You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Environmental Hero’ category.

All of us at ELAW mourn the passing of our beloved partner, Svitlana Kravchenko.  We have benefited enormously from working with Svitlana over the past 17 years and we will miss her.

Svitlana worked tirelessly to strengthen the rule of law, protect the earth, and advance human rights around the world.  She was determined to give citizens around the world a voice in decisions about their planet and their future.  She fearlessly challenged powerful interests and pursued change through writing, teaching, advocacy, organizing, and personal persuasion.  She brought a warmth, passion, beauty, and joy to her work that lifted all of us and will continue to inspire us.

Svitlana and her husband, ELAW founder and director John Bonine, formed an inspiring and dynamic team.  They wrote together, taught together, traveled together, and worked together to make the world a better place.  We send our condolences to John and to Svitlana’s daughter, Maria Kostytska, a lawyer practicing in Paris.  We also send condolences to Svitlana’s niece, Olena Kravchenko, and her team at the environmental law organization that Svitlana founded and Olena leads in Lviv: Environment-People-Law.

Svitlana touched people all over the world.  ELAW partners from more than 60 countries around the globe have grieved together and shared memories of Svitlana.  Even in passing, she has made the worldwide ELAW network stronger.

Bern Johnson
Executive Director

ELAW partner Svitlana Kravchenko died in Oregon on February 10, 2012, following a heart attack.  For more about her life and work, visit:

Yesterday, the world lost another hero — Wangari Maathai. There has been a lot written about all the wonderful things that Wangari accomplished during her life — and her work was recognized by the world when she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004.  But did she know about all of the people around the world who she inspired, even though they never met her? How many people are there who, like me, watched Wangari from afar, realizing just how much one person can do with their lives?

Prof. Wangari Maathai's Portrait Credit: Martin Rowe

When I first started working with ELAW in 1993, I was blessed with the opportunity to spearhead our work with partners in Africa.  I held a secret hope that I might one day meet Wangari Maathai.  At the time, Wangari had just received the Goldman Prize for her successful efforts to protect Nairobi’s most important green space – Uhuru Park. A year after I started working at ELAW, we heard Wangari was suing the city of Nairobi and others to stop the sale of land that was used as part of the public market. We reached out to Wangari and sent her cases to support her legal arguments. She lost the case, but I had the chance to exchange faxes with Wangari. As I continued working with ELAW, I started meeting so many people who, like Wangari, were fighting for a better world.

Jen with Maurice Odhiambo Makoloo, one of the founders of ILEG (center) and another hero who passed away too early, Vincent Shauri of the Lawyers' Environmental Action Team in Tanzania

While I sit here nearly 20 years after I first sent a fax to Wangari, I’m sad that we’ve lost such a passionate advocate for environmental and human rights. However, I can see that her commitment to equity and justice is being carried forward by many others. The Green Belt Movement  that she founded has grown into a major international organization and will continue to empower communities and achieve conservation. In Wangari’s own Kenya, her work will be carried on by other strong advocates such as our friends at the Institute for Law and Environmental Governance (ILEG)  and the Resource Conflict Institute (RECONCILE).

Let’s take time to remember Wangari Maathai and appreciate all she has done for us – and thank her for inspiring so many people around the world, including those of us at ELAW, to stand up for environmental justice and human rights.

Jen Gleason
ELAW Staff Attorney

Environmental litigation typically tests a lawyer’s patience and commitment through long, drawn-out proceedings that can take years to reach any resolution.  It is not the stuff of popular fiction or television plot lines.  Last week, however, one particular case in Papua New Guinea (PNG) reached “Law and Order” level drama with missing plaintiffs, a mysterious fax, and a cliffhanger ending.

ELAW partners in Papua New Guinea (PNG) have spent many months challenging their government’s decision to permit a Chinese mining company, Metallurgical Corporation of China (MCC), to dump millions of tons of nickel mining waste into Basamuk Bay off the country’s Rai coast.  (Australian mining company Highlands Pacific Ltd. is a minority stakeholder in the project).  This practice is known as “deep sea tailings placement” (DSTP), and is banned in China and Australia (among other countries).

