Home to approximately 30 million people and more than 350 indigenous groups, the Amazon is the most biodiverse place in the world. However, extractive companies and other large corporations continue to pose a great threat to the region. The powerful elite enjoy the benefits and the communities are left to pay the costs, with indigenous communities suffering the greatest consequences for these large-scale projects.
The rainforest contains a tremendous amount of carbon. If destroyed, massive amounts of carbon would enter the atmosphere, rapidly accelerating climate change. Amazonian indigenous peoples rely almost entirely on their natural environment and their survival is deeply connected to the survival of the rainforest. The health of the planet relies on the health of the Amazon. The destruction of the Amazon is a direct violation of their right to life.
Latin America is the most dangerous place in the world to live as an earth rights defender. Constantly susceptible to targeted acts of violence, exploitation and murder, earth rights defenders who speak out against destructive projects and human rights violations risk their lives in order to protect their families, communities, and the environment.
Extractive companies are also wreaking havoc in the highlands. Yanacocha, a subsidiary of Denver-based Newmont Mining Corporation, has repeatedly threatened subsistence farmer Maxima Acuña de Chaupe and her family because they occupy land that the company wants in order to expand their mine operations. Security forces hired by the company have trespassed onto Maxima’s land, physically assaulted her and her husband, destroyed their crops, and killed their animals. Elmer Campos, a Peruvian farmer, was shot in the back and paralyzed from the waist down, after peacefully protesting Newmont’s Conga mine.
In Colombia, the indigenous U’wa Nation is in an ongoing battle with Colombia’s government and National Park Service because they want to open the U’wa’s sacred land to tourism. The U’wa moved forward with their case at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) against the government for its failure to protect U’wa territory and respect their norms that prohibit the exploitation of natural resources. We worked closely with them to present the submissions in their case.
What We’re Doing About It
Our training, legal, and campaigns programs shift power from global elites to local communities and frontline earth rights defenders. We help raise the voices of local communities and earth rights defenders fighting for climate justice, corporate accountability, holding extractives industries accountable, land rights, and stopping the harms of harmful mega-projects.
In 2011, after 10 years of working in the region, we finally opened our own Amazon office in Lima, Peru. Not only are we better situated to foster existing relationships with the communities we work with, but we are also able to grow our network in the region and connect with other brave earth rights defenders working on a variety of issues related to human rights and the environment.
We are also committed to training the next generation of earth rights defenders. ERI has hosted several indigenous legal seminars in Peru to teach lawyers and advocates legal strategies in defense of human rights and the environment.
Whether we are challenging the constitutionality of Peruvian police hiring private security forces, presenting before the IACHR about the targeted oppression of women earth rights defenders who speak out against destructive projects or supporting the U’wa Nation in Colombia who are working to protect their sacred land from tourism, we are driven to advance and uphold human rights over corporate rights. In 2015, eight years after filing suit on behalf of Achuar communities in Peru, we reached a settlement with Occidental Petroleum (Oxy), a Los Angeles-based company that contaminated the Corrientes River Basin for more than 30 years.
ERI supports those on the frontlines in Latin America, risking their lives to challenge corporate interests, advance human rights, and promote the health of the environment.
Latin America Campaigns and Cases
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.
Doe v. Chiquita Bananas International (Colombia/United States)
We filed a class action lawsuit accusing Chiquita of financing torture, war crimes, and other human rights abuses. Chiquita made regular monthly payments to security forces controlled by a brutal paramilitary organization known for mass killing. This organization, the United Self-Defense Groups of Colombia, was designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. Government.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.