Monday, January 24, 2011

Dr. Filartiga, torture, and the environment

When the father of a boy who was tortured to death by police describes a situation as torture, it carries special meaning. In researching issues of human rights and the environment recently, I came across this moving statement by Dr. Joel Filartiga at an event marking the anniversary of the pathbreaking case Filartiga v. Pena-Irala (2nd Cir. 1980) (case discussed by IntLawGrrl Beth Van Schaack here):

Torture is the highest sin. Torture has no territory. It is an eternal and horrendous crime. We feel it in our spirits as if it were today. We live it every moment. We are living it with each moment.
Right now there are indirect ways of torture. Thousands of workers are dying in my country, intoxicated by agrotoxics that are being used in differential ways: There are [tens of thousands of] liters per year of pesticides used in a country of only six million inhabitants. These pesticides destroy the brainwaves . . . We have a sick country, miserable because the improper cultivation of soy has devastated our forests. Paraguay was an earthly paradise. . . . Today there are no more forests. Because there are no more forests, there is no more rain. The Paraguay river is a nest of water right now. The climate has changed completely. There are no more birds. The Guyra Campana, the bell bird that was born in Paraguay, no longer exists because there are no more forests.
Not only were Paraguayans tortured, our Paraguayan land is being tortured right at this moment. We are the fourth producer of soy in the world -- what a pity. We don't have birds, we don't have water, we don't have good health, our workers don't have any more land. . . . This is a problem of massive proportions my country is struggling with now.
Remarks of Dr. Filartiga [translated from Spanish by the law review], The Making of Filartiga v. Pena: Alien Tort Claims Act After 25 Years, 9 N.Y. City L. Rev. 249, 279-280 (2005-2006).
Skin lesions, rashes, headaches, nausea, vomiting and birth defects are among the health problems described in this IPS story about agrochemicals used on soybean plantations in Paraguay, an article that references Dr. Filartiga regarding the herbicide glyphosate.

Dr. Filartiga is quoted in this story two weeks ago, when a young man died just days after the fields next to his house were sprayed with pesticides, remarking on "chronic poisoning that leads to cancer or children born with deformities such as cleft lip." This study shows the link of pesticides to cleft lip and other birth defects.
For additional information on the environmental situation in Paraguay:

"An investigation in Paraguay has discovered that vast plantations of soy, principally grown for use in intensively-farmed animal feed, are responsible for a catalogue of social and ecological problems, including the forced eviction of rural communities, landlessness, poverty, excessive use of pesticides, deforestation and rising food insecurity."

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