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The attack took place in 2007 by the armed private security of the company and resulted in the death of rural worker Keno and other three peasants injured. The sentence against Swiss company Syngenta was welcomed by social movements, based on the difficulties faced when trying to make companies accountable for the rights violations they perpetrate.
Syngenta, a GM and agrotoxic company, was held accountable for the murder of rural worker Valmir Mota de Oliveira (known as Keno) and for the attempted murder of Isabel do Nascimento de Souza. Both were members of La Via Campesina and the Rural Landless Workers Movement of Brazil (MST).
The ruling by Judge Pedro Ivo Moreiro was published on the Official State Journal on Tuesday, November 17. The sentence established that the company has to compensate Keno´s family and Isabel for moral and material damages. The lawsuit was filed in 2010 in an attempt to obtain answers about Syngenta´s responsibility in the attack perpetrated by its security officers.
"Currently, transnational companies enjoy huge freedoms to act at transnational level, but there are no regulations or mechanisms at national or international level that are enough to force companies to respect human rights and to hold them accountable in case of violations. The ruling on Sygenta, in this case, is the exception to the rule" said Terra de Dereitos lawyer; Fernando Prioste.
About the ruling
The Judge recognized that the event that took place at Syngenta´s fields was a true massacre. In his ruling, he stated that "to refer to what happened as a confrontation is to deny reality, because there is no doubt that what happened was a true massacre disguised as a reintegration of possession". With this, the arguments filed by Syngenta were rejected by the court. The company argued that the attack was the result of a confrontation between the private forces and the members of La Via Campesina.
In their defense, Syngenta recognized the illegality of the acts by the private security and the ideological nature of the action against la Via Campesina and the MST. The company stated that "more than protecting this or that land, it is clear that the security officers aimed at defending an ideological position contrary to that of MST, aiming to spread the idea that each action is met with a certain reaction". With this, the transnational company tried to separate themselves from the event, arguing that the attack was not carried out by the company hired by them, but by a militia that responded to landowners.
However, in his ruling, the judge recognized that the "poor choice in the outsourcing of security forces and the indirect financing of illegal activities contribute to their civil responsibility". In addition, he strongly disapproved of the attack, stating "no matter how illegal or reprehensible the occupation was, they shouldn´t have acted on their own, imposing death penalties to the occupiers, but they should have sought legal means to solve conflicts".
The ruling is not final yet, and Syngenta could file an appeal to the Parana State Justice Court. The Terra de Direitos lawyer expects that the Court will uphold the ruling and reestablish the truth on the events that took place in October 2007. "The evidence is clear against the company", he added. "A potential acquittal of Syngenta would be understood as an acceptance by the legal system of massacres such as this one".
Exception to the rule
Isabel Nascimento dos Santos says she is happy, beyond the monetary compensation. Severely injured during the attack in 2007, the farmer highlighted the fact that the court recognized the responsibility of Syngenta in this case. "Now we have to lift our heads, trying to forget some of the suffering we experienced". When asked about if this ruling meant the end of the struggle, Isabel was clear: "Never! We will continue fighting, giving continuity also to Keno´s work".
MST representative for Cascavel region, Eduardo Rodrigues, highlighted the importance of the ruling. According to him, the impunity of large companies that violate rights is common ,and at the same time the criminalization of the members of the movement for opposing the agribusiness model is frequent. "The attack did not take place without the knowledge of the multinational company" denounced Rodrigues. "They did not only provide institutional support, but also financial support and logistics".
Eduardo would like this ruling to be extended to other cases where companies have to be made accountable for the attacks they perpetrate. "I hope that this ruling can strengthen our struggle, giving visibility to our colleagues".
Source: Terra de Direitos
José Luis Abarca, hijo de un luchador ambiental asesinado en noviembre de 2009 por encabezar la resistencia a un proyecto minero en el municipio mexicano de Chicomuselo, estado de Chiapas, interpuso el 5 de febrero una denuncia administrativa ante el Comisionado para la Integridad de la Administración Pública de Canadá.
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