectly of social control, at the mercy of being implemented by a globalized model on a grand scale.
About sovereignty and people's right to self-determination:
Monsanto's business practice of imposing a monopoly of its genetically modified products entails the extinction of seeds used ancestrally by the indigenous, Afro-Colombian, and campesino populations. The cultivation of corn forms a part of the cultural complex of traditional populations, and the knowledge of production techniques is one of the expressions of their identity as a people, in addition to being a factor that guarantees their autonomy.
The extermination of creole seeds is an attack against the autonomy of traditional peoples because it generates dependence in relation to economically dominant cultures, causing these peoples' social exclusion.
The autonomy of the people is a guarantee consecrated in accord with international norms regarding human rights; therefore it is considered as a part of Colombian law, in which it is ratified. Accordingly, the government is obligated to take necessary measures to keep the population of the region from losing its land, and the gradual extinction of its cultural diversity.
About the Afro-Colombian and indigenous peoples, and campesino communities:
At the sources of the tributaries and rivers that flow into the Atrato, there are primarily indigenous and Afro-Colombian peoples, and campesino communities.
Historically, the inhabitants of this region are the Afro-Colombian peoples that escaped from the system of slavery, and as free former slaves they started to live amongst the Kunas, Katios, Emberas, and Wuanan peoples, whose ancestors have inhabited this region.
During the 1950s, campesinos arrived, having been displaced by violence in the Andean departments and along the coast.
The use of the land by these communities has allowed the development of knowledge, customs, ancestral practices that support the perfecting of sustainable agricultural techniques, preserving a broadening of the local biodiversity. Likewise, the production system generated the necessary balance to establish some decent ways of life and coexistence.
Then, in the 60s, livestock farmers from Antioquia came in, with the opening of the highway between Medellín and Turbo.
In the 90s, a convergence of geo-strategic attention came into existence in the region, determined by: the Pan-American Highway project, the armed conflicts between the guerrilla forces and the paramilitaries and government, and the return of the Canal Zone to Panama. Likewise, this change coincided with an increase in international demand for wood and bananas.
These facts gave way to a new security model and regional development policy, which came into conflict with the traditional ways of the communities. And in particular with the legal ways of association: indigenous shelters, ancestral Afro-Colombian communities, and campesino reserves.
In 1997, the Colombian army, in collaboration with paramilitaries, carried out Operation Genesis. There they bombarded and occupied by water and land the towns of the Salaquí and Cacarica river basins.
The witnesses put forward to the tribunal horrendous crimes used against them: mutilations, executions, shootings, torture, rape, forced disappearances. A power saw was used as a weapon of war against human beings.
The population fled towards the mountains, abandoning their lands, homes, livestock, and properties. Then they gathered in the City of Turbo and some sought refuge in Panama. The breaking of families, the uprooting, the hunger, social discrimination, the lack of health care, the lack of available work, led to social and familial disintegration with the complete indifference of the government.
The defenders and protectors of nature and biodiversity ended piled up in Turbo's stadium.
The displaced keep maintaining their hopes of returning, of preserving biodiversity. Supported by national and international human rights organizations, they returned to their lands, founding humanitarian zones of resistance.
Now, as communities of resistance, they demand the right to exist as a people, to practice their culture, preserve their cultural identity, their ancestral lands, guaranteeing food sovereignty, education, health, and medical exams, amongst other fundamental rights.
Evaluating the facts:
From the tests provided to the tribunal it is clear that the policies promoted and imposed by the Colombian state give evidence to a general and systematic picture of a violation of fundamental human rights, in the framework of the process of a brutal reorganization of Colombian society, at the mercy of the destruction of the social fabric, in support of a project of economic and social design for the benefit of transnational corporations.
In this sense, the facts described to this tribunal, such as assassinations, torture, extrajudicial executions, disappearances, mutilations, and especially the forced displacement of thousands of people, constitute crimes against humanity, as defined in international conventions.
In effect, crimes against humanity are those which are committed in the framework of a generalized and systematic attack against the civilian population, and this is precisely what is occurring in the region. Accordingly, witnessed declare that "they came in cutting off heads, torturing so that they can take the lands and put into practice their big project". "They were telling us to leave, that they need to clear the land to fight the guerrillas, but the guerrillas weren't there."
The relevance in this qualification rests in that crimes against humanity are repugnant to the conscious of humanity as a whole; they are inalienable, inexcusable, and untransferrable, and they can be judged by any tribunal in any part of the world, no matter in what time period they were committed. No criminal can plea immunity before them, and any criminal can be followed until the end of their days and the ends of the Earth.
