(16 August 2016 – Manzini, Swaziland, SEATINI Reportage) – Testimonies expected from people and communities at the International Permanent Peoples Tribunal included a litany of charges against various Transnational Corporations (TNCs) from unethical conduct in accounting and tax through to benefiting from the targeting and even murder of activists.
The Tribunal is set to hear the impact of Transnational Corporations (TNCs) on southern Africans hearing from people directly affected by their activities. Ordinary people are not regarded as subjects of international law, under a finding of non-competence in economic matters by international law courts. The Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal seeks to fill in this gap and to transform the international legal and economic order.
The Tribunal on TNCs in Southern Africa sits today and tomorrow in Manzini, the Kingdom of Swaziland, nestled between South Africa and Mozambique. Cases are to be heard from communities and people from Zambia, Swaziland, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique before a panel of Jurors.
M.P. Giyose (South Africa), of Jubilee South, welcomed delegates and said that this was an alternative assembly. It was alternative because Capitalism was being fought as a world power, namely Imperialism. Our fight is against a formidable foe. He emphasised that we needed to be clear on the ideas that inform our struggles. Part of this includes harnessing the power of the working class and the peasantry. Giyosi warned that we cannot be captive to the past. A new idiom of solidarity was needed in politics, art and music. So as long as I hear the old songs, then I know we are far from arriving at our objective.
Explaining the Tribunal as part of a broader movement, he said that, even though oppression was not divisible, we are compelled to divide our struggles and campaigns. Through this process we seek to unite our people against the common foe. Giyosi emphasised the universality of the struggle. He said that in the US this year they were running a bogus election. Imperialism was electing a new leader. But even in America, the people are suffering.
Dumezwani Dlamini (Swaziland), Executive Director of the Foundation for Socio-Economic Justice, framed the discussion by placing responsibility for action both at the personal and community level. Unity of the people was important because TNCs act collectively, but the people outnumber them.
According to Brian Ashley (South Africa), of the Alternative Information and Development Centre (AIDC), the event was organised as a campaign against TNCs and their plunder particularly in Southern Africa. “We are building the Tribunal as part of building a counter – power – peoples’ power.”
Brid Brennan of the Transnational Institute (Netherlands) is part of the global campaign to ‘dismantle corporate power’. She acknowledged the reality of ‘global corporate rule’ and even democracies have been captured by TNCs. The Troika rules in Europe and Europeans have seen their parliaments and peoples’ voices sidelined. The campaign began after a full year of consultation across southern Africa. It sought to provide a new movement, with new ingredients for language, to build peoples’ sovereignty.
A key issue was challenging international law, because the international law courts have ruled on their non-competence on economic rights under international law [economic issues cannot be validly raised under international law], according to a message from Alan Jarvis (sic), Vice President of International Permanent Peoples Tribunal. The PPT has held 42 tribunals and judgements in the post-colonial period, followed the development of political neo-colonialism and continues the work in the tradition of the Russel Tribunal on the Vietnam War. The Tribunals’ brought focus to the very people that have been marginalised by international law.
Gianni Tognoni a juror and Secretary General of the PPT (Italy) said that jurors were here to listen to the peoples struggles and expectations, but not as outsiders coming in to judge as it was redundant to repeat what is locally known. Instead he contextualised the role of the Tribunal. “Representatives of the peoples of Southern Africa are the protagonists. The Tribunal is here so that the people can present their cases not as victims but as true subjects of international law.” He went on to show how the Tribunal seeks to change the national and international laws that assist TNCs. TNCs pretend that the laws of economic treaties are valid law. They have been transforming even the language used. But that is not the vocation of law, its vocation was to support people. He said a new life needed to be imagined. We need to recuperate values of the right to life,” said Tongnoni.
The panel of jurors is comprised of:
· Thulani Maseko (Swaziland) head of the banned Peoples United Democratic Movement and charged with sedition in his home country;
· Mireille Fanon-Mendes France (France) chairperson of the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, and member of the Franz Fanon Foundation;
· Gianni Tognoni (Italy) Secretary General of the PPT;
· Lucy Edwards-Jauch (Namibia) professor of Sociology, gender and HIV expert.
· Donna Andrews a South African political economist, eco-feminist with extensive work in debt, trade and climate social movements.
The journey of the Tribunal on corporate abuse is extensive. It navigates from the titanium in fertile Pondoland held on tribal land, to a problem that was thought solved in Zimbabwe’s Marenge diamond fields, through to the coal fields of the still highly indebted Swaziland and Mozambique. Further cases, such as that of Parmalat in Zambia, and the finance sector in Mauritius, will be heard in the second session to be convened in 2017. Jurors will also hear expert testimony on illicit capital flows, tax injustice and the political economy of the international trade and investment regime.
One of the objectives of the Tribunal is to unify the struggles and to combat TNCs as their “business as usual” practices not only have violated human and environmental rights but also shape policy and laws in countries such as dismantling public services, destroying the commons and endangering food sovereignty, according to briefing documents. The combination of profit maximisation motive of these corporations with the policies and practices of international political power (and increasingly regional and national organisations) has pitted workers and communities from different countries against each other. As a result, the social and regulatory environment has been hollowed out, making it legal for people and communities to be exploited, hence concerns about TNC impunity.
Solidarity movements from the world over are present at the Tribunal.
Nonhle Mbuthuma (South Africa) of the Amadiba Crisis Committee said that they were not interested in mutually beneficial arrangements with Mineral Commodities Ltd (Australia). Mining would destroy their land for generations and they did not see how it could be beneficial. The Crisis Committee recently lost an activist in a brutal murder, which case remains unsolved.
The PPT was essential for socio-economic justice to those suffering from exploitation and oppression from the Capitalist system and who are left with no avenue for reparation claims, according to Jean Yves Chaurimootoo (Mauritius) of Resistans & Alternativ.
David Fig, a South African, fellow of the Transnational Institute (Netherlands) looked forward to hearing popular voices in conflict with TNCs present their evidence so jurors could assess their situations. The Tribunal is unique because it accommodates voices that are not often heard in a public space.
The Tribunal was a way to make visible the crimes perpetuated by corporations and to find ways to dismantle their power. Through visibility given to these crimes we can unite to stop corporate impunity, according to Anabela Lemos director Justica Ambiental/FOE Mozambique.
Tom Lebert of the War on Want (UK) said he was privileged to be part of the Tribunal and to stand in solidarity with communities affected by the depredations of Northern neo-colonialization in Africa. WoW recently published a study on Britain’s scramble for Africa’s energy and mineral resources, titled The New Colonialism, a study that formed the basis of his input.
Klaus Kristensen (Denmark) from Aktivist Afrika Kontakt said that they were here to show solidarity with peoples movements here. It was essential to hold TNCs accountable for their crimes and the tribunal was an important step to this end.
AIDC, La Via Campesina, Justiça Ambiental (FoE Mozambique), Rural Women’s]Assembly, WoMin (Women in Mining) and the Foundation for Socio-Economic Justice (Swaziland) have served on the reference group for the Tribunal.
The leitmotif of the Tribunal is that the problem is the law.