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Last week Staff Scientist Heidi Weiskel and I joined other NGO representatives to talk with World Bank representatives as they consider financing Oyu Tolgoi, a massive copper and gold mine in the South Gobi desert.  As has been widely reported, Mongolia has become the new frontier for mining.  As ELAW has reported, the government of Mongolia has issued 3,000 mining licenses for copper, coal, gold, silver, and uranium.  The International Finance Corporation – the arm of the World Bank that provides financing to private enterprises – is one of several international financial institutions considering financing the development of Oyu Tolgoi.

The project proponent (a Mongolian company, Oyu Tolgoi LLC which is a joint-venture between Turquoise Hill Resources, Rio Tinto, and a Mongolian state-run company) published an environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA) for the project in 2012.  ELAW staff scientists and attorneys worked with partners in Mongolia to evaluate the ESIA under IFC standards.  We found the ESIA failed to meet IFC standards in several respects.  In addition to other comments, we pointed out the following violations of IFC policy:

  • The ESIA is incomplete;
  • Many critical documents underlying the findings in the ESIA have not been made available to the public; and
  • The project proponent inappropriately dismissed the application of the Indigenous Peoples Performance Standard.
Mongolian herders in Bulgan Province

Mongolian herders in Bulgan Province
Photo: Lori Maddox

We also identified several ways that the project could be improved to reduce its impact on the indigenous herders who live a traditional nomadic lifestyle. The herders’ livelihoods and their land are likely to be destroyed forever if the project is implemented as proposed.  The most urgent concern about the project is its devastating impact on water resources in this arid land.  Among other concerns, ELAW urged the IFC to ensure that the Undai River is not diverted if the project advances and to require the company to employ dry tailings instead of the planned wet tailings.  Tailings are the waste product produced from the ore extraction process and can either be stored in a massive, toxic artificial pond near the mine or dried and back-filled into the areas of the mine where extraction has been completed. Storing the waste as dry tailings could reduce the water needed for processing by 90% and reduce the impact from the mine.

Heidi and I joined Oyu Tolgoi Watch (a Mongolian NGO concerned about the impacts of the project), the Bank Information Center, Sierra Club and the Accountability Counsel to talk with Executive Directors from the World Bank about problems with the project before the Directors decide whether to finance the project.  Before these organizations addressed Executive Directors, we were able to hear directly from an indigenous herder whose family has been impacted by the mine.  He spoke eloquently about the changes that have already come to the community and the fear that the mine could destroy their traditional lifestyles forever.

Heidi briefed the Directors about concerns related to water resource management.  I have focused on demonstrating that the IFC must apply its Indigenous Peoples’ policy to this project.

ELAW will continue working with Mongolian lawyers and organizations representing the communities impacted by mining.

Jennifer Gleason
Staff Attorney

Mural in Iquitos

Last month I visited Peru, my home country.  Recently Peru has had an unprecedented economic growth rate: more than 6% per year since 2002, almost 9% in 2010 and 7% in 2011.  In Lima, one can readily see this growth through the construction of large stores, new commercial areas, and apartment buildings. Now, more people than ever are driving, making traffic unbearable and creating lots of air pollution.

A closer look at newspapers tells us that Peru’s rapid economic growth has been accompanied by a rising number of social-environmental conflicts, or conflicts over the use, control, and exploitation of natural resources. In July, the Public Defender’s Office reported a total of 243 conflicts.  148 of those conflicts were considered social-environmental, a record!

Many of these social-environmental conflicts are related to extractive industries like mining, oil and gas, timber, and fisheries. Why is it that the rise of extractive industries and social-environmental conflicts go hand in hand?

‘Conflicts’ are not new to Peru or Latin America. What is new is how predominant they are, especially in the last 10 years.   When I started working for ELAW in 1991, serious conflicts existed, but ‘environmental’ discussions were not center stage as they are now.   People are now concerned about how extractive industries might damage the environment, their health, and their way of life.

Workshop with regional authorities of Loreto

While in Peru, I visited Iquitos and gave a presentation organized by DAR (Derecho, Ambiente y Recursos Naturales) and the Regional Government of Loreto to regional authorities about environmental impact assessments (EIAs).  Despite the scorching 100°F heat, officers from numerous public agencies and NGOs attended the presentation and subsequent Q&A session.   Time flew!  Without noticing we had a non-stop, three hour session!

The audience agreed that an adequate EIA process including public consultation and participation would help reduce social-environmental conflicts.  I was surprised at how much information representatives of public agencies need and impressed by their willingness to learn and improve their technical capacity, especially in measuring environmental quality and monitoring extractive industries and infrastructure projects.

Despite the interest of local communities to solve environmental conflicts, there are issues regarding environmental quality (especially water quality, hydrology, toxicology and environmental management) that neither local communities nor public agencies have the capacity to address.

Economic development in Peru and other developing countries that depend on extractive industries is quickly outpacing the capacity of local and regional public agencies to manage and address environmental concerns.    Local authorities and communities need help developing their capacities to participate in decision-making processes, strengthen and enforce environmental laws and policies, and improve natural resource management.

ELAW and local organizations such as DAR are helping mitigate this problem by working with citizen’s groups and training local public interest lawyers and authorities.

Meche Lu
Staff Scientist

Last week, I traveled to San Salvador, El Salvador for Uniendo Esfuerzos Centroamericanos: el Enlace entre Género, Pobreza, y el Medioambiente (Uniting Central American Efforts: The Link between Gender, Poverty, and the Environment).  This Central American regional conference brought together ELAW partners and other grassroots advocates from a wide range of civil society groups who are working in their home countries to promote social and environmental justice.

Opening night featured presentations that set the stage for rest of the conference in which climate change and its relationship to food security, access to water and other human rights, and the impacts on women and vulnerable populations were discussed in detail.  The opening event included a speech by Herman Rosa Chávez, El Salvador’s Minister of Environment and Natural Resources, who, along with Salvador Nieto (the Ministry’s Legal Advisor) were part of the delegation representing El Salvador at the climate negotiations in Durban, South Africa last year.  Nieto spoke later in the week about El Salvador’s experience at the negotiations and described the “Fossil of the Day” prize, which was awarded by Climate Action Network International to whichever country most inhibited progress during the day’s negotiations.  Unsurprisingly, the U.S.  frequently won “Fossil of the Day” and was in fact awarded the Grand Poobah for slowing progress: “The Colossal Fossil.”

At least we shared the prize with Canada.

While it is important that government officials create opportunities for international dialogue, it will take a strong voice

Sign near the former Baterias Record Factory where ELAW partners Luis Francisco López Guzmán and Victor Hugo Mata Tobar are working for justice in this community which is affected by lead poisoning from the factory and the contaminated water in the nearby Rio Sucio. The sign reads: ""In this place, there are 33,000 tons of toxic materials. Therefore, we demand justice and punishment of the owners, former officials, and accomplices to the Record Factory. Communities of the Movement without Lead." (Copyright 2012 Seattle International Foundation.)

from citizens, along with mitigation and adaptation at the local level, to come up with anything resembling a solution to climate change.  With “Colossal Fossils” in power, grassroots efforts and actions are more valuable than ever.

The San Salvador meeting was an inspiration.  We had the opportunity to bring a human element to our collaboration and increase our awareness and understanding of the challenges facing us as global and regional communities.  Despite leaps in technology, meeting face-to-face simply cannot be recreated via the Internet.

However, the real work continues when we return to our own communities, the places where we experience the impacts of our efforts.  Here in Oregon we have been lucky to have escaped severe weather events on the scale faced by El Salvador.  Just last year, Tropical Depression 12E dumped almost 30 inches of rain on El Salvador in ten days, leaving 10% of the country flooded.  10%!  If 10% of the U.S.  was under water, would the U.S.  still be a “Colossal Fossil” in climate negotiations?

ELAW partners are bringing lessons from El Salvador back to our home communities- where we can make a difference, regardless of the sluggishness of intergovernmental negotiations.  One of these lessons is from Elena Caal Hub from the Red de mujeres jóvenes Q’eqchi’ (Q’eqchi’ Young Women’s Network) who spoke about her community and the impact of mining and other environmental abuses.  She challenged the term “environment,” saying that our planet is “la Madre Tierra, ” (Mother Earth.) La Madre Tierra is living and breathing and not an object or “environment” to be exploited.

Reflections from group session on women's leadership. (Copyright Seattle International Foundation 2012).

Ideas from group session on women's leadership. (Copyright 2012 Seattle International Foundation.)

Elena Caal Hub’s presentation was a turning point in the conference: it emphasized why we had gathered in El Salvador and it exposed the changes that need to be made in our collective consciousness to effectively combat climate change.  It is easy to take small steps to reduce our ecological footprints: eat local, use alternative transportation, reduce, reuse, recycle, etc.  However, the changes we need to make if we are going to live in a more just world go to the very root of how we view and interact with the planet and with one another.

The time has ended for focusing on differences between cultures, differences between our efforts, and differences between ourselves and our home, our mother, this planet.  Regardless of whether we call ourselves environmentalists, activists, feminists, or human rights advocates, todos somos seres humanos — we are all human beings.

Many thanks to the Seattle International Foundation for sponsoring this event and to local hosts Victor Mata Tobar (Instituto de Investigación y Promoción Ambiental), Luis Francisco López Guzmán (Firma Legal López Guzmán), and Carla Trillos de la Hoz (Fundación Nacional Para el Desarrollo, El Salvador).

Melanie Giangreco
Latin America Program Assistant

The New York Times and media around the world are reporting on the court decision ordering Chevron to pay $9 billion in damages for polluting remote areas of Ecuadorean jungle.  The decision was announced on Monday by Judge Nicolás Zambrano in Lago Agrio, Ecuador.

Pablo Fajardo

ELAW partner Pablo Fajardo, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, has fought a long, hard battle to win this victory against oil giant Chevron.  I am thrilled that ELAW has been able to help Pablo with legal and scientific support.  Pablo traveled to Eugene for an ELAW Fellowship in 2009.  Over his three months in Eugene, he was able to gain valuable skills and all of us at ELAW in Eugene, Oregon, enjoyed working with Pablo.  He has boundless courage and speaks truth to power.

When Pablo announced his victory on the ELAW network, people all over the world joined in the celebration.  Through the ELAW network, Pablo has received heartfelt congratulations from colleagues in more than 20 countries.  His victory is inspiring ELAW advocates all over the world, at the same time ELAW advocates are rallying in solidarity with Pablo.

This court decision from Ecuador is a huge step forward, but the struggle for justice is far from over.  As Pablo continues onward and upward, the ELAW network will be supporting him every step of the way.

Bern Johnson
Executive Director
Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide

ELAW partner Thuli Brilliance Makama of Swaziland has been awarded the 2010 Goldman Prize!  The Goldman Prize is the highest honor a grassroots environmental advocate can receive — sort of like a “green” Nobel Prize.  ELAW is thrilled to have nominated Thuli and is thrilled that now the rest of the world will learn about her fabulous work.

Thuli told the Goldman Prize organizers:  “I defend the rights of local communities to participate in environmental decision-making so that future generations may benefit.”

The Goldman Foundation selected Thuli for the Prize because of her courageous efforts to fight Big Game Parks — a private corporation that owns and operates two game parks and has been granted authority to manage one of Swaziland’s national parks.  Thuli and her organization have been working to  ensure that local community members have a voice in the management of their environment.  Goldman notes that Thuli’s “success in challenging malpractices in environmental management is a huge step forward in the struggle to include local people in conservation efforts in Swaziland.”

ELAW staff members Lori Maddox, Jen Gleason and Liz Mitchell will attend the ceremony tonight — and have promised to send photos.

at the  Bijou Art Cinemas
492 East 13th, Eugene

CRUDE: The Real Price of Oil is coming to Eugene!  This award-winning documentary features ELAW Partner and Goldman Prize winner Pablo Fajardo, and his community’s fight to obtain justice from ChevronTexaco for the devastation of the Ecuadorian Amazon.  We recommend that you see it. It will be playing at The Bijou starting this Friday (February 19.) CRUDE will show at 5:10 p.m. daily and a Saturday matinee at 2:45 p.m. Check the website to confirm show times (as they may change.)

CRUDE has won more than 20 major awards including the International Green Film Award – Cinema for Peace; Best Documentary Film – Mexico International Film Festival; and the Gold Kahuna Award – Honolulu Film Festival.

You won’t want to miss this amazing movie about the valuable work that ELAW partners in Ecuador are doing.  Read the review in the Eugene Weekly.

Also —  Pablo’s co-counsel, Steven Donziger, will be a keynote speaker at the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference – February 25th at 7:00 p.m. in the EMU Ballroom.  More information at

“Steven Donziger knew pursuing a multibillion-dollar lawsuit against Chevron-Texaco wouldn’t be easy. A Harvard Law grad and former Washington, D.C., public defender, Donziger is the lead U.S. lawyer for 30,000 Ecuadoreans who claim oil drilling by Texaco (now owned by Chevron) polluted portions of the country’s Amazon Basin, contaminating the soil and water sources where they live.”   The American Lawyer Sept. 2009

“As the founder of his law firm in New York, Donziger & Associates, Steven has doggedly pursued Texaco (now Chevron) in courts both in New York and in Ecuador for almost two decades. He is now assisting on the $27 Billion lawsuit against the company for massive oil contamination in the Amazon rain forest of Ecuador. Thirty thousand people are suing over this legacy of toxic pollution that has damaged the ecosystem and so many human lives.” Dreamers & Doers, September 2009

Demonstrators shouting "1.5"

“1.5!” “One point five!” The rhythm picked up.  The shouts got louder.

“Legally binding text!  Legally binding text!”

What?  These are not your grandfather’s demonstrators.  Instead of making general political statements, the protesters were chanting details of their demands for a climate change agreement.  This is clearly a sophisticated crowd.

As we tried to enter a meeting room where negotiations were proceeding here in the convention center in Copenhagen, the security guards refused us entrance.  “NGOs are not allowed for the moment,” said the guard.  “Why?” we asked. “Unauthorized demonstration,” the guard replied.

Then we ran into Hemantha Withenage from ELAW Sri Lanka, just emerging from the meeting.  He explained more. “People from Tuvalu launched an unauthorized demonstration at the entrance to the room,” he reported.  “So they shut down the entry.”  We walked with Hemantha toward the chants and shouts.  It was not the Tuvalu demonstration but another one – this one consisting of NGO delegates from Africa and the Middle East.  “But we support Tuvalu also,” a young woman from South Africa told one of us.

The delegation from Tuvalu’s government had made a dramatic demand of its own in the morning of this third day of negotiations.  They asked for a “contact group” to be set up, which would discuss the possibility of a new, legally binding protocol being drawn up, alongside the Kyoto Protocol.  Their request was blocked by China and India, as well as oil-rich Venezuela and Saudi Arabia.

Tuvalu has thus become a symbolic rallying point for some who fear that the Copenhagen meetings will end in a weak, political statement and little more.

At the same time, their request revealed divisions among the developing countries.  The caucuses calling themselves the Least Developed Countries (LDC) and the Association of Small Island States (AOSIS) are supporting an open and transparent discussion, while some others are opposing that.  The United States stayed out of the fight.

What will actually happen is anyone’s guess.

To clarify — “one point five” refers to the number of degrees Celsius that the demonstrators want to use as a target for increased temperature from greenhouse gas emissions.  Most of the governments negotiating in Copenhagen are talking about 2 degrees, and not even managing to create a plan to achieve that.  Meanwhile, Tony Oposa, famed environmental lawyer (and ELAW partner) from the Philippines, told us tonight that he wants zero increases!

by ELAW Partners John Bonine and Svitlana Kravchenko

crude the movieCRUDE: The Real Price of Oil opened in New York.  This film documents the fight by ELAW partner Pablo Fajardo and others to remediate the damage done to their community members and the environment in northern Ecuador.  CRUDE shows the damage done by ChevronTexaco over the last 30+ years and the community’s efforts to receive justice.

The New York Times film critic A.O. Scott had this to say:

“Too many filmmakers seem to think that a noble cause, a good heart and a digital video camera are all that is required for an effective documentary. Luckily, Mr. Berlinger has both a strong narrative instinct and a keen eye for incongruous, evocative and powerful images.”  Read the entire review here.

CRUDE opens in other cities around the country over the next few weeks.  The schedule is on the film’s website:

Danielle A-crop ELAW partner Danielle Andrade was the subject of an interview on The Hub by Witness speaking about the intersection between environmental rights and human rights.

The Hub says:

As the legal director of the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET), Danielle Andrade supports local Jamaican communities, helping them to assert their rights.  In particular, she works with these communities to stand up to multi-national corporations who want to mine on their lands. In this interview, Danielle discusses her work in Cockpit Country, a densely forested region that is home to a community threatened by a mining operation. Danielle paints a human portrait of Cockpit Country, describing its people, its struggles, and ultimately its perseverance.

I always love stories that start with Once Upon A Time.

So, I’m going to start this one that way…

Once upon a time, there was a boy who lived in northeastern Ecuador. His name was Pablo Fajardo. He cherished his community and the beauty of the surrounding Amazon rainforest. But when he saw his neighbors’ livestock dying as the result of falling into petroleum pits and saw nearby streams oozing with oily sludge, he knew  something was wrong, and he vowed to do something about it.

He was only 16.Pablo Weekly cover

He became a leader of his community and begged the government to act to clean up the mess and help his neighbors who were getting sick from drinking and bathing in the polluted waters.  Officials told him that the only way to get results was to hire a lawyer.  He looked around but did not find one lawyer who could or would help.

So he looked in the mirror.  And then, as soon as he could, he went to law school.

Twenty years later, Pablo is still fighting to protect communities from devastation caused by oil extraction in Ecuador that began before he was born.

The current Eugene Weekly has Pablo on the cover, and reporter Camilla Mortensen does a fabulous job of telling his story and detailing the controversy surrounding the destruction of the Ecuadorean Amazon.  Read it here.

Pablo is going to tell some of the story and show documentary footage at a fundraising event for ELAW on August 27th at the Lord Leebrick Theater in Eugene.  More details on the ELAW website.  We hope you will come to hear more about Pablo’s world and what can be done to make it right so that his community can live (you saw this coming, right?) happily ever after.

Rita Radostitz

Director of Philanthropy

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