Honoring International Human Rights Day

internationalhumanrightsdayThis week marks the culmination of special commemorations and actions for PAN’s global community. And in 2013, No Pesticides Use Day (December 3) and International Human Rights Day (December 10) have an added level of poignancy as we join the world in reflecting on the remarkable life of the great Nelson Mandela.

Coming of age in the seventies and eighties, I was an anti-apartheid activist. What I learned about social change and international solidarity in those times still inspires me today. And PAN’s work around the world — to both protect communities from harm imposed by pesticide corporations and support ecological, sustaining food production — is a natural outgrowth of the grassroots-powered solidarity movements of past decades in at least three different ways.

1. We take cues from affected communities

When I was young, I worked in Chicago with long-time activists who had significant ties to the African National Congress, the South African Council of Churches, and other groups representing students and labor in southern Africa. Through these networks, we could vet our strategies — such as promoting institutional divestment and developing a sister-city relationship with the township of Alexandra — with the people we were trying to help. I quickly learned to appreciate the savvy and ingenuity, as well as the bravery, of South Africans, whether in their own country or in exile.

Today PAN’s work is grounded in relationships with allies and partner organizations, and especially with those based in “frontline” rural and agricultural communities where pesticide use is most problematic and the impacts are most acutely experienced.

2. ‘Think globally, act locally’ — more than just a bumper sticker

When people mobilize they can force the powers-that-be to pay attention to historically ignored injustices.

South Africa support groups began to spring up in small towns all over the world, in church basements and on college campuses. At times it felt quixotic, but with the building momentum of a few letters to the editor here, a resolution to stop selling krugerrands there, a powerful movement flourished.

It’s still true that when enough people mobilize in their own community, they can force the powers-that-be to pay attention to historically ignored or far-away injustices.

3. Human rights & economic justice issues are deeply intertwined

Mandela’s African National Congress urged us to connect the dots to “pressurize” multinational organizations and government institutions to hold the apartheid regime accountable for violating the rights of its people.

This week we call on people everywhere to illuminate the dangerous, anti-democratic behavior of the Big 6 pesticide corporations and the human rights abuses they impose on communities across the globe. The actions (and products) of these few international giants like Monsanto and Syngenta endanger human health, damage the environment and harm the livelihoods of farm communities all over the world.

Two years ago, the U.S. stepped in the direction of holding these corporations accountable by endorsing a UN accord recognizing that corporations must respect human rights. Sounds reasonable, right? But since then we haven’t seen any meaningful follow-up action.

In fact, as my colleague Linda Wells recently blogged, the White House is backing sweeping new regional trade agreements that will make it even harder to stop multinational corporations from acting with impunity. Incredibly enough, these agreements include provisions to allow corporations to sue governments whose regulations might harm the company’s future profits.

So, in recognition of International Human Rights Day and in the spirit of Nelson Mandela, today PAN is delivering a message to U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice and to Jason Pielemeier at the State Department: It is time for the government to act on its previous commitment and hold the Big 6 to account. The chorus calling for this action is getting louder by the day.

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