When an indigenous community on Nicaragua`s Atlantic coast won a landmark decision protecting their rights to communal lands, E-LAW advocates around the world were exhilarated. Now, E-LAW U.S. is helping advocates throughout Latin America learn the lessons of this monumental decision.
For years, the Nicaraguan government had rejected efforts of the Mayagna indigenous community of Awas Tingni to gain title to their communal lands. When the government sold logging rights on this land to a multinational corporation, the Awas Tingni community pursued their claim in Nicaraguan courts. When they were denied justice, they petitioned the Inter-American Human Rights Commission in Washington, D.C. The Commission then brought the claim to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in San Jose, Costa Rica.
The Court issued a tremendous ruling, ordering the government of Nicaragua to demarcate and title indigenous lands throughout Nicaragua. For the first time, the Court recognized that indigenous communities have a human right to their customary lands and ordered a government to recognize this right.
E-LAW advocates shared news of this tremendous victory through the E-LAW network. Nicaraguan lawyer Lottie Cunningham Wren, a Miskito Indian who worked on the case, traveled to Eugene to work with E-LAW U.S. and help other lawyers in the network learn about her work. Several E-LAW advocates have claims pending in the Inter-American system or are planning to bring claims.
These lawyers and others were eager to learn more, so in September, E-LAW U.S. brought together 17 leading Latin American attorneys for a five-day workshop in San Jose to learn about defending the human right to a healthy environment. Workshop participants traveled from 11 countries to participate in the five-day training, held in close collaboration with the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is one of two bodies in the inter-American system for the promotion and protection of human rights. In 1965, the Commission was authorized to examine complaints or petitions regarding specific cases of human rights violations. In 1980, the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights (IIHR) was sanctioned by the Commission and the Government of Costa Rica to conduct human rights research and training.
E-LAW advocates brought a wealth of personal experience enforcing environmental law domestically to the workshop, while trainers from IIHR brought knowledge of the inter-American human rights system. Attorney Victor Rodriguez Rescia, an IIHR consultant and former Deputy Secretary of the Court, led the five-day workshop. Professor James Anaya of the University of Arizona College of Law, a lead attorney in the Awas Tingni case, traveled to Costa Rica to share his experiences with the group.
Participants found the training enormously valuable and said it would help them bring successful claims before the court to protect environmental human rights.
Another workshop highlight was a visit with Costa Rica`s President Abel Pacheco and Allan Flores Maya, Vice Minister for the Environment and Energy. E-LAW U.S. Executive Director Bern Johnson, and Fernando Dougnac, founder of Fiscalia del Medio Ambiente, Chile`s leading environmental law organization (see page 5), thanked President Pacheco for his courageous stand against oil exploration on Costa Rica`s coast. E-LAW advocates in Costa Rica worked hard to protect fragile ecosystems and indigenous lands from the dangers of oil exploration. Halting oil exploration in Costa Rica was an important part of Pacheco`s presidential campaign and he has stood behind this commitment since he took office in 2002.
E-LAW U.S. thanks the Ford Foundation, Victor Rodriguez Rescia (IIHR), James Anaya (University of Arizona College of Law), Tom Ankersen (University of Florida), Carolina Mauri (University of Costa Rica), and Carlos Manauella (University for International Cooperation) for making this work possible.
Access to Clean Water in Argentina
Chacras de la Merced is a low-income community of 5,000 along the Suquia River on the eastern end of Cordoba, Argentina’s second largest city. A sewage treatment plant was built in the middle of Chacras de la Merced and the smell of raw sewage hangs in the air. The plant needs maintenance, lacks capacity, and frequently discharges effluent into the river. The community has been complaining about the problem since 1992.
Seeking relief, the community called on E-LAW advocates at Centro de Derechos Humanos y Ambiente (CEDHA). The community’s only source of water is wells along the river and many children and family members are suffering from gastrointestinal illnesses.
CEDHA asked E-LAW U.S. for scientific support monitoring water quality in homes and in the river. I traveled to Cordoba in July and met with the local community. This was their first opportunity to speak with a scientist about the problem. I also met with CEDHA lawyers and law clinic students. Together, we identified a local laboratory and microbiologist who could help carry out water quality testing. We coordinated with local community members on water sampling activities, identified best sampling points, and purchased materials.
