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Central America is home to breathtaking beaches, islands, mountains, and forests.  Unfortunately, proposed mining threatens many of these natural treasures.

Panama river

Sediment laden water flows from the river to the reef.

ELAW Board Member and mining expert Glenn Miller traveled to Panama and Honduras last week to collaborate with ELAW partners at the Environmental Advocacy Center (Centro de Incidencia Ambiental, CIAM) and the Environmental Law Institute (Instituto de Derecho Ambiental de Honduras, IDAMHO) to protect communities and the environment from mining industry abuses.

In Panama, Glenn flew by helicopter to see first hand the destruction caused by copper and gold mines.

We followed the erosion to the coast and saw a large plume of sediment that was being sent to the coral reef…  We also saw a reportedly bankrupt gold mine that had ponds that were near overflowing and no real management of the excess water,” said Glenn.

Open mine

Open pit mine

In both countries, Glenn met with regulators, public health experts, NGO staff, and community members interested in learning about the real impact of mining operations.  Photos from his helicopter tour make clear the hazards of unregulated mining.

It has been amazing and a great success to have Glenn in Panama,” says Sonia Montenegro.  “CIAM staff and the conference participants keep talking about how much they learned.

Public interest attorneys communicating with the government and affected communities are key to protecting the environment through law and key to ELAW’s work.  Courageous ELAW partners like the team at CIAM are working to prevent and remedy mining abuses and ensure that all Panamanians and Hondurans have access to a healthy, clean environment.

Michele Kuhnle
Donor Liaison

Cigarettes, plastic bags