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Corporations on trial in Seattle

18 November 1999



Seattle, Washington, USA, November 27-29, 1999

Plans are now being made to hold a Global People's Tribunal on Corporate Crimes Against Humanity at the time of the World Trade Organization Ministerial Meeting, which starts on November 29. The Tribunal will hear testimony and receive other forms of evidence of crimes against humanity by global corporations as defined under international and Canadian law on Saturday and Sunday, November 27 and 28, from 9am to 5pm both days. A decision on whether this evidence is sufficient to sustain charges of crimes against humanity will be rendered on Monday, November 29, the opening day of the Ministerial Meeting.


The real enemy of the people and the biosphere in Seattle is not the World Trade Organization but those structures of power which created it and which it serves -- namely, giant global corporations now larger than most nation states. One purpose of the Tribunal is to focus attention on this underlying reality of corporate-driven globalization. Another purpose of the Tribunal is underscore just how destructive of fundamental human rights, the environment and democratic process the world's largest corporations are.

The organizers believe that it will be possible to present to the Seattle Tribunal sufficient evidence to sustain an indictment of those corporations being examined by the Tribunal for "crimes against humanity." Such crimes have been defined under Canadian Law C-71 as meaning "... murder,extermination, deportation, persecution, or any other inhumane act or commission that is committed against any civilian population or any identifiable persons ... and that ... constitutes a contravention of customary international law or conventional international law or is criminal according to the general principles of law recognized by the Community of Nations" (emphasis added). This definition is drawn from the Charter of the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg as subsequently reaffirmed and extended to acts committed at any time (not just wartime) by the UN General Assembly. And the UN's International Law Commission has asserted that "inhumane acts" become crimes against humanity when they are "committed in a systematic way or on a large scale and instigated or directed by a Government or by any organization or group" (emphasis added) which clearly includes non-state actors such as giant global corporations.

Tribunal Format:

A grand jury of persons from the USA (host of the WTO Meeting), Canada, and other countries will be impaneled by the presiding judge or judges of the Tribunal to receive evidence of crimes against humanity by a limited number of global corporations (see below). The jury will be aided in this task by one or more prosecutors who will review the applicability of crimes against humanity as defined above to different "inhumane acts or omissions" under Canadian and international law.

This Tribunal will function like a grand jury, considering whether or not there is sufficient evidence to sustain charges of "crimes against humanity." The actual trial will take place in other forums in the future with timely notice to the accused parties which will be given ample opportunity to present evidence in their defense under generally accepted conditions of due process.


Arrangements are now being made with the assistance of the Citizens Trade Campaign at the Labor Temple, 2800 First Avenue, Seattle.

Corporations to be Investigated:

Between 6 and 12 global corporations will be selected, based in part on the ready availability of evidence of "inhumane acts or omissions". Among those already suggested are Union Carbide Corporation (perpetrator of the world's worst industrial disaster at Bhopal, India), Dow Chemical (which gave us Agent Orange and is about to acquire Union Carbide), Monsanto, Bayer, Unocal, Shell, Rio Tinto, Cargill, and GAP. However, no final choices have been made and additional suggestions are welcomed.

Types of Evidence:

Written, oral, and video taped. We will also examine critically corporate counterclaims to have benefited humanity.

Culminating Action:

On Monday, November 29, members of the Tribunal jury and others who wish to do so will march on the Convention and Trade Center to serve citizen arrest warrants on the Trade Ministers of the Group of 8 countries (i.e., the largest industrialized countries) as accomplices after the fact.

Participation Welcomed:

As plans are still tentative, we welcome suggestions of judges, members of the Tribunal grand jury (preferably people already planning to come to Seattle as we have no travel budget), corporations to be examined, and witnesses, both "expert" and those who have suffered directly at the hands of the corporations in the dock at the Tribunal (again preferably those already planning to come or with access to travel funds). We also welcome financial contributions, in cash or kind (e.g., plane tickets to Seattle).


Endorsed by People's Global Action at its recent conference in Bangalore, the Tribunal is being organized by a small group of human rights, consumer, and trade union activists in the USA and Canada. For further information, contact the Tribunal Coordinator, Ward Morehouse, Council on International and Public Affairs (CIPA), 777 United Nations Plaza, Suite 3C, New York, NY 10017, Tel. 212 972 9877 or 914 271 6590; fax 914 271 6590; e-mail:

This full announcement can also be downloaded from the following website:

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