Weekly News Review

30th May 2004

WTO Hands Off Our Food, Say 48 Million in Global Campaign

In a protest against genetically modified food organised last Tuesday (May 25) by Friends of the Earth International, environmental campaigners declared a ‘bio-hazard’ area around the headquarters of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). They also delivered a petition to the WTO signed by more than 100,000 citizens from 90 countries and more than 544 organisations representing 48 million people.

Signatories, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu and French small farmers' leader Jose Bové, say the WTO should not undermine the sovereign right of any country to protect its citizens and the environment from Genetically Modified (GM) foods and crops, a right supposedly guaranteed by an international agreement known as the Cartagena Biosafety Protocol.

The delivery of the petition (technically, a ‘citizen’s objection’) to the WTO comes as part of a global ‘bite-back’ campaign against a complaint filed at the WTO by the US, Argentina and Canada a year ago.  These countries accuse the European Union of blocking trade in GM crops and foods and May 25 is the official deadline for WTO countries to submit evidence in

the complaint. In May 2003 the US, Canada and Argentina filed a complaint with the WTO.

The countries claim that a European Union de-facto moratorium and various national bans on genetically modified crops made them lose millions of dollars of potential exports. By mounting this WTO dispute the US is trying to force genetically modified food into the European Union and other parts of the world where citizens have serious and legitimate concerns about the risks of GM foods and crops for consumers, farmers, wildlife and the environment.

If the WTO rules in favour of the US-led coalition the EU faces economic sanctions or must accept more GM food. Such a decision would also make it more difficult for developing countries to protect their citizens from risks associated with GM crops and foods. But it will help biotech corporations access new markets more easily, particularly in the South. Signatories believe that decisions concerning regulation of international trade in GM organisms should be made in accordance with the UN Biosafety Protocol and not by the World Trade Organisation.

The signatures were delivered after the WTO’s public symposium (25-27 May) was opened by WTO director-general Supachai Panitchpakdi and European chief trade negotiator Pascal Lamy, among others.

Friends of the Earth International Trade Campaigner Alexandra Wandel said in Geneva:

"Tens of thousands of individuals around the world have signed this petition to send a clear message to the WTO to take their hands off our food. The World Trade Organisation has no right to impose GM crops and food on any country. All around the world, including in the US, Argentina and Canada, people have backed this call. We will not be bullied by the United States, biotech companies or the WTO."


For more information go here

For pictures of the event go here

Amnesty criticises EU states for violating human rights

Amnesty International has heavily criticised the EU for not doing enough to protect human rights within its own borders and is calling for better monitoring at the EU level. Read all about it here

Rightwing  Eurosceptics predicted to finish third in UK

The right wing anti-EU UK Independence Party (UKIP), campaigning for the UK’s withdrawal, could come third in the European elections, according to a new poll published this week. Read all about it here

Tell the EU to clean up its act on illegal timber.

Recently, a team of Greenpeace activists decided to get out their power tools and do a little renovation of their own at the European Commission's recently refurbished buildings in Brussels. They found that despite previous lofty promises the EU institutions are still buying timber from companies linked to Indonesia's illegal timber trade. Greenpeace is asking people to  send a message to Margot Wallström, European Commissioner for Environment and ask her “to insist that the EU put their money where their mouth is!”  To find out more go


Anger over Uribe visit to Spain

The President of Colombia, Alvaro Uribe, was declared "persona non grata", by Spanish MPs when he visited Madrid last weekend. Uribe is "accomplice and promoter" of the paramilitaries of Colombia, unionists and politicians said, calling for an agreement to sell Spanish tanks and war planes to Colombia to be annulled.

"Uribe is 'paramilitarising' Colombia and involving almost two million civilians in the armed conflict, as well as extending the destabilization to other countries in the region. Therefore, we repudiate Uribe's visit and consider he should be declared 'persona non grata' in Madrid", declared Tom Kucharz, of the Spanish environmental movement Ecologists in Action, at a press conference he held together with representatives of the Spanish Commision for Refugee Assistance (CEAR), the International Assembly for Peace in Colombia, the United Left party (IU by it's Spanish abbreviation) and the trade union federation CGT.

Kurcharz also critizised the decision by the corporate discussion group New Economic Forum to invite Uribe to a lunch at a well known hotel in Madrid.

The sentiment was echoed by the head of the International and Human Rights Office of the IU, Fran Pérez, who called Uribe a "sinister person who protects criminals" and for whom the invitation to lunch was only understandable as it came from "the old and rancid right" who preside the New Economic Forum.

Talking about the military cooperation agreement between Spain and Colombia, Fran Pérez urged the Spanish head of government, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, to "break it completely" because it, in his opinion, "is not the best way to promote peace".

"We want the government to pledge itself not to do as Aznar did, because, by design or not, he promoted the destabilization of the region during his term of government", he said.

Also, he reminded reporters that the Left-Green group in parliament this week presented a motion to parliament to suspend the sale of arms to Colombia, and to demand of her President, Alvaro Uribe, that he respect human rights as a condition for being offered development aid.

Spain has agreed to sell a minimum of 35 AMX-30 tanks, eight C-212 planes and armoured vehicles for the police, to donate Mirage fighter-bombers and patrol boats, build an ammunition production plant and supply flight simulation trainers for Black Hawk helicopters, for a total sum of 100 million dollars.

In his concluding remarks the IU representative accused Uribe of launching a "ferocious offensive" against trade unionists and human rights defenders.

After the press conference a crowd of people gathered at the Plaza de la Cibeles to protest Uribe's visit and his policy of 'democratic security'.

The demonstrators, remembering that human rights groups and international organizations have denounced the "progressive deterioration" of the situation in Colombia since Uribe assume office in 2002, carried banners on which could be read: "Uribe policy - State terrorism", "Uribe and paramilitaries attack Venezuela" and "100 trade unionists dead during Uribe government".

One of the participants, Gloria Inés Ramírez of the Colombian trade union federation CUT, who fled her country four months ago because of threats from paramilitaries, demanded a negotiated political resolution of the conflict, an "humanitarian agreement" which will permit kidnap victims to return home, that "liquidation" of trade unionists ceases, and that Spain suspends an agreement that "nourishes oppression" in Colombia.

Thanks to Jhony Valetta of ANNCOL for this report.

Greenpeace 1, Ashcroft 0

A federal judge threw out the US government's attempt to shut down Greenpeace. In the clearest indication that the case was harassment, the judge didn't even need to hear Greenpeace’s defence before he acquitted them of all charges and dismissed the jury. As a Greenpeace spokesperson says,  “This is a great victory for freedom of speech, but the question remains: Why did the US spend all that time chasing us instead of tracking down the illegal mahogany we were protesting against?”

You can read more about the case and the decision here

New Yorkers can Coca-Cola

 The New York-based Park Slope Food Coop has decided to stop selling Coca-Cola products, citing Coke's responsibility for violence against workers in Colombia.

Park Slope Food Coop is a 10,800-member cooperatively owned store doing over $20 million sales volume per year. Earlier this month, the store's General Manager Joseph Holtz, wrote to Coca-Cola to inform of the decision no longer to sell products which have the "Coca-Cola Co." logo on the packaging or are advertised as Coca-Cola products, such as Odwalla or Minute Maid products.

The decision was made shortly after a Colombian death squad machine gunned the family of a Coca-Cola union leader, killing three and wounding two kids.

”It is with regret that I inform you of our decision to stop selling products of The Coca-Cola Co. at our store. I hope that someday we can reverse our decision in response to news of improvements in Colombia,” Joseph Holtz wrote.

According to Holtz, a report written by New York City Council Member Hiram Monserrate, who recently participated in a fact-finding mission to Colombia, was highly influential in the food cooperative's decision.

In January Hiram Monserrate and a delegation of union, student and community activists travelled to Colombia to investigate allegations by Coca-Cola workers that the company is complicit in the human rights abuses the workers have suffered. The delegation met with Coke officials and workers, as well as a variety of governmental, human rights and clergy representatives.

The findings of the New York delegation supports the workers' claims that the company bears responsibility for the human rights crisis affecting its workforce.

Upon their return to New York, members of the delegation said there have been a total of 179 major human rights violations of Coca-Cola's workers, including nine murders. Family members of union activists have been abducted and tortured. Union members have been fired for attending union meetings. The company has pressured workers to resign their union membership and contractual rights, and fired workers who refused to do so.

”All of us must challenge this company, the symbol of American enterprise throughout the world, to end its complicity in the persecution of Colombian workers.” Council Member Monserrate stated.

Most troubling to the delegation were the persistent allegations that paramilitary violence against workers was done with the knowledge of and likely under the direction of company managers. The physical access that paramilitaries have had to Coca-Cola bottling plants is impossible without company knowledge.

The New York delegation also reported, that Coca-Cola's complicity in the situation is deepened by its repeated pattern of bringing criminal charges against union activists who have spoken out about the company's collusion with paramilitaries. These charges have been dismissed without merit on several occasions.

The conclusion of the report is clear:

”The conclusion that Coca-Cola bears responsibility for the campaign of terror leveled at its workers is unavoidable. The delegation calls on the company to rectify the situation immediately.”

Thanks to Maria Engqvist of ANNCOL for this report.

Japanese photographer refuses to accept prize from pro-war newspaper

Morizumi Takashi, a photo journalist known for his extensive coverage of the effects of the Iraq war, declined an award offered by the newspaper Sankei Shimbun for his book on the grounds that the newspaper is uncritical of the Japanese government's support for the war on Iraq.

Morizumi's book We are now in Iraq contains many photos that he took in Iraq as well as an anti-war speech made by Charlotte Aldebron, 13 years old at that time, at a peace rally in the U.S.

On his web site, Morizumi wrote that the Sankei strongly supports the views of the Japanese and US governments calling Iraqi people struggling to achieve Iraq's independence ‘terrorists’.

"If I accepted this prize, I could no longer hold my head up before Iraqi children," said Morizumi.

Thanks to Japan Press Weekly for this report.

Green Left Weekly, Australia’s socialist newspaper, leads its edition of  May 26 with the optimistic headline “Iraq war causes cracks in the US empire”  The failure of US troops' bloody attempts to crush the Iraqi people's armed rebellions in Fallujah and Najaf  and the public outrage across the world sparked by the revelations of the systematic torture of Iraqi prisoners by US guards at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison  have helped derail the US political elite's campaign of conquest, argues GLW. Read the rest here  You can also join a GLW discussion list  by going here

Victor Wallis writes to tell us that Richard Flood was released from prison on May 14 and is now living with his wife and children in Crete, Illinois. Richard, a social activist who was victimised by the police after defending himself and his wife from a violent attack, has obtained a certificate to qualify as an asbestos abatement worker, and he is planning to obtain a law degree via correspondence courses. Victor informs us that Richard “welcomes contact with all those who have supported his struggle. He can be reached by email at revstrlawyer@yahoo.com