On the day of testing, we arranged for a notary to accompany the sampling team. We took two water samples from the river, one upstream and one downstream from the sewage treatment plant. We also took three water samples from local homes. All samples were delivered to the laboratory.
The laboratory results were shocking. Family wells were found to have 2,000 fecal coliform bacteria per 100 ml. of water. The World Health Organization recommends that no fecal coliform be present in drinking water. Citizens are now pursuing legal action seeking clean water and abatement of untreated sewage discharge.
The Director of CEDHA, Romina Picolotti, wrote to E-LAW U.S. expressing her gratitude: “We appreciate deeply for giving us the proof in this case. This is key and the legal action wouldn´t have been possible without your help.”
Training Judges in Eastern Europe, Caucasus, and Central Asia
John Bonine and
In June, Ecopravo-Lviv (E-LAW Ukraine) held the first-ever environmental law symposium for Chief Justices of the Constitutional Courts and Supreme Courts of 11 countries of Eastern Europe, Caucasus, and Central Asia.
On the first day, the judges were reserved and formal. They may have been thinking, “What do these experts have to say to us?” Or they may have been wondering how relevant all this environmental law talk was to their societies struggling to become more democratic, where judicial independence is sometimes more a vision than a reality.
During the first dinner, it was apparent that the judges had connected both with one another and with the environ-mental lawyers providing the training. Justice Paul Stein from Australia and Attorney Parvez Hassan from Pakistan presented cases illustrating standing to sue for citizens and NGOs. Participants were impressed by cases in which plaintiffs represented children, including future unborn generations, defending their right to a healthy environment. The lectures turned into impassioned debates and a final declaration recognized, among other things, the need for support for citizen litigation.
However, the road to the rule of law in environmental matters will be a long one in many countries. When organizer Svitlana Kravchenko told one Justice that she admired her openness, the Justice replied, “Well, I can talk that way here, but it is not so easy to do so back home.” Other Justices were more optimistic and some appeared to be eager to have cases filed in their courts.
The environmental law symposium was made possible with support from the United Nations Environment Programme and the IUCN: World Conservation Union.
John Bonine is co-founder of E-LAW and a member of the E-LAW U.S. Board of Directors. Svitlana Kravchenko is President of Ecopravo-Lviv (E-LAW Ukraine).
Training Indigenous Leaders in Colombia
In May, advocates at FUNDEPUBLICO in Colombia organized a workshop for indigenous communities in the Colombian Amazon region. More than 50 members of the Cocama and Yagua indigenous groups participated in the three-day workshop in remote Puerto Nariño, Amazonas.
Indigenous leaders discussed critical threats to their natural resources, intellectual property rights, and cultural integrity. They also learned about legal tools available to communities to defend their rights and sustainably manage natural resources.
Workshop participants found the workshop helpful and asked FUNDEPUBLICO to provide more workshops about environmental rights for indigenous peoples.
The workshop was made possible with generous support from the Ford Foundation. E-LAW U.S. has collaborated with advocates at FUNDEPUBLICO since 1994.
Sri Lanka Training Workshop
In June, Sri Lanka’s Environmental Foundation Ltd. and the Public Interest Law Foundation captured the hearts and minds of 14 young South Asian lawyers at a training workshop in the ancient city of Anuradhapura. Two of South Asia’s most experienced public interest environmental lawyers, Lalanath de Silva of Sri Lanka and M.C. Mehta of India, presided over the workshop. M.C. told participants: ”A walk of 1,000 miles begins with one step.”
The 2,500 year-old ruins of Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka—The City of 90 Kings—was the setting of the first of three training workshops. Fourteen young, spirited, public interest lawyers from India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka came to this ancient capital seeking inspiration and the tools and resources they need to help communities challenge polluters and protect ecosystems.
Alex Hanafi, E-LAW U.S. Staff Attorney, traveled to Sri Lanka to help facilitate the workshop and was joined by leading public interest environmental lawyers from the region: Lalanath de Silva, Anandalal Nanayakkara, and Jagath Gunawardene from Sri Lanka; M.C. Mehta, P.B Sahasranaman, and S. Devika from India; and Khondokar Shamsuddin Mahmood from Bangladesh.
