The Liberty Institute (aka The Julian Simon Centre) is an extreme right-wing anti-regulation pressure group based in New Delhi, India. It's also part of rightwing coalitions like the US-based International Consumers for Civil Society (ICCS) and the London-based International Policy Network (IPN).
The institute's founder and director is Barun Mitra. Mitra and Liberty lobbied hard for commercial approval for Monsanto's GM cotton, claiming there should be 'free access' to new technologies without any government interference: 'Any government is ill-placed to judge the merits and the potential of any frontier technology. The vetoing power of the government is susceptible to being misused by vested interests who concoct pseudo-scientific arguments and often use unethical means for influencing government's decisions.'
In March 2002 in the run up to India's approval of the commercialisation of Monsanto's GM cotton, the Liberty Institute hosted a press conference at which representatives of large corporate farmers threatened to grow Monsanto's GM cotton regardless of regulatory approval. The group of farmers' leaders present included Sharad Joshi , Chengal Reddy of what was billed as the 'Indian Farmers Federation', Mrs. Saroja Kashikar of the Kisan Coordination Committee (KCC) and Bhupinder Singh Mann who is also part of the KCC. None of these 'farmers' leaders' has a significant constituency.
Liberty and Mitra have strong AgBioWorld connections. Mitra collaborated on a pro-GM AgBioWorld document called 'critical questions in agricultural biotechnology' with AgBioWorld co-founder, GregConko of the Competitive Enterprise Institute (described by PR Watch as a 'well-funded front for corporations') and Matt Metz. AgBioWorld's CS Prakash, has taken part in Liberty events in support of GM.
Liberty has also been a strong supporter of Big Tobacco, publishing an attack on the World Health Organisation by Roger Scruton - the British philosopher recently exposed as being in the pay of the tobacco industry - with a forward by Barun Mitra. In Liberty's press release for the book it is claimed, 'The anti-tobacco crusade from the West, like the environmental one as manifested at the WTO meeting Seattle last December, is the newest manifestation of the neo-imperialistic desires.'
Attacking corporate critics as 'neo-colonialists' is a frequent ploy. The Liberty Institute and Mitra are used in this way, as is the Kenyan James Shikwati and the US-based Indian scientist CS Prakash, to put a Third World face on a pro-corporate agenda and to denigrate and discredit civil society movements in the Third World who challenge corporate interests.
An example of this was a march in support of free trade and biotechnology, involving farmers like Chengal Reddy, at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in August 2002. James Shikwati wrote a commentary about the march for The (London) Times headlined, 'I do not need white NGOs to speak for me'. Mitra made a speech during the march in which he gave a 'Bullshit award for Sustaining Poverty' to the Indian environmentalist Vandana Shiva. In making the award, Mitra condemned Shiva as 'a mouthpiece of western eco-imperialism'.
However, the media contact given on the press releases for both the march and for Mitra's award was Kendra Okonski, the daughter of a US lumber industrialist who has worked for various right wing anti-regulatory NGOs - all funded and directed by
'whites'. These include the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a
Washington-based 'think tank' whose multi-million dollar budget comes from major US corporations, amongst them BIO member Dow Chemicals. Okonski also runs the website Counterprotest.net, where her specialty is helping right wing lobbyists take to the streets in mimicry of popular protesters.
Okonski works for the London-based International Policy Network and the deceptively named Sustainable Development Network.
The Liberty Institute is believed to receive funds from the Atlas Foundation, founded by Anthony Fisher, whose money backs other far right 'think tanks' like the International Policy Network and the Institute of Economic Affairs. Other sources of funding are unknown. Dr Vandana Shiva has alledged that Mitra is in the pay of Monsanto. In May 2001 Mitra was awarded the Sir Anthony Fisher Memorial Award at a meeting of the Atlas Foundation. He's been described as 'definitely one of a number of emerging young superstars in the international (libertarian) movement'.
Liberty's Board of Advisors includes directors or former directors of large companies as well as the executive director of a casino based in Nepal. Liberty supports the need for reforms aimed at greater regulatory flexibility and freedom of choice for consumers in the case of gambling.