What a difference a year can make. Of course we could say that every year, but 2016 certainly stands out as a year of extremes for us. We look back on our significant achievements with the sobering knowledge of the setbacks that have begun in 2017.
But let’s consider the good news first. We celebrated a number of victories, including a long-awaited decision in our case against Chiquita for hiring paramilitary death squads in Colombia. Citing the dangers to Colombian earth rights defenders and their lawyers, the judge ordered the case to proceed in the United States, sending an important message to all corporations that the doors of U.S. courts remain open to victims and survivors regardless of where they come from. Likewise, our suit challenging the legal immunity of the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation advanced quickly, as our lawyers prepared to make oral arguments asserting that nobody—even the World Bank—is above the law.
Our success extended outside the courtroom as well, as we helped mobilize villagers in Myanmar to resist coal as a centerpiece of energy development. We continued to advance innovative strategies such as our Community Driven Operational Grievance Mechanisms in Cambodia, Vietnam and Myanmar, demanding that communities have a voice in development, and putting companies on notice of the financial and legal consequences of destructive projects. We put mining companies on notice in Peru and Canada, and we celebrated strong transparency rules that were finally promulgated under section 1504 of the Dodd-Frank Act. ERI had to sue the Securities and Exchange Commission twice over the past 5 years to issue those rules, but in 2016 we celebrated that good things come to those who wait.
Or do they? It’s become clear now that the new administration has no intention of regulating or holding its corporate friends accountable; indeed one of its first acts was to gut those 1504 rules, enabling oil and mining companies to make secret payments to foreign governments once again. Our belief in legal strategies to address the injustices of climate change is strengthened knowing that our executive and legislative branches are even more stacked with leaders from the industry that caused so much of the problem in the first place. The courts have always been our focus, and are more important than ever in our mission to protect human rights over corporate rights.
The core purpose of the international human rights system is to protect citizens and communities against government power and abuse, and to establish a common core of dignity and justice that links all people regardless of who they are. The hallowed notion of rule of law—a cornerstone of democracy—embodies the same ideals.
These are our ideals. ERI’s mission to leverage the power of law to serve and build power of people and communities in the face of extreme corporate and government power could not be more urgent or timely. We find ourselves up against shocking setbacks in law and policy, and our deft and resourceful staff are reacting with renewed determination and creativity.
As an organization that has spent over 20 years representing the world’s most marginalized communities against the world’s most powerful corporations, we are keenly aware that the pendulum swings both ways. Organizations like ERI are the critical energy behind the arc toward justice. Thank you for sticking with us for the journey.
Katie & Ka Hsaw Wa