E-LAW U.S. Staff Scientists Mark Chernaik and Meche Lu (from Lima) participated "remotely," using chat software, while public interest scientists Leo Saldana from India and Hemantha Withanage from Sri Lanka participated on-site.
Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka
The workshop was held on the banks of a massive wetland, part of a sophisticated irrigation and water conservation system established more than 2,000 years ago. A bewildering variety of birds and wildlife frolicked nearby as the students got down to work.
The five-day workshop included sessions on South Asian environmental laws and regulations, strategies and skills for successful public interest environmental advocacy, tips on conducting and utilizing scientific research, and heartfelt discussion of how to sustain a public interest environmental law practice in the face of social, economic, and political challenges.
Trainees prepared cases and participated in three moot court sessions presided over by eminent Sri Lankan jurists, including a retired Supreme Court Justice and a current Appeals Court Judge. Sessions lasted from 6 a.m. to dinner and didn’t stop there: work continued late into each night, demonstrating the commitment and sincerity of the participants.
On day two, Lalanath de Silva reported: “In the early morning, the young lawyers are working on their assignments. Where are the submissions?” I ask. “Well sir, it is written but not typed.” OK, some pep talk about discipline and teamwork; some encouragement that the group can do it. I can overhear M.C. Mehta telling his group of another “tricky” strategy he used. They laugh, then scribble furiously, rushing to capture every word he says, every idea. Later, at 2 p.m., we are 30 minutes behind schedule. Where is everyone? All in the computer room scrambling to finish their written submissions! The young lawyers troop in, looking stressed out. Ah, but that is what public interest lawyers face in real life.”
On Day Four, Lalanath reported: “I run to my room and change into formal gear. Participants are walking in, all fully clad, some in the different lawyer’s garbs of the South Asian nations. The Registrar calls the case and the parties mark their appearances. Five young lawyers are appearing for the Petitioner in a case based on a famous environmental case from South Asia. One of the senior lawyers rises, flustering the team of young lawyers with a preliminary objection. But the students are ready for it and respond. Nicely done! The young lawyers take turns dividing the 45 minutes allocated. Each, in turn, is questioned by the bench...”
Toque macaques, found only in Sri Lanka, added to the drama of the final moot court session. Peering in through the large windows of the conference room, the “temple monkeys” jumped and raced headlong over the noisy metal roof. The students kept their composure, however, and delivered their arguments forcefully.
A closing ceremony in Ritigala, an ancient monastic complex built in 700 AD, brought the workshop to a close. Reflecting on the workshop, one participant wrote: “This workshop [was] a turning point in my life. I am sure I will dedicate my whole life to environmental law.”
Workshop trainees learned that they are not alone. They can call on E-LAW’s worldwide network of more than 300 committed public interest environmental lawyers for the legal and scientific resources and emotional support they need to help communities protect the environment and public health.
Alongside the ruins of Anuradhapura, an ancient, peaceful, and eco-friendly civilization, seasoned environmental advocates began to build a new generation of defenders of South Asia’s unique natural heritage. Many thanks to the U.S. Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs for making the workshop possible.
September 15, 2003 -- Telenoticias Channel 7 (Costa Rica) reports that 20 leading grassroots attorneys from 11 Latin American countries met in San Jose to learn about the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and how to use this regional court to defend the environmental rights of disadvantaged communities. The five-day workshop was hosted by E-LAW U.S. and the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights, with support from the Ford Foundation (see E-LAW Advocate: Environmental Justice in Latin America).
August 15, 2003 -- E-LAW advocate Anne Kajir from Papua New Guinea traveled to Canberra, Australia, to challenge illegal logging and human rights abuses. In an interview on Radio Australia’s Pacific Beat, Anne said: “When the land owners do actually stand up and talk about the rights to their land, you know, the sacred sites the water grounds, they get intimidated by the police… We have tried the best that we can to bring these issues to the [PNG] government. But it’s been very difficult, so we’ve come down here to Canberra to talk with the politicians so that they can talk with the politicians back home.” Anne is a staff attorney at the Environmental Law Centre. She has worked with E-LAW U.S. to protect the environment and human rights in PNG since 1998.
