National Human Rights Commission testifies at resumption of GMO court trial in Bangkok

Feature story - May 22, 2006
The historic trial on genetically modified organisms (GMO) resumes with a testimony from Banthoon Setsirote, an official from the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).

Greenpeace activists dressed in protective suits remove GE papaya fruit from trees and secure them in hazardous material containers inside the field trial site.

Activists dressed as prisoners went to the Ministry of Agriculture to press for the government to investigate and legally punish government officials responsible for the spread of genetically engineered papaya in Thai farms. Amnesty International, Thai Coalition for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, BioThai, Confederation of Consumer Organization, and Alternative Agriculture Network also demanded that the Ministry of Agriculture withdraw the lawsuit filed by one of its agencies against Greenpeace employees who revealed its role on the spread of GMO contamination in Thai papaya farms last year. The lawsuit filed by the government against Dr Jiragorn Gajaseni and Patwajee Srisuwan carries a 5-year jail sentence and is seen by the groups as an attempt to silence Greenpeace and a threat civil liberties in the country.

Greenpeace activists dressed in protective suits remove GE papaya fruit from trees and secure them in hazardous material containers inside the field trial site.

The historic trial on genetically modified organisms (GMO) reopened this morning at the Bangkok Criminal Court with a testimony from Banthoon Setsirote, an official from the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). Greenpeace activists Patwajee Srisuwan and Dr Jiragorn Gajaseni are facing three criminal counts for their role in exposing that a government research station in the province of Khon Kaen illegally sold and distributed GMO- contaminated papaya seeds and seedlings to farmers in different parts of the country. Thailand has an existing ban on the planting and sale of genetically modified crops, but this has been under constant assault from the biotechnology industry which seeks inroads into Thailand's lucrative market for agriculture. Ironically, the Department of Agriculture (DOA), which is tasked to enforce a quarantine on GMO crops, violated the ban on GMOs. Greenpeace traced the contamination to have originated from DOA's field trial of GMO papayas in Khon Kaen.  

DOA officials sued Patwajee and Jiragon on Septemeber 27, 2004 for theft, trespassing and destruction of property.

"Genetic pollution caused by GMOs has irreversible effects on the environment, therefore we must stop the widening GMO papaya contamination in our country. The Constitution empowers every Thai citizen the right to protect our environment," said Patwajee.

The NHRC is an independent body established by the Constitution to investigate and monitor violations of human rights. A new Greenpeace report on "Contamination by Genetically Engineered Papaya in Thailand" recalls that when the GMO papaya scandal broke, the NHRC expressed concern that contamination by GMO papaya into the environment could become a serious violation of farmers' rights, consumers' rights, and rights related to environmental, economic, social and cultural issues.

After a fact-finding trip to Khon Kaen in August 2004, the NHRC  recommended to Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra that all field trials on GMO papaya be discontinued and the papaya trees in those experimental plots be destroyed. This led to the Agricultural Minister's order in September 2004 to destroy GMO papaya in field trial plots at DOA's research station.

GMO-contamination did not end there, however. The NHRC received more complaints and reports that GMO papaya were discovered in farms in many other provinces, prompting a second fact-finding trip in July 2005. Samples from papaya trees in Rayong, Mahasarakham, Chaiyapum and Kalasin turned out to be GMO-contaminated.

The NHRC officially lodged a complaint on December 8, 2005 at the National Office of Police against former DOA chief Chakarn Saengraksawongse and officials of the Khon Kaen research station for negligence of their duties to follow up with investigation and destruction of GMO papayas, allowing them to spread to other farms and thus violating the Plant Quarantine Act.

Greenpeace is an independent, campaigning organization which uses non-violent, creative confrontation to expose global environmental problems, and to force the solutions which are essential to a green and peaceful future. Its mission includes the protection of Thai farms and consumers from the onslaught of GMOs which do not have proper assessment for either human food safety or environmental risks.

Two more hearings on the GMO trial are scheduled on May 24 and 30.

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