Another year has flown by, and once again we at EarthRights International find ourselves reflecting on the whirlwind that was 2013. As in years past, our work for global justice was marked by both moments of triumph and great pride, and moments of disappointment.
In Southeast Asia, after years of cultivating human rights and environmental defenders, we see the seeds of change grow as our training programs mature. This year, we celebrated five years of supporting brave lawyers from six countries in the Mekong Legal Network, and graduated our eighth class at the EarthRights School-Mekong and our 15th class at the EarthRights School-Myanmar, bringing the total number of alumni trained and ready to lead their countries in the pursuit of human rights and environmental justice to over 270. Whether brokering historic peace talks in Myanmar, or defending the rights of communities threatened by development projects across the region, our alumni and legal networks continue to work fearlessly for justice, often times at great personal risk.
ERI has also grown. Today we are a global organization with almost 60 staff working in four offices around the world. Our reach has spread to the Mekong and Amazon regions, and we are bigger and stronger than ever before. Our work in Myanmar (Burma)—where ERI was born—has always had to remain underground, with staff and students taking great risks to work clandestinely in the country. After nearly twenty years, however, we are proud to announce that in 2013 we opened the doors at our new EarthRights International office in Yangon, Myanmar. Finally, we are able to work openly in the country! This change is at once a homecoming and the beginning of an exciting but challenging new chapter for ERI.
In U.S. courts, we had mixed outcomes this year. The U.S. Supreme Court sided with corporations in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum (Shell), denying justice to Ogoni environmentalists who sued Shell for torture, killing and crimes against humanity in Nigeria. While the ultimate impact of the Kiobel decision remains to be seen, ERI will continue to use legal strategies, including our Alien Tort Statute cases, to ensure that survivors of earth rights abuses can find justice. This year we also won our appeal to keep our environmental contamination case against Occidental Petroleum in a Los Angeles court, rather than in Peru. While corporations have been granted greater rights and have gone on the offensive against activists and critics, we also successfully beat back Chevron’s attacks on Amazon Watch and others who campaigned against the legacy of contamination in Ecuador.
Finally, 2013 brought a bright source of hope for our future. This year, we turned a long-term dream into a reality when we finalized the purchase of a beautiful piece of land in Chiang Mai, Thailand that will one day house ERI’s Mitharsuu Center for Leadership and Justice. Mitharsuu—meaning “family” in Burmese and representing the word for “friendship” in Thai—captures the essence of solidarity, trust and collaboration we’ll work to strengthen between visionary young lawyers and activists in Southeast Asia. In addition to being a home and campus for our students and staff, and a strategy center for our activists, teachers and lawyers, we hope that this Center will serve as an incubator for the bold and visionary ideas we need to protect this great planet and the people who live here.
As always, we thank you for being with us!
Ka Hsaw Wa, Marie, Chana, Katie