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In Africa, corporations seeking oil, gas, gold, and timber threaten agricultural lands, waterways, and national parks.  ELAW is working with local advocates to level the playing field for threatened communities.  Together we are:

  • Strengthening hydraulic fracturing regulations in South Africa.
  • Reviewing and improving gold mining concession agreements in Ghana.
  • Protecting communities around Kenya’s Lake Turkana from oil development schemes.
  • Building strong NGOs in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda that will work to protect communities and the environment for years to come.
  • Creating strategic tools to dissect complicated natural resource concession contracts and advocate for stronger environmental, social, and fiscal provisions.

Harriet newNext month, we will welcome Harriet Bibangambah, a Ugandan environmental advocate working with ELAW partner organization Greenwatch, for a two-week ELAW Fellowship.  Harriet will work with the ELAW team and attend the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference at the University of Oregon School of Law.

Stay tuned for more updates about ELAW’s work in Africa and Harriet’s Fellowship.

Michele Kuhnle
Donor Liaison

Industries, such as Tema Oil Refinery, sit on the edge of the lagoon, discharging waste into the water. Photo: Corporate Social Responsibility Movement http://www.revitalization.org/csrm/Chemu%20Lagoon.htm

It didn’t make the international news, and chances are you haven’t heard about it in a while, but in May 2007, government-owned Tema Oil Refinery on the Chemu II Lagoon in Tema, Ghana, had a massive oil spill. The lagoon flows into the Gulf of Guinea, so the contamination spread to saltwater mangroves, fisheries, and bird habitat.

In June, ELAW partners at the Center for Public Interest Law (CEPIL) filed suit to defend the rights of local fisherfolk left destitute by the polluted waterway.

Last month, CEPIL attorney Rockson Akugre visited the ELAW office in Eugene and gave a presentation that included details about the ongoing case against Tema Oil Refinery. Rockson noted that people who have settled near the lagoon are being denied their right to a clean environment. The spill has affected their health and their livelihoods.

CEPIL attorney Rockson Akugre while in Eugene for a 2011 ELAW Fellowship

CEPIIL’s suit asks for the  following:

“(a) A declaration that the defendant was negligent in spilling oil into the Chemu lagoon;

(b) A declaration that the oil spillage into the Chemu lagoon is a violation of the rights of the inhabitants of Chemu particularly the rights of those who are settled along the banks of the lagoon to a clean and healthy environment under the constitution and under international law;

(c) An order enjoining the defendant to clean up the Chemu lagoon under the supervision of the EPA;

(d) An order of perpetual injunction to restrain the defendant from further pollution of the aforesaid lagoon through oil spillage or other means.”

Tema Oil attempted to have the case dismissed, by claiming that CEPIL did not have standing to sue on behalf of the lagoon or the local people, calling the plaintiffs “busybodies seeking cheap popularity.”

The judge ultimately ruled that CEPIL did in fact have standing to sue, saying that CEPIL “says it is in the business of protecting human rights and litigating on public interest issues. Public interest litigation seems to be a new concept in our jurisprudence and it ought, in my considered opinion, to be encouraged. I believe it is an antidote to the problem of direct victims of acts of environmental degradation or pollution being unable to take such cases to court.”

For the last 3.5 years, the community has waited as legal hurdles have delayed the case.  CEPIL and the local community now have cause for hope.

In recent weeks, a lawyer for Tema Oil Refinery made a motion to have a section of his client’s statement of defense amended, specifically the paragraph where TOR admits to “occasional spills” in Chemu Lagoon.

The current section in question reads:

“occasional spills in insignificant quantities from its refinery cannot be the cause of the alleged level of pollution and annihilation of all life forms in the Chemu Lagoon mentioned in the pleadings of the plaintiffs.”

The presiding judge of the Tema High Court dismissed the application to amend the statement of defense. The case is set for trial on Tuesday, May 3.

Lauren Ice
ELAW Office Manager

If you’ve been following our recent news, you’ll know that we’ve had ELAW Fellows visiting from Mexico, Panama, Ukraine, Estonia, Hungary, Ghana, and Liberia with us over the past couple of weeks. The ELAW office is quieting down, and I’m taking this opportunity to (finally) write about the amazing visit of these young, inspiring attorneys. And, for those of you who could not attend, I will highlight presentations they gave at the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference (PIELC).

