On a sunny June day in Chiang Mai, a dream we’ve had for nearly a decade came true. In front of a crowd of family and friends, we cut the ribbon on the Mitharsuu Center for Leadership and Justice—the new home for EarthRights International’s Mekong offices and EarthRights School. The Mitharsuu Center is more than a place, it is vision of hundreds of passionate earth right defenders living, learning, and working to build a world where profit does not outweigh protecting our planet and the rights of people who depend on it for survival.
If there was any year that we needed to cut the ribbon on a vision for the future that did not destroy lives and the planet in the name of development, it was 2017. Six months into the Trump Administration we showed in a powerful way that another world is possible.
This year has been a difficult one for any organization fighting on behalf of human rights and the environment. In the same month that we opened the Mitharsuu Center, the Trump Administration withdrew the United States from the Paris Agreement, signaling that his Administration would rather put the interests of corporate profits over fighting the existential threat of climate change. Around the world, powerful governments and corporations are pushing back against civil society, trying to limit our freedom of speech with digital, legal, and physical threats. This was one of the most dangerous years for activists working on environmental and human rights, with over 300 defenders killed in 27 countries, nearly two-thirds from Latin America.
These threats serve to intimidate earth rights defenders. They seek to silence us when we speak truth to power. The truth is, this does nothing but prove we are doing something right and solidify our desire to not back down. With the opening of the Mitharsuu Center, we renewed our commitment to educate, protect, and defend earth rights defenders around the world.
This year we sued the International Finance Corporation, again, for financing a corporation that committed earth rights abuses; we took Newmont Mining to court on behalf of Goldman Prize winner Maxima Acuña and her family to stop the company’s harassment of her family; in Thailand, we hosted an event on Chinese investment and financing in the Global South with over sixty attendees from around the world; we graduated sixteen students from the EarthRights School, helping to build the field of earth rights defenders in the Mekong; we helped communities in Myanmar fight back against Special Economic Zones that threaten their livelihoods and land rights; and in South America we testified at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights about the dangers faced by earth rights defenders and worked to stop a dam on one of the Amazon’s biggest tributaries.
These highlights do not even scratch the surface of our efforts this year, and many only lay the foundation for work that is to come. Even more, they are a promise to all earth rights defenders—whether they be partners, allies, supporters, or any activists seeking to make a better world for future generations—that EarthRights International is committed to the fight for justice.
Thank you for standing with us.
Katie & Ka Hsaw Wa