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Kart Varmaari, Estonia

Kart Varmaari, Estonia

More than 70 advocates from 38 countries converged in Berlin by train and plane two weeks ago for the ELAW International Annual Meeting, hosted by the Independent Institute for Environmental Concerns (UfU), our German partner organization.  We rolled our suitcases over cobblestone sidewalks, indulged in warm rolls and cheese and chocolate, renewed friendships, and worked hard.

UfU, ELAW and the Heinrich Böll Foundation co-hosted a conference on “Legal Remedies for Resource Extraction,” with a rich agenda populated by ELAW partners from around the world and a handful of other experts.  Twenty concurrent “Speakers’ Corners” examined diverse topics.  See:   Conference Agenda

JingJing Zhang, Rugemeleza Nshala, Simon Amaduabogha in Feldheim

Tuesday and Wednesday ELAW network members hunkered down to the business of information exchange and trainings.  We worked on “Defending the Defenders,” – what we can do as a network about the rising threats and danger that environmental defenders are facing.  We worked on strategic litigation and creative lawyering outside the courtroom, challenging nuclear power, and the human right to water, among other topics.

Thursday we learned from Green Party representative Bärbel Höhn about Germany’s energy transition.  And Friday we had a hands-on tour of Feldheim, a small community that has successfully made the transition – producing 100% of its energy from renewable sources.  A corollary benefit of Feldheim’s transition is the 0% unemployment rate for its residents.

Germany is a leader in taking on our global climate challenge – their ambitious targets and investments in renewable energy are driving down prices of production for the rest of the world.  We return exhausted, inspired, renewed, determined and full of gratitude for our German hosts.  Thanks, UfU!

Lori Maddox
Associate Director

Things are quiet a2013Coverround the office since we said goodbye to 40 ELAW partners from 27 countries. These environmental heroes came to Oregon late last month for the 2013 ELAW Annual Meeting and the 31st Annual Public Interest Environmental Law Conference.

Before he flew home, longtime partner Kenneth Kakuru from Uganda said, “This is a pilgrimage. I come to renew my zeal!”

We traveled to a conference site in Blue River and built foundations for lasting collaboration using law, science, and economics to protect communities and the environment.Thuli on cover of Weekly

We explored old growth forests, learned about local efforts to defend ecosystems, and cooked great meals together.

Many colleagues met face-to-face for the first time, including Goldman Prize winners Thuli Makama from Swaziland and Ikal Angelei from Kenya.

Enjoy profiles of the international partners who attended our annual gathering and a cover story in the Eugene Weekly, “Fighting for Africa.”

Maggie Keenan
Communications Director &
Fellows Program Coordinator


ELAW Partners at the 2012 Annual Meeting in Goa, India

Tomorrow, ELAW will welcome environmental advocates from more than 25 countries to Eugene for the 2013 ELAW Annual Meeting. These environmental defenders have been working tirelessly in their home countries to protect clean air, clean water, and a healthy planet. Some have been part of the ELAW network for years; others are representing an up-and-coming generation of environmental lawyers and will be participating in an ELAW Annual Meeting for the first time.

During their visit to Oregon, ELAW partners will be gaining skills and inspiration, building lasting ties with each other, and connecting with the local community.

ELAW partner Dana Tabachnik from Adam Teva V’Din (Israel Union for Environmental Defense) works to promote sustainable energy in Israel and protect the Dead Sea ecosystem from industrial pollution. She will speak at a special event, “Protecting Israel’s Environment: Challenges and Opportunities” at Temple Beth Israel (1175 E 29th Ave in Eugene) on Sunday, March 3rd, at 6:30 p.m.

During the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference (PIELC- February 28th-March 3rd) ELAW partners will be speaking about their work, including preventing mining abuses in Latin America and the Caribbean and protecting freshwater and coastal ecosystems. The PIELC is organized by the University of Oregon student organization Land, Air, Water (LAW) and is open to the public. For more information, visit

Look for updates on our blog throughout the Annual Meeting.

Melanie Giangreco
Office Manager

Workers at the Cashew FactoryThe holiday season is upon us, whether we are in summery Goa or wintery Eugene or elsewhere around the world. Recently three of us from ELAW’s US office traveled to India for the 2012 ELAW Annual International Meeting. Among the many extraordinary experiences and stories of courageous and creative work being undertaken by our partners was a quick visit to a local cashew factory. We all wanted to purchase cashews–they tasted amazing!–but I was struck most by the sheer amount of work being done there…and I got curious.

It turns out that every cashew takes quite a bit of time to harvest, roast, shell, clean and package. Although there is some dispute about where the most cashews are produced now (India, Nigeria, and Vietnam are all vying for greatest production in 2012, depending on what source you read), cashews are originally from Brazil. From there the species went north into Central America, and the Portuguese traders brought seedlings to Mozambique and eventually other countries in eastern Africa, and to Goa, India. Not, interestingly, for the cashews–but because the trees were good at stabilizing sandy soils. Now, although it is one species, the cashew varieties are many: those from Kenya, India, and Panama all taste wonderfully different.