August 15, 2003 -- The Business Report (South Africa) reports that E-LAW Advocate Angela Andrews in Cape Town is making her voice heard at public hearings on South Africa’s Petroleum Products Amendment Bill. At the public hearing, Angela countered arguments by representatives of the gasoline lead additive industry that the health implications of lead in petrol had not been conclusively proven. The gasoline lead additive industry seeks a four-year extension on a government mandate to phase out leaded gas production in South Africa by 2006.
Angela is a staff attorney at the Legal Resources Centre in South Africa. Angela and other advocates at LRC have worked with E-LAW U.S. for many years to protect the environment and public health in South Africa.
July 22, 2003 -- The New Vision (Uganda) reports that Greenwatch, a leading environmental NGO in Uganda, has filed suit against the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) and the Attorney General, requesting the court to order a ban on the production of polythene bags (“buveera”) and other related products. Greenwatch says these products have caused extensive damage to the environment.
NEMA and the Attorney General had asked the court to dismiss the case, saying Greenwatch had no authority to sue on behalf of the public. High Court Judge Lameck Mukasa ruled that the case should proceed, saying: “Many people do not know their rights, and a body like Greenwatch can always seek the court’s action in the interest of the public.”
July 22, 2003 -- The Environment News Service reports that the Environmental Lawyers Association of Liberia (or Green Advocates) and other non-governmental organizations are calling for a halt to extraction and trade of Liberian gold, diamonds, and timber. The groups say funds from the sale of timber and diamonds have helped prolong regional conflicts and “exacerbated the security and humanitarian crisis in the country and the entire sub-region.” E-LAW U.S. is working with attorneys at Green Advocates and connecting them to colleagues in Africa and around the world who have formed strong organizations to help local communities protect the environment and public health.
July 15, 2003 -- E-LAW advocate Peter Roderick, a British lawyer working for the Climate Justice Programme, spoke to the Financial Times (London) about how climate change could be the next legal battlefield. Peter was also interviewed by BBC News (April 3, 2003). In the BBC report he said: “This next decade is going to see quite a lot of climate change cases around the world.” A 2001 UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report stated that it was “likely” that human activities were forcing the global climate to warm up. “Civil courts usually require a 51% proof of certainty, which is an interesting issue in terms of scientific levels of proof and legal levels of proof,” said Peter. Protecting the climate through law is a complex undertaking. E-LAW U.S. has been working with Peter to move the process forward, and recently helped him launch a website for the Climate Justice Programme: http://www.climatelaw.org.
E-LAW advocates at Fiscalía del Medio Ambiente (FIMA) in Chile received exciting news in August. A Toronto-based mining company, Noranda Inc., has canceled plans to build one of the world’s largest aluminum plants. The infamous “Alumysa Project” in central Patagonia called for damming three wild rivers and flooding old growth forests—threatening dozens of endangered species.
Aluminum production requires enormous quantities of energy. Although Chile does not have a large market for aluminum products and does not possess the aluminum ore necessary for aluminum production, its potential to produce inexpensive hydroelectric power makes it attractive to energy intensive industries.
E LAW U.S. has worked with advocates at FIMA for many years to protect the environment through law in Chile. At FIMA’s request, E-LAW U.S. Staff Scientist Mark Chernaik and Environmental Research Scientist Meche Lu evaluated Noranda’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the Alumysa project. Their evaluation revealed that, contrary to Chilean law, Noranda failed to consider alternative locations for the project or the use of clean-burning natural gas imports to power the plant. Another serious flaw in the EIA was its extremely limited information about the flora and fauna that would be impacted by the $2.7 billion project.
E-LAW U.S. congratulates FIMA for its hard work protecting Chile’s unique ecosystems.
E-LAW U.S. congratulates FIMA`s president, Fernando Dougnac, for receiving the Government of Chile`s 2003 National Environmental Prize for "Protection and Conservation of Biodiversity."
On receiving news of his award, Fernando wrote to E-LAW: "I want to share this prize with all of you since the exchange of ideas and information through the E-LAW network has been one o fthe most important sources of motivation and support throughout my career as an environmental lawyer."
June 3, 2003 -- La Nacion (Chile) reports that E-LAW advocates at Centro Austral de Derecho Ambiental (CEADA) and citizen groups filed a complaint against the State of Chile before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The petition demanded access to information and public participation regarding issues of biotechnology, biosafety, and the release of transgenic organisms. E-LAW U.S. has worked with advocates at CEADA since 1999.