Likewise, the defining characteristics are verified of an actual case of genocide, understood as acts intended to eliminate a group of people. Such characteristics are: the method of disappearing people, then hiding the bodies as a form of creating doubts about their fates and whereabouts, and cultivating a definitive state of terror as a method of social control. What has been exposed is verified eloquently in the statements of a witness who moved the tribunal when she said, referring to the campesinos: "they don't kill them with bullets, but they kill them another way, because the campesino only knows how to live off the land."
Also characteristic of genocide is the usage of "cleansing" when applied to human beings: a surgical toilet where the dirty and infected are people. One witness says: "the paramilitaries were saying that they were going carry out cleansing"..."their job was to kill." It is fitting to emphasize that the responsibility for this dirty work (of cleansing) falls with the Colombian state for allowing and supporting these actions.
In this sense the paramilitary phenomenon has meant the imposition of the logic of global capital, and the process of negotiation that is currently being developed is a concealed legalization for crimes against humanity and a legitimization of the counter agrarian reform imposed by them, a path towards impunity.
The so-called reorganizing genocide operates towards the interior of a society already constituted, a preexisting nation-state, and it seeks to refound social relations, the links, codes, daily life, political mediations, and in sum the concrete exercising of power in said society. The forced displacement of people, the submission of groups to conditions that cause their destruction, are acts typical of the crime of genocide (the crime of all crimes).
In a paradoxical and brutal way, the Colombian state has left a recording for posterity of the genocidal character of its macabre plan, with the operative denomination Genesis: a project of death and fear is given a Biblical name. In effect, Genesis means creation - in this case, the creation of something new after the destruction by the state of preexisting things. The violent reorganization of society on top of a new foundation.
In this sense the Tribunal found particularly illustrative the testimony of an economist who eloquently described the process of destroying social networks in Colombia through the killing of 3,000 trade unionists, in the framework of a general process of re-primarization of the economy as a form of integrating it into the world economy.
This witness described the failure of the Colombian project of industrialization and its substitution with a new and evil project. The return to a primary economy and one based on the destruction of agrodiversity, the fomenting of the energy sector and a model completely oriented towards exports, with the calculated consequence of reducing the rural population.
From the evidence provided to the tribunal it is clear in convincing form that the responsibility for each of the accused companies is applicable to their headquarters and to those of the Colombian state.
In this last sense the Inter-American Court of Human Rights left settled or established the responsibility of states for human rights violations committed by third parties. The state has the obligation to protect all the people who find themselves within its jurisdiction, including before armed irregular groups of any nature.
In regards to the responsibility of corporations for crimes against humanity the same basis is found in the drafts of international law, wherein such crimes can be committed by organizations, with the support or connivance of the state. In this sense the trials of Germany, derived from the Nuremberg Trials, have to do with the responsibility of complicit businesses with the Nazi regime - this idea is perfectly applicable to the Colombian case and must be taken up again by international law. The discussion about the responsibility of businesses is not a new creation but rather has its basis in the past.
Likewise, the conservation of biological diversity also exceeds the framework of justice of only states and also involves all of humanity. Accordingly, the agreement on biological diversity ratified by Colombia establishes in its introduction that "the conservation of biological diversity is in the common interest of all of humanity," and in Article 10, Section 10, establishes that the state will protect the use of biological resources in accordance with traditional cultural practices.
For these prior reasons, invoking the Argel letter on the Rights of People, after affirming the veracity and forcefulness of the given testimony, with the support of abundant documentary evidence, considering as proven the totality of the accusations against each and every one of the corporations and likewise the Colombian state, and in the belief that the violation of rights constitutes an attack against the collective conscience of humanity and is of concern to all peoples, the tribunal resolves:
1. To raise the accusations and the evidence produced to the highest deliberating court of the Permanent Peoples' Tribunal, session on Colombia.
2. To communicate the present ruling to indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities, as well as campesino communities that have suffered the impacts of the destructive actions of transnational corporations, and to organizations in solidarity with these impacted groups, and also to the workers, academic and student organizations, to the National District Attorney's Office, to the high courts and controlling bodies of Colombia, alternative communication networks, mainstream media, the African Union, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, International Criminal Court, the accused companies, their headquarters, and the states where they are based.
3. To express its solidarity with and recognition of the pain of the victims.
4. To actively support their struggle for truth, justice, reparations, the reestablishment of the violated rights, and the guarantee that these crimes will not be repeated.
With the hope that the people of Colombia will finally have the peace and social justice that they deserve.
Produced in the humanitarian zone of Nueva Esperanza in Dios in the Cacarica river basin, bajo Atrato chocoano, on February 26, 2007.
João Ricardo dos Santos Costa
Andebeng Labeu Madeleine Alingue
Francine Damasceno Pinheiro
Colombia Support Network
P.O. Box 1505
Madison, WI 53701-1505
phone: (608) 257-8753
fax: (608) 255-6621