Removing cashew shellsCashews are in the same family as poison ivy and poison sumac and–curiously–mangoes. Like its relatives, it is full of chemical irritants. Happily, the chemical irritants are found in the shell, not in the nut itself. So if you have never seen a cashew shell (you almost certainly haven’t), and you’ve never gotten a poison-ivy like reaction to cashews, that’s because someone else removed that shell for you. In fact someone–or more than one person–did quite a bit of work for you to enjoy that nut. The nut grows below the cashew apple, which itself can be eaten or fermented into feni–a strong and wonderful regional alcohol that our Annual Meeting hosts encouraged us to taste in Goa. The cashew actually has two shells–an inner and outer one. The outer one must first be roasted off to burn away the poison-ivy-related toxic oils. Then the inner shell must be removed, either by roasting again, or boiling. Only after that can the delicate cashew nut be removed and dried for eating or shipping. Note that you can buy “raw cashews” but you won’t be eating raw cashews: they almost certainly have already been roasted twice!

So there you have it. Lots of work and individual attention to each cashew. National Cashew Day (really, such a day exists?!) on 22 November has already passed but the holiday season is full of cashews. Most of us think about cashews as part of the standard fare at a holiday party–as part of baked goods, or salted, mixed in with other nuts. We eat them so casually, without thinking about where they came from or what it took to get them to us.

But the next time I eat a cashew, my mind will connect back to these hardworking women in the factory in Goa and I will be more mindful of and more grateful for where this wonderful food comes from. And I pledge to buy cashews only from companies that are also thinking about the hardworking employees, and using fair trade and fair labor labels. Look for them! And if your store doesn’t have them, demand them!

Heidi Weiskel
ELAW Staff Scientist

On the 45-hour journey home from Goa to Eugene, I have some time to reflect on all that we have seen and done this week with colleagues from around the world. The ever-accelerating pace of environmental destruction in the South, driven largely by consumption patterns in the North, is keeping my colleagues busy. At the meeting, Belizean attorneys advised Ghanaian, Ugandan, and Kenyan attorneys about the coming wave of offshore oil drilling. Indian colleagues helped their counterparts in other parts of Asia strategize about beating back coal-fired power plants and mines that threaten terrestrial ecosystems and access to clean water. We all shared notes about building strong organizations and recruiting and training the next generation of advocates, to keep this vital work going.


Chimgee reaches for the sky

One morning before the workday began, we hiked together up to a viewpoint overlooking the Western Ghats, the mountain range that runs along this southwest coast of India. The Western Ghats are a biodiversity hotspot: home to 139 species of mammals, over 500 species of birds, and over 5000 species of plants. As we admired the view and celebrated the morning, the resident naturalist at our retreat center brought us back to another reality, saying hundreds of dams are planned for this area, as is the world’s largest nuclear power generation plant.

Chimgee Dashdorg, a friend and colleague from Mongolia, reached for the sky and said: High places like this in Mongolia are sacred because we draw energy from the sky. We all follow her lead – with the knowledge that, for these battles we are fighting, we need energy. We draw energy from each other, and from the natural world, as we move into our workday.

A few years ago, an Indian friend in Eugene introduced me to the poetry of Rabinindrath Tagore, the Indian poet laureate. As we worked together in Goa, I was reminded of these words by Tagore:

“Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark.”

Group Shot

The work of the members of the ELAW network is like that bird, singing out of commitment to preserving the integrity of the natural world, and each individual that lives in, depends upon, and appreciates that world. Some of the challenges that we face are grim – a growing human population on a warming planet with fewer and more polluted resources. But our work is protecting pieces of the fabric of biodiversity while we at the same time do the slower work of systemic reform.

And gathering once a year to share strategies, build the network, and even to draw energy from a mountaintop, rejuvenates us. In spite of the long journey, I find myself excited to get back to work. Thanks to our Indian hosts for grounding us in that place, and facilitating our work together!

Lori Maddox
Associate Director

Rahul Choudhary

Rahul Choudhary of Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE) works in a small group session on valuing damages and compensating victims of contamination

Today was the first day of the 2012 ELAW Annual Meeting, convened jointly by the Legal Initiative for Forests and Environment (LIFE), and the Goa Foundation. We have 43 participants from 22 countries here — a handful of new faces and a number of long time colleagues and friends.

Claude Alvares welcomed us to this beautiful place – the small state of Goa in Southern India. Goa is home to beautiful forests, rivers, beaches, wildlife reserves, and 60% of India’s iron ore. Claude and his wife and colleague Norma have been litigating against illegal mining operations in Goa since the late 1980s, and just achieved an impressive judgment from the Supreme Court stopping all mining in the state. The court recognized that all the individual claims pointed to a bigger, systemic challenge, and simply closed the door on the mines indefinitely. Until the legal problems can be resolved, these companies simply cannot continue. In addition to the problems common to mines the world over, such as water and air pollution and deforestation, Claude described how the mining trucks had all but taken over roads in the vicinity of the mines, rendering them impossible for the public to use. Many people have been run over and killed by the trucks, in addition to suffering contaminated water and air.

Ritwick Dutta talked about India’s National Green Tribunal (NGT), created in 2010 to hear environmental claims. The statute creating the NGT states that any aggrieved person can bring a claim to the NGT. Case law has since defined that to mean that any person may bring a claim because all Indian citizens have a duty under India’s Constitution to protect and improve the environment. The NGT turns cases around in an average of three months, which is the speed of light compared to other courts in India. And thus far, the NGT has ruled wisely on virtually all claims placed before it. The Supreme Court has issued an order transferring all cases that were filed since the NGT was created to the NGT, acknowledging the ability and capacity of that Tribunal to manage environmental legal matters. Although the NGT is issuing good, fair judgments and protecting India’s resources, Ritwick and his colleagues say that they need more horsepower to bring more cases to the NGT. Hundreds of hectares of forest are signed away each day, and the pace of development is accelerating all the time.

Our Indian colleagues are a terrific inspiration to us all. Welcome to Goa!

Lori Maddox
Associate Director

Olena Kravchenko in 1986

Olena Kravchenko in 1986

Twenty-three years ago today, a steam explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant sent a plume of radioactivity over the western Soviet Union, Europe, and the eastern U.S. Large areas in Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia were badly contaminated.

Just five days later, unaware of the danger, ELAW partner Olena Kravchenko marched with hundreds of children in a May Day parade near Kyiv. She marched again on May 9, to celebrate a Soviet victory in World War II. The Soviet government did nothing to prevent these large gatherings so close — in both time and distance — to the contamination site.

“Many in my generation have died of thyroid cancer. We had no idea there was any danger,” she says.

The Soviet government didn’t even admit there had been an accident until radiation set off alarms in Sweden. Residents of Prypiat, site of the reactor, were evacuated but no one else was given cause for alarm. In late May, Olena’s father traveled to Prypiat to organize a train to rescue 100 children.

Olena is making sure that Ukraine never again pays the high price of state secrecy. Olena now works at Environment-People-Law, Ukraine’s leading public interest environmental law organization. She is Editor of EPL’s journal and helps teach communities how to access environmental information.

Olena traveled to Eugene for the ELAW Annual Meeting in February and inspired colleagues from around the world with her dedication to making the planet safe.

Thank you Olena!

Maggie Keenan
Communications Director


Our friends Kelly Matheson and Priscila Néri over at are deep into editing the video they shot at the ELAW Annual Meeting and the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference last month.  Priscila posted a wonderful blog about the eye-opening experience of meeting so many amazing environmental activists.  She articulates how her interviews of  ELAW partners (such as Pablo Fajardo and Theivanai Amarthalingam) helped her better understand the connection between human rights and environmental rights.

Kelly commented on the blog entry:

“I have been an environmentalist for 22 years now. I have called myself a human rights defender for 22 years too. But until last the two conferences I attended with Priscila Néri, the author of the above post, I constantly found it difficult to articulate why and how I could be both and why I felt the discipline of human rights could not be separated from the environment. I believe Priscila’s blog articulates it well and that interview footage we will be uploading in celebration of Earth Day will articulate even further and in an increasingly convincing way, why environmental rights and human rights are one in the same.”

Be sure to check out The Hub on the website — and look for more about ELAW on Earth Day!

ELAW Partners Cooking Dinner

ELAW Partners Cooking Dinner

During the 2009 ELAW Annual Meeting, our partners not only collaborated on issues like climate change and preserving biodiversity, they also collaborated by chopping garlic, peeling potatoes and scooping out desserts.

Eugene Register Guard reporter Jennifer Snelling wrote a wonderful article about the feasts created by ELAW partners, and even included some of the recipes!

ELAW Partner Fernando Ochoa

ELAW Partner Fernando Ochoa Pineda

Fernando kissing the whale

Fernando kissing a whale

ELAW partner Fernando Ochoa Pineda and ELAW Communications Director Maggie Keenan were guests on KLCC’s Northwest Passage last week. Fernando lives and works in Ensenada, Baja California protecting the coastline so that whales (and people too!) can enjoy the ocean. He spoke about fighting unsustainable tourism development and other environmental challenges on the Baja peninsula – and recounted his experience swimming with the whales.

He and Maggie also spoke about the ELAW annual meeting. Fernando described how inspired he is by his colleagues in the ELAW network, and the joy he gets from his work.

You can listen here:

Learn more about Fernando’s work on ELAW’s website.

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