Heceta Head Lighthouse overlook

These advocates were here to work with the ELAW team on issues directly related to their work at home protecting communities.  They also learned ways to be more involved and contribute to the ELAW network. And, of course, we couldn’t bring environmental advocates to Oregon and not show off some of our natural wonders, like the coast.

This year’s PIELC was Thursday, March 3 – Sunday, March 6 and it was a hit! The theme was Turning the Tides: Creating a Clean and Green Future. Our gratitude and congratulations go out to the student group, Land Air Water (LAW) that helps organize this amazing annual conference. Each year, ELAW times it  so that our visiting Fellows are able to attend and present their work at PIELC. One theme that resonated through each Fellow’s presentation this year was how closely they work with local communities who are deeply affected by environmental abuses.

On Thursday, Lovesta Brehun, who works with Green Advocates in Liberia, kicked off the conference with the first panel, Challenging Firestone Liberia’s Environmental Abuses, describing the practices of one of the world’s largest latex rubber processing facilities along the Farmington River, discharging poorly treated effluent, and emitting toxic pollut­ants. Green Advocates represents the interests of the public and are demanding that Firestone clean up its act!

On Friday afternoon, Lovesta shared another panel, Ghana and Liberia Forestry and Mining, with Rockson Akugre, an attorney with the Center for Public Interest Law (CEPIL) in Ghana, as well as local lawyer Dan Kruse of Cascadia Wildlands. Dan traveled to Liberia to work with Lovesta and Green Advocates as a part of an ELAW exchange program, and together they shared information about the logging that threatens family land and livelihoods in much of Liberia. Lovesta spoke passionately about her country, whose people are still struggling to overcome decades of civil war. She detailed examples of how multinational corporations are exploiting people as they attempt to get back on their feet.

Rockson spoke of the extractive industries in Ghana, particularly gold and copper mining companies, and the need for strong enforcement of environmental laws. He described how multinational corporations often promise jobs and an improved economy to local communities, but the reality is much different. Rockson has visited villages near the mines and they are some of the poorest and most disadvantaged communities in Ghana.

Friday evening, ELAW hosted a reception in honor of our ELAW Fellows. It was a chance for ELAW supporters, past and present ELAW employees and volunteers, and other PIELC participants to connect. Bern introduced our visitors and announced ELAW’s 20-year anniversary!! Everyone enjoyed wine donated by Benton-Lane Winery in Monroe, Oregon and beer provided by Oakshire Brewery here in Eugene.

Svitlana Kravchenko, of EPL and the University of Oregon, School of Law introduces Aimee Code of NCAP and Olena Kravchenko of EPL

On Saturday morning, Olena Kravchenko, Executive Director of Environment-People-Law (EPL) in Ukraine, shared a panel with members of the Eugene-based group, Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides. During the panel, Pesticide Pollution is a Danger for Life, she described how EPL has worked with the government to oversee and ensure tons of leaking pesticide dumps were cleaned up, and the dangerous chemicals shipped to Hamburg for proper disposal. Members of the audience were impressed to learn how Olena’s group gained the confidence of the local community by being present every step of the way to hold the government accountable and ensure the cleanup was safe.

At the same time, Pedro Leon, an attorney at Instituto de Derecho Ambiental (IDEA) in Mexico, and Tania Arosemana, an attorney at El Centro de Incidencia Ambiental (CIAM) in Panama, discussed the complications of extractive industries in their home countries. Seats filled, people lined themselves along walls and sat on stairs to attend the panel, Latin America: Impacts of Mining and other Natural Resource Extraction. Pedro focused on one of IDEA’s current projects: ensuring indigenous communities have a voice and maintain control of their traditional lands when threatened by rock/gravel extraction from a local riverbed.

Tania spoke fervently of green washing used by companies to convince community members of commitment to education and community well-being. CIAM is demanding a moratorium on mining in Panama. They believe that Panama needs to enact stronger regulations and demonstrate more oversight before large-scale mining is allowed in Panama.

Szilvia and Kart answer questions after their presentation

The last of the ELAW panels took place first thing Sunday morning. Kart, the founder and Executive Director of Estonian Environmental Law Center (EELC) and Szilvia, an attorney with Environmental Management and Law Association (EMLA) gave a presentation entitled Environmental Impact Assessments in Estonia and Hungary, providing examples of how their organizations are working to make the approval process for proposed projects that threaten the communities and the environment transparent. Kart discussed her work with a local community affected by the noise from crushing and blasting at a nearby limestone quarry. Szilvia’s organization worked with a local community, re-routing a major road expansion away from their town and around a protected green space.

After the closing keynote address, we agreed that the perfect way to wind down after a very busy conference was to venture out to a local winery. We had lunch on an overlook, where we could admire the gorgeous scenery and taste Oregon’s famous Pinot Noir. It only took about one glass each before we were all ready to call it a day. We were looking forward to another field trip the next day.

ELAW Fellows at the Oregon coast

On Monday, we accompanied our Fellows to Oregon’s coast. We could not have asked for better weather – the sun was shining and visibility was great. Sea lions swam near the shore, and a gray whale was just visible in the distance. Before returning home, we went for a walk on the beach at low tide – Tania even took off her shoes to play in the surf!

Now that our recent Fellows have returned home, we will continue to work across the internet, but nothing can replace face-to-face meetings. Not only is time spent in each other’s company productive and efficient, it is when we learn the most about on another and our reasons for doing what we do. We find motivation and encouragement in the stories of people around the world, whose work we can relate to, as they face unique challenges and struggle against the odds protecting the environment and human rights.

If you’d like more information about how you can help support ELAW’s Fellows Program, visit our website.

Lauren Ice
ELAW Office Manager

ELAW partners summit Mt. Pisgah last spring

Every year, many of our partners travel for hours and hours on planes, trains and automobiles to reach the Eugene office just in time for the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference.  This year, we have visitors from six countries on five different continents who will be speaking at the PIELC!

Rizwana Hasan of Bangladesh is a keynote speaker at the PIELC (Sunday at noon). Rizwana is a 2009 Goldman Prize winner for her work challenging human rights and environmental abuses in the shipbreaking business in her home country of Bangladesh.  She was also a 2009 Time Magazine “Hero of the Environment.”  You can read more about her on the PIELC website.

Agnes Gajdics has been in Eugene since January, studying English at the American English Institute at the University of Oregon — and blogging about her experiences!  She will speak at the PIELC on Friday afternoon on a panel entitled “Giving the Public a Voice:  Procedural Environmental Rights.”  Joining her on that panel is Merab Barbakadze, who just missed a Lufthansa pilot’s strike to make it to Eugene.  He is an environmental attorney in the Republic of Georgia.

Calvin Sandborn will take the train to Eugene, arriving Thursday afternoon (if Amtrak is on time!). He is the Legal Director of the Environmental Law Center at the University of Victoria in Canada.  He will be speaking Friday afternoon on the topic of “Collaborative Partnerships for Livable and Sustainable Communities.”

Francis Colee works with Green Advocates in Liberia helping to amplify local voices as they speak out about environmental issues, especially those involving mining and forestry.  He is working to ensure that Liberia creates and maintains sustainable practices as those industries develop.

Kwesi Intsiful is a public interest environmental lawyer in Ghana.  He works with ELAW partners at The Centre for Public Interest Law (CEPIL) in Accra on environmental and forestry issues.

Kwesi and Francis will speak on a panel at the PIELC on Saturday morning entitled “Liberia, Ghana and the U.S.: Collaborating for a Clean Environment.”  ELAW Staff Scientist Mark Chernaik will be the moderator for this panel.

And, attending from the fifth continent, is Andrés Pirazzoli, a partner from Chile who worked with ELAW as an extern during his LL.M. program at the University of Oregon.  Andres will also speak on Saturday morning, discussing “The Energy Trilemma:  Environment, Costs and Reliability,” a panel that will be moderated by ELAW Staff Attorney Jen Gleason.

ELAW Staff member Rita Radostitz will moderate and speak on a panel Saturday morning with Kelly Matheson of Witness.org and Kelli Mathews of Verve Northwest.  The panel will address “Communications that Move People to Act (or Give).”

We are thrilled to welcome these ELAW partners to Eugene and look forward to hearing them speak.  The entire schedule, including exact times and locations, is available on the PIELC website.  We hope to see you there!

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