July 10, 2003 -- E-LAW advocate Phil Michaels, a legal adviser to Friends of the Earth (London) says the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil and gas pipeline puts Turkey in violation of its accession agreements for entry into the European Union. The Environment News Service interviewed Phil and other environmental advocates about the environmental and human rights impacts of the thousand-mile, $3.5 billion pipeline being constructed between the Caspian Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. The pipeline will pass through Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, and cross 20 major rivers.
Phil was recently in Oregon at the 2003 E-LAW Annual International Meeting. E-LAW U.S. is working with Phil and other grassroots advocates around the world to challenge ill-advised pipeline projects.
Protecting the Environment Through Law in Indonesia
Wiwiek Awiati, Executive Director of the Indonesian Center for Environmental Law (ICEL), visited Eugene in late September to work with E-LAW U.S. staff attorneys to build ICEL’s capacity to bring class action law suits on behalf of communities suffering environmental abuses.
In August, ICEL won a victory for a local community that experienced devastating land-slides in the wake of a logging company’s clear cut operation. ICEL’s case was Indonesia’s first environmental class action law suit.
ICEL has many other firsts. The organization helped draft and pass many laws which will improve citizen participation, including the first Freedom of Information Act, legislation creating a procedure for class action law suits, the Whistle Blower Protection Act, and a law creating a right to participate in and observe decision makers performing their public duties.
Following the 1997 forest fires, ICEL helped file suit against a Malaysian company that was using slash and burn practices on rubber plantations, which played a key role in the fires. As a result, the company’s director landed in prison. This was the Indonesian Supreme Court’s first application of the corporate criminal liability statute in an environmental case.
Perhaps even more important than this legal precedent is ICEL’s ongoing training program in environmental law and enforcement—a crucial mechanism that helped produce the forest fire verdict. During the past four years over a thousand judges, prosecutors, and police officers have passed through ICEL’s training program.
Wiwiek spoke about her organization’s work at a University of Oregon brown bag lunch sponsored by
E-LAW U.S., the Wayne Morse Center for Law and Politics, the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Program, and the Public Interest and Public Service Law Program.
The next great frontier of public interest law in Indonesia, as elsewhere, will be prodding multinational corporations toward responsible global citizenship. ICEL’s flexible, innovative, and multifaceted approach should produce results. In the meantime, congratulations to Wiwiek and ICEL for their recent victories.
E-LAW U.S. is happy to announce that Mercedes ”Meche” Lu has joined the U.S. office as Environmental Research Scientist. Meche has collaborated with E-LAW U.S. for many years from her home office in Lima, Peru. In Eugene, Meche will work closely with E-LAW U.S. Staff Scientist Mark Chernaik to provide grassroots advocates around the world with the scientific tools and resources they need to protect the environment through law. Meche has traveled and will continue to travel throughout Latin America to provide E-LAW partners with hands-on scientific support (see page 2). Meche earned degrees in biochemistry and pharmacy from the National University of San Marcos and studied environmental management and ecology at Cayetano Heredia University in Lima, Peru. She is a founding member of the Peruvian Toxicology Association and helped found E-LAW Peru in 1991.
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Volunteers Making a Difference
Generous support from volunteers and interns makes the high impact work of E-LAW U.S. possible. Since May, 2003, twenty-three students and professionals have volunteered their time and skills at E-LAW U.S. Volunteers researched corporate activities and environmental laws, reached out to environmental advocates in new countries, translated E-LAW network messages, compiled resources on the economics behind environmental impacts, and supported our communication and development efforts. Volunteers provided invaluable help to E-LAW U.S. and grassroots advocates around the world.
To learn more about the E-LAW U.S. volunteer program, please visit our volunteer page at: http://www.elaw.org/getinvolved.
A special thanks to the following volunteers and interns: Colin Barey, Caitlin Cspikay-Brehm, Ryan Casey, Sue Graham, Sarah Hale, Damien Hermecz, Katie Higgins, Holly Homnick, Julia Jackson, Brian Katsura, Taku Noguchi, Wren Patton, Richard Rodrigues, Shane Sanderson, Will Sarvis, Solana Sawyer, Emmett Soper, Jessica Southwick, Robyn Steinlauf, Jack Stillwell, Annie White, Marlies Wierenga, and Riaz Zaman.
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