The Power of Law and the Power of People.
This is the motto that has guided us at EarthRights for almost 20 years, ever since a duo of American law students joined forces with me, a young human rights activist from Myanmar, and took a US oil company to court for terrible human rights abuses…and won.
As a supporter and friend of EarthRights, we know you stand with us in the belief that the law can be a powerful instrument for change, and a critical weapon in the fight for social and environmental justice.
But what happens when the law – and those that wield its power – are more concerned with protecting corporate interests and profits than people? When big business has more rights than individual citizens?
Unfortunately, this year more than ever, these questions have become increasingly real for us and for the communities and partners we work with all over the world.
In Myanmar, recent reforms have won the government praise and the lifting of international sanctions after decades of oppression. Big businesses are now clamoring to invest in new factories, mines, energy projects, and industrial plantations, but they’ve shown little concern for the people who happen to be in the way.
Whole communities are being forced off their lands and left without a way to make a living. Further, there has been an alarming spate of arrests and prosecutions of activists who stand up for these communities and their land rights. Naw Ohn Hla, one such activist, was recently sentenced to two years hard labor simply for organizing a community protest against the publicly unpopular Leptadaung copper mine.
In the new Myanmar, those who dare to challenge business interests are today’s “prisoners of conscience.”
As an appeasement to western governments, Naw Ohn Hla was just released along with 68 other political prisoners, however, dozens of less widely known land and community rights activists remain behind bars.
Myanmar is not alone, and there are also ominous signs in the United States – a purported bastion of justice. This year, we’ve seen the highest courts in the land putting ever more power in the hands of corporations while making it much harder for the rest of us to get a fair hearing. Decisions building on Citizens United have granted increasing rights and protections to corporations, and the Supreme Court’s decision in Kiobel v. Shell has made it vastly more difficult to hold corporations responsible for human rights violations.
It’s clear that business has a heavy thumb on our scales of justice.
But this fight isn’t over. The pendulum can and must swing back, but what this year has reinforced is that progress and justice are not inevitable. The way forward will require creative strategies, cooperation, and our collective resolve. It will also take the hard work, struggle, courage and passion of people like Naw Ohn Hla and all the other brave individuals we work with every day.
Together, we are working to balance the scales and supporting our partners around the globe:
- We’re working to protect front line defenders of human and environmental rights who’ve become political targets while standing up for their communities.
- We’re training lawyers and judges in the Amazon to protect indigenous rights and stop the encroachment of environmentally disastrous oil, gas and mining projects.
- We’re fighting to protect environmental activists in the US – and their First Amendment rights – from attacks by giant multinationals like Chevron who want to silence their criticism.
- We’re joining networks of lawyers around the globe who are working for positive change in their countries.
I know that at this time of year, you have to make hard choices when there are so many groups doing important work. But I believe that ERI makes a real impact in the lives of the people we work with and that with your help we can make sure that they’re not alone in their struggle.
I hope that you will continue to be a part of this movement for legal accountability and protection of the most vulnerable peoples and environments by making a tax-deductible donation today.
Ka Hsaw Wa