Residents sign petition opposing DSTP. Image courtesy of Scott Waide & Bismarck Ramu Group

Indigenous landowners along the coast oppose this waste disposal project because it will destroy the marine environment — affecting coral reefs, water quality, and fisheries.  Thousands of landowners have signed a petition opposing the project.  Earlier this year, PNG lawyer Tiffany Nonggorr filed a suit on behalf of several landowners.  She faces a well-funded team representing the government and MCC, that has filed reams of documents and expert affidavits.  Armed with technical support from regional scientists, ELAW staff scientist Mark Chernaik, and ELAW board member Professor Glenn Miller, Tiffany was able to counter MCC’s arguments that the mine waste would be harmless and obtained an injunction temporarily halting construction of the pipeline that would carry the waste out to sea.  Lawyers for the mining company appealed the decision multiple times, including to the country’s Supreme Court, only to be turned back.   At each step, ELAW’s staff attorneys worked with Tiffany to defeat the government’s and mining company’s attempts to lift the injunction.

Early in the case, the court issues an injunction temporarily stopping the waste pipeline. Image courtesy of Scott Waide & Bismarck Ramu Group

Last week marked what was to be the start of a trial to determine whether the injunction should stay in place while the court decides the legal issues in the case.  News reports described that the landowner plaintiffs were being threatened and harassed.  Attempts to safely escort the plaintiffs by boat into the town of Madang for the proceedings were thwarted by gun-toting thugs.  Then news broke that the plaintiffs were missing.  After not being able to contact the landowners for several days, and on the eve of the trial, a fax came into  Tiffany’s office from another law firm stating that the firm had instructions to represent the three landowner plaintiffs — and that the plaintiffs would be withdrawing from the case.  This came as a shock and surprised even the judge, who stated that the circumstances surrounding the plaintiffs’ decision were “suspicious.”   When questioned by Judge Cannings about their intentions, the landowners indicated that they still opposed DSTP, and were happy with how the case had proceeded so far, but were concerned about their personal safety and wanted to case to be discontinued.

Each day of the proceedings last week was incredibly dramatic.  Would the three original plaintiffs appear in court? Would the court accept their decision to withdraw from the case?  Would the court discontinue the proceedings after months of preparation, or would the judge allow a new plaintiff to continue?  Each morning I would rush to my laptop and check for regional news reports and Facebook posts from ELAW partner Effrey Dademo, an attorney with Act Now! PNG who has been working with Tiffany on the case.

Villagers are closely connected to the sea. Image courtesy of Scott Waide & Bismarck Ramu Group

Finally the judge’s decision came last Friday.  The case would be discontinued and the injunction lifted.  Defeat.  Heartbreak.  But wait!  Judge Cannings later declared that he would consider fresh proceedings filed by new plaintiffs and an application for an injunction.  Many landowners have bravely stepped forward to be involved with the case despite considerable personal risk.  Reprieve!

So as you go about your day, please send your thoughts of solidarity and support to the lawyers and local landowners who are valiantly pursuing this case on behalf of PNG’s coastal communities.  We hope to be able to report good news soon.

Liz Mitchell
ELAW Staff Attorney

CNN "Green Pioneer" Rizwana Hasan

ELAW partner Rizwana Hasan was featured on CNN recently in a segment entitled “Green Pioneer:  Hidden shame of ship-breaking industry.”  The story highlights Rizwana’s work protecting the human rights of the ship-breakers in her native Bangladesh.  This work led ELAW to nominate Rizwana for the prestigious Goldman Prize, which she won in 2009.

“STORY HIGHLIGHTS” from the CNN website:

  • Each year hundreds of ships are taken to Chittagong, Bangladesh, to be broken up
  • Men armed with hammers and cutters strip the ships for scrap metal
  • Rizwana Hasan works to expose risks to workers, the environment
  • Critics accuse her of wanting to shut down an important source of jobs

We are honored to have our partner Diana McCaulay of Jamaica Environment Trust share her thoughts on their great victory cleaning up the Harbour View Sewage Treatment Plant.  Diana worked for many years with ELAW attorneys and scientists on this challenge — and her hard work as finally paid off!  Congratulations to Diana and all the people at JET and in Jamaica who never gave up.

Entrance to the plant

Entrance to the Harbour View Sewage Treatment Plant

Crimes Against Nature

The Harbour View Sewage Treatment Plant was one of the first places I saw, when I became interested in environmental issues back in the late 1980s. I have told this story so many times it feels like something I read. But it is my story. At the time I was working in the insurance industry and I applied for a day off – exchanged my suit and stockings for jeans and water boots – I had no idea what a sewage treatment plant might entail by way of terrain, but I was pretty sure there could be puddles. My escort, Dr. Homero Silva, on secondment to the Ministry of Health in Jamaica from the Pan American Health Organization and much more outspoken than anyone else at the time, took me to the Riverton City dump, and three of Kingston’s non functional sewage plants – Greenwich, Western and Harbour View. And I did need my water boots at Harbour View, because the sewage flowed everywhere, foamy and malodourous, carrying condoms and sanitary pad liners and untreated human excrement right into the sea.

I couldn’t believe it. I mean, who spends any time thinking about what happens when we flush a toilet, we just assume the engineers and contractors and regulators figure it out and we’re not directly responsible for polluting the sea, a river or the ground water several times a day. But there, in front of me on that stinking afternoon was the evidence that we couldn’t rely on engineers and contractors and government regulators. Then, I thought the problem was:  People didn’t know. After all, I hadn’t known. I would tell them.

And so I became a woman who was concerned about sewage plants and garbage dumps and eventually, I gave up my suits and stockings and went around Jamaica on my self-appointed mission of Telling People, initially with blown up photographs of the Harbour View sewage plant, Riverton City and denuded hillsides, then with a slide projector and a script, finally with a laptop and Power Point. I learned I was wrong about the problem – it was true people hadn’t known, but they preferred not to know. What could we do, after all? We just had to hope the engineers and the contractors and the government regulators would decide to do their work.

Fast forward to the late 1990s and the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) was an Actual Organization and I was its CEO, and we teamed up with the Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide (ELAW), and the MacArthur Foundation to start an environmental law programme in Jamaica.

By then, I was burned out to ash, and the Harbour View Sewage Treatment Plant was still putting its untreated sewage into the sea. Our first Legal Director, Akilah Anderson, started working with the community – there were long years of letter writing and meetings and attempts at mediation and engagement with the press, all utterly unsuccessful. In 2005 we asked the community – will you go to court with us?  They thought about it. And they said no. Folks were afraid – they or their families worked for the Jamaican government, they feared victimization, they didn’t trust the courts, and they knew it would take years.   By then, it had become The Way it Was – if you lived in Harbour View, you smelled sewage, you didn’t use the beach and if your kids disobeyed you and went into the sea, they got sick.

Water flowing near the plant

Why didn’t we file legal action alone? Because I felt part of the problem in Jamaica was the belief that someone else should solve our problems, if not those engineers and contractors and government regulators, then some other figure of authority.   So I said to everyone who asked us for help – we will stand with you, but not in front of you.   Thanks, they said, and hung up the phone.

We never gave up on Harbour View, and in 2006, our second  Legal Director, Danielle Andrade, met two people who lived in the community who were prepared to go to court – Carol Lawton and Michael Williams. Carol was incensed when a representative of the National Water Commission told him that the sewage on the beach was not his concern. Michael’s son got sick after swimming in the sea. And so we started the long process of putting together a legal case, the taking of statements, the writing of affidavits, the soliciting of expert testimony, the researching of precedents and arguments – oh so much photocopying and binding and tabulating and stamping and notarizing – the piles and piles of paper this issue generated!  We sought leave to apply for Judicial Review in the Supreme Court, and it was granted, and by then Danielle had taken a sabbatical from JET to do a Master’s in environmental law, and we contracted attorney Clyde Williams to finish the case with us.

Three weeks before our day in court, we were contacted by the National Water Commission (NWC), the owners and non operators of the plant – they asked if we could resolve the matter “without troubling the court.” And in the end we went to court with a consent agreement which required the NWC to fix the plant, with details and timelines, to report their progress to us, including tours of the works, and declarations from the court that the regulatory agencies – the Kingston and St. Andrew Health Department, the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) and the Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA) had all failed to carry out their statutory duties.

On July 14th, 2010 I was part of a panel on “All Angles” on Television Jamaica (TVJ). Uncomfortably back in my suit (I hate doing TV), I watched the footage TVJ had taken – of the noxious sewage on the land and the curling surf right there, and even three children swimming in the sea. They interviewed one of the people who had moved onto the site and was living in those unspeakable conditions, she was so young, and she said, she needed materials for the place she would move to and she was sending this message straight to the Prime Minister. And I listened to the jacket-and-tie’d government people on the panel with me make their usual excuses and explanations for their thirty years of neglect, incompetence and willful abdication of their legal mandate.

Boniface church

Boniface Church

“Do you know what the most important thing a person needs in order to work for the Jamaican government?” I asked my colleagues in one of the breaks. “The ability to defend the indefensible,” I told them, not waiting for any expression of interest in my views. I wish I’d said it on air.

“What lesson do you take away from this?” the TV host, Dionne Jackson Miller asked me at the end of the programme.  “Go to court,” I said, trying to remember which camera I was supposed to look at. “It might take years, there are definitely risks, but in the end, that’s all that will bring the engineers and the contractors and the government regulators to the table.”

I haven’t done it yet, but before many days go by, I will go to the beach at Harbour View and look at the crime against nature and humanity that caused me to change my life course, and I hope I will have a moment of satisfaction, as I turn my back to the derelict sewage plant and look out to sea. And I’ll invite the Harbour View citizens, especially Carol and Michael, to come with me…

Diana McCaulay, Chief Executive Officer of Jamaica Environment Trust

(This blog entry was first published on the JET blog)

Reporter Camilla Mortensen’s cover story in today’s Eugene Weekly describes the history of the challenges that Haiti faces and the work that ELAW Fellow Jean André Victor has been doing and will continue to do after he finishes his fellowship here in Eugene.  And not only that — ELAW’s fabulous intern Chu “Cassie” Chen was featured in this week’s “Happening People!

Here’s an excerpt from the cover story:

“For more than 20 years, Jean André Victor worked as an agronomist in Haiti, trying to solve the riddle of how to fix the centuries of environmental degradation and poverty that has kept Haiti from developing a self sustaining economy and food supply.  But, ‘the main problem is that you can’t solve the degradation of Haiti with projects,’ says Victor.

This spring, at the age of 68, Victor came to Eugene to discuss law and policy with scientists and other attorneys, write the first textbook on environmental law in Haiti and learn English at the University of Oregon’s American English Institute.  He came through the help of the Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide….

He will return to Haiti this summer – a country that was struggling even before the devastating January earthquake that killed thousands of Haitians, including Victor’s mother – and try to change his country from within.”  Read the whole story here.

We are inspired by all that Jean André has endured and all he does!  And we are delighted that everybody else now knows what a happenin’ person Cassie is!

Annie (left) and Taylor, some of my fellow volunteers, at the Spring Party

Last night ELAW hosted its annual Spring volunteer appreciation party.  The night was filled with tasty food, good friends, and the always anticipated speech from the Executive Director Bern Johnson.

I have been volunteering with ELAW since last fall.  I first heard about ELAW in one of my environmental studies classes at the University of Oregon, when Bern and staff attorney Jen Gleason came to speak about the field of environmental law.  To tell you the truth, I was pretty surprised that a place doing the type of work ELAW does is based in Eugene.  I couldn’t pass up a chance to ask Bern if they had any volunteer/internship opportunities.  I was put in contact with Lauren and, well, the rest is history.

Over the past two terms I have received credit through the environmental studies program for my work at ELAW.  Yesterday, before the party, I gave my final presentation to my advisor on my experience with ELAW.  During my presentation I was asked to address how working at ELAW connects to my environmental studies major.  At first, this seemed like a question that would take no thought.  Everything I have done at ELAW connects directly to the goals of the environmental studies program, whether it’s research into bonefish habitats in Belize, or helping Lauren around the office and gaining non-profit management skills.  But the more I thought about the question, I started to realize my presentation on ELAW was the final step in coming full circle and gaining a true environmental studies experience.  From first hearing Bern and Jen speak in my environmental studies class, to volunteering and getting credit,  and finally, to presenting on my work at ELAW to my advisor and fellow students, who will hopefully be interested in coming to help out ELAW themselves.

I plan on attending many more volunteer parties in the future, because this experience is too good to pass up.

Jake Abrahams
ELAW volunteer

[Editor’s note: Jake has volunteered more than 100 hours in the past six months!  We have been thrilled to have him help out and hope he’s going to stick around . . .]

Ashley White

Ashley White

We are excited to welcome Ashley White to the ELAW office for the summer.  She will be working with our lawyers and scientists for the next few months, helping on a variety of research projects.  Ashley was recently awarded an Oregon State Bar Public Honors Fellowship for her work with ELAW this summer.

I asked Ashley “Why did you want to spend your summer volunteering at ELAW?”and she responded with this eloquent description of why she is here and what she is doing:

I am a third year student at Willamette University College of Law, and am in the process of completing a certificate in International & Comparative Law. As a law student interested in contemporary global environmental issues, a summer legal internship with ELAW seemed like a perfect fit. I wanted to spend my summer further developing practical legal skills that I could apply in a future career, ideally for a public interest organization dedicated to international development, human rights, and environmental compliance. ELAW encompasses all of this, and more!

Within the first three weeks, I had the opportunity to complete research projects involving diverse environmental issues in Papua New Guinea, Ghana, Peru, and Taiwan.  Already, my internship with ELAW surpassed all of my expectations. It is such an enriching opportunity to assist a devoted network of advocates throughout the world whom are working together to achieve the same goal in advancing environmental responsibility.  I could not have asked for a more rewarding summer experience.

We are all thrilled to have Ashley here working with us.  She has agreed to write blog posts about her work this summer, so stay tuned!

Rita Radostitz                                                                                                                            Outreach Director

As promised, here are some of the fabulous photographs of Thuli Brilliance Makama from the Goldman Prize ceremony.  Thanks to ELAW Staff Attorney Liz Mitchell for all photos (except the photo of Thuli with the Ouroboros – which was provided by the Goldman Prize organization.)

Goldman Prize CeremonyThuli & ELAW staff

Thuli Makama with Goldman Prize

On this Earth Day, we invite you to join us in congratulating Thuli Brilliance Makama on winning the Goldman Prize!

Thuli is the only public interest environmental lawyer in Swaziland and is the Director of Yonge Nawe (SiSwati for “you too must conserve the environment”) an organization committed to environmental justice.  She has done fantastic work and risked everything to give citizens a voice in protecting Swaziland’s environment. You can read more about her great work here.  We are gathering messages of congratulations from around the world and will present them to Thuli before she returns to Swaziland next week.  If you wish to add a message, please  click here.

If the above link doesn’t work with your browser, just post a note in the comments section below and we’ll forward it on to Thuli.

What a great way to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day!

Receive notifications of new blog posts by email.

Join 151 other followers

Subscribe to ELAW e-news:

Receive breaking news in your inbox. Sign up now!

Donate to ELAW!

Find us on Facebook:

Follow us on Twitter:

%d bloggers like this: