Land Rights and Clean Environments

The Problem

Every day people are told that they can no longer live on the land that their family has lived on for generations.

If they refuse to leave, they can get arrested, physically injured, and forcibly relocated.

For many communities living in developing countries, this is an all too common problem. By simply living on resource-rich land that is desirable to corporations, they are at risk of becoming victims to land grabbing and forced eviction without free, prior, and informed consent.

Many communities around the globe live off their land: hunting, fishing, gathering of fruits and nuts, and small scale agriculture fulfill most if not all their necessities. When families are driven off their land, through force or because the destruction of their natural habitats forces them to migrate, can be devastating. Indigenous peoples, especially peoples living in voluntary isolation and initial contact (PIAVs), are especially at risk. Their lands have fundamental importance, and are often intrinsically tied to religion and cultural identity that is intrinsic to the land.

ERI’s Solution

We prevent and remedy land rights violations of communities at risk by training legal advocates in affected communities, and by holding corporations accountable in courts of justice.

ERI holds workshops that cover legal strategies, campaigning, and storytelling as land rights tools for our network of lawyers and legal advocates.

We hold corporations accountable by fighting for stronger transparency laws. As long as companies can keep secrets about where their supplies comes from and who they subcontract, it will be very difficult to hold them accountable.

Campaigns and Cases:

Budha Ismail Jam et al v. IFC (India/United States)

Fishing communities and farmers in Gujarat, India, filed suit against the International Finance Corporation, the private lending arm of the World Bank, for its role in funding a destructive coal power plant project that has affected the health and livelihoods of the communities.

Cheay Areng Dam (Cambodia)

As this proposed dam threatens indigenous communities in the Cardamom Mountains, ERI has worked on independent fact-finding projects and engaged with government and private sector stakeholders.

Dawei Special Economic Zone – Human Rights Commission Case (Myanmar)

ERI works with local civil society organizations and impacted communities to raise local voices and to bring this case to the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRCT).

Doe v. Unocal (Myanmar/United States)

In the first case of its kind, we sued a U.S. company responsible for rape, murder, and forced labor in Myanmar. This case marked the first time a human rights lawsuit against a multinational corporation resulted in compensation for the survivors.

Hatgyi Dam (Myanmar/Thailand)

As local communities, including many indigenous groups, have organized against this dam on the Salween River, ERI has supported their campaigns to participate in decision-making, to access information and to organize effectively.

Hongsa Coal Power Plant and Mine (Laos)

ERI works with researchers to monitor the health and environmental impacts of this project, and with a network of Thai organizations (Extraterritorial Obligations Watch  or Thai ETO-Watch) to track this and other Thai investments in the region.

Juana Doe et al v. IFC (Honduras/United States)

Honduran farmers took the International Finance Corporation, the private lending arm of the World Bank, to court for complicity in human rights violations.

Koh Kong Sugar Plantation (Cambodia)

In Koh Kong, Cambodia, violent land grabs associated with a sugar plantation have claimed over 10,000 hectares and pushed 500 families off of their land. ERI has worked with the impacted communities to advocate for their rights through judicial and non-judicial mechanisms.

Lower Sesan 2 Dam (Cambodia)

This dam, which began operation in early 2017, has flooded communities and jeopardizes the food security and environments of the Mekong Basin. ERI has partnered with communities to demand that developers consult local populations and provide remedies when their rights have been violated.

Maxima Acuña-Atalaya v. Newmont Mining Corp. (Peru/United States)

A family of subsistence farmers living in the highlands of Peru took U.S.-based mining company Newmont to court. Since 2011, Newmont’s agents have threatened and harassed the family in an attempt to remove the Chaupe family from their land in an attempt to expand mining operations.

Maynas v. Occidental Petroleum (Peru/United States)

Indigenous communities in the Peruvian Amazon took U.S.-based oil company Occidental Petroleum to court, alleging that the company’s oil operations had contaminated their lands and rivers for more than 30 years.

Minis v. Thomson Safaris (Tanzania/United States)

We filed a Foreign Legal Assistance action to obtain documents and testimony from Massachusetts-based safari company Thomson Safaris. In 2010, Maasai villagers in Tanzania filed suit against the company over allegations of land-grabbing and violence. The villagers were forced from their land to make room for a luxury safari camp near the Serengeti National Park.

Norperuano Pipeline Contamination

A pipeline in the northernmost Peruvian Amazon has been spilling oil and contaminating communities for 50 years.

Pollution in Myanmar

ERI monitors and conducts advocacy around pollution issues and potentially dangerous development projects in Myanmar, such as the Mandalay Industrial Zone (MIZ) and the Pauk Tine and Heinda mines.

Sahu v. Union Carbide (India/United States)

Residents of Bhopal, India, sued Union Carbide, seeking accountability and for the company to clean up the the site after a toxic gas leak killed thousands of people in 1984.

Sambor Dam (Cambodia)

This proposed hydropower project on the mainstream of the Mekong River could displace as many as 19,000 people. ERI is monitoring the development of this dam.

Shwe Gas Project (Myanmar)

This Korean and Indian-backed natural gas project connecting the Bay of Bengal to Yunnan, China has has lead to forced relocation, forced labor, destruction of livelihoods, and abuses committed by Myanmar Army battalions. ERI supports communities along the pipeline route and continues to monitor environmental laws and corporate accountability in Myanmar.

Son La Rubber Plantation (Vietnam)

As this rubber plantation threatens to displace 100,000 people, ERI supports efforts by ethnic Dai communities in this area to determine their own future and access information and remedies.

Special Economic Zones (Myanmar)

ERI supports communities in Myanmar’s three SEZs – Dawei, Thilawa and Kyauk Phyu – to raise concerns about these development projects and to speak out against what they see as land grabs, abuse and exploitation on the part of investors and project managers.

Tipnis Highway (Bolivia)

Bolivia’s Isiboro Sécure National Park and Indigenous Territory (TIPNIS) are threatened by a major highway development project. We’ve worked with Bolivian indigenous leaders on legal advocacy, supporting them to assert their rights.

Xayaburi Dam (Laos)

This dam, under construction on the mainstream of the Mekong River, threatens the livelihoods and environments of communities across the river basin. ERI works with communities affected by the project to amplify their voices and support their organizing efforts.

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.