Rights and Security of Earth Rights Defenders

The Problem

An earth rights defender is someone who, individually or collectively, promotes human and environmental rights — “earth rights.” These include our right to food and clean water and our right to a healthy and safe environment. It also includes the corresponding rights which enable us to protect our environments, such as the right to speak out and act to protect our lands and livelihoods, and the right to participate in the development decisions that affect us. The promotion of civil and political rights such as security of person, freedom of speech and association, access to information, and the rights to non-discrimination and self- determination are fundamental for advocates and communities to defend their lands.

Earth rights defenders expose violations and fight for the victims. Unfortunately, corrupt governments and corporations don’t just sit back and watch. They will often retaliate by silencing, suing, and even killing earth rights defenders.

Our networks, including current and former students at our EarthRights School Mekong and EarthRights School Myanmar experience imprisonment, police violence, intimidation, and many other issues. Every day, earth rights defenders put their security and rights at risk.

ERI’s Solution

We are here to help them.

We use legal cases, policy reform, training, and legal advocacy tools to protect individuals, communities, and organizations who step forward to defend human rights and the environment.

Protecting the earth has become one of the world’s most dangerous professions. In 2017, more than 200 earth rights defenders were killed–the worst on record. In response to this violence, we launched a report and interactive website in December 2018 to showcase our new global protection strategy for earth rights defenders.

The global protection strategy contains concrete actions that we believe will help reduce the number and severity of attacks against earth rights defenders. The global protection strategy is based on the ‘protect, prevent, reveal, and redress’ framework developed by human rights, environmental, and funding organizations in 2016 in response to the growing pressure and violence directed at defenders.

Campaigns and Cases

Bowoto v. Chevron (Nigeria/United States)

We sued Chevron in California for its complicity in murder and torture in Nigeria.

Campos-Alvarez v. Newmont Mining (Peru/United States)

We filed a Foreign Legal Assistance action to support an activists’ case against Newmont Mining Corporation in Peru.

Faces of Change (Global)

Faces of Change is a human rights storytelling initiative from ERI. Our goal in this series is to amplify stories that are usually silenced, to provide a space for them to be told, heard, and shared, and to generate meaningful and long-lasting dialogue and change.

Indigenous Seminar (Peru/Latin America)

As part of our legal training program, ERI organizes and facilitates a recurring seminar in Latin America for earth rights defenders from indigenous communities, focused on their legal and campaigning challenges. These seminars aim to create a space for collaboration and co-powered learning. with the goal of supporting a deep network of legal advocates from indigenous communities.

Legal Training (Mekong/Global)

ERI works to with environmental and human rights lawyers across the world to ensure they have the knowledge and skills to protect the rights of their communities. ERI organizes workshops and courses including the Mekong Legal Advocacy Institute (MLAI), for young lawyers in the Mekong region, the Mekong Legal Network (MLN), for more senior lawyers in the region, and the Amazon Indigenous Seminar, for earth rights defenders from indigenous Latin American communities

Kiobel v. Cravath, Swaine & Moore, LLP (The Netherlands/Nigeria/United States)

We filed a Foreign Legal Assistance action to help Esther Kiobel gain access to documents to support her case against Shell in the Netherlands, where the company is headquartered. Ms. Kiobel’s husband, Dr. Barinem Kiobel, was murdered in Nigeria in 1995 after speaking out against Shell’s oil operations in the region.

Wiwa v. Royal Dutch Shell (Nigeria/United States)

After nine Ogoni activists in Nigeria were murdered for speaking out against Shell’s oil operations in the region, the surviving family members of those killed filed suit against Shell, seeking accountability.