Rodolfo Montiel and Teodoro Cabrera, two environmentalists from the State of Guerrero, Mexico, were persecuted because of their environmental advocacy. In 1998, Montiel and Cabrera founded the Organization of Farmer Ecologists of the Sierra of Petatlán and Coyuca of Catalán (OCESP), an organization that fought against devastating logging by Boise Cascade and other corporations. In 1999, Montiel and Cabrera were detained by the Mexican army, tortured, and convicted on false charges based on coerced confessions; they were ultimately released in 2001.
EarthRights International (ERI) has submitted two amicus briefs in Montiel & Cabrera’s case against Mexico in the Inter-American human rights system. The first brief was submitted to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2002, and the second brief was submitted to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in 2010.
In 2002, ERI assisted the Center for Human Rights and Environment (CEDHA) and the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) in submitting a brief to the Inter-American Commission. The brief contends that those who violate environmental activists’ human rights should be held accountable for their abuses and aims to establish that the protection accorded human rights defenders under international human rights law should be extended to environmental defenders. The brief asserts that it is imperative to protect environmentalists being silenced through, threatened and actual, torture and assassination in order to strengthen environmental activism and the promotion of persons’ right to a healthy environment. The argument is that if environmental activists’ human rights go unprotected, the rights of others are implicated due to the “chilling effect” that these individual violations have on the group the activists are representing. As a result, abusing environmental defenders effects others ability to fully exercise of their own rights, generating a vicious circle of abuse.
In 2010, ERI submitted its own amicus brief to the Inter-American Court. ERI’s brief argues that abuses against environmentalists are common where multinational corporations are engaged in natural resource extraction, and that the Mexican state should take measures to insure that abuses do not occur in similar situations in the future. Additionally, ERI’s brief argues that Montiel and Cabrera’s advocacy around timber extraction in their communities was an exercise of their right to participation in government under the American Convention on Human Rights, and that the American Convention also protects the right to participation in decisions regarding resource development. Another organization, the Environmental Defender Law Center, also submitted an amicus brief focused on the rights of environmental defenders and abuses against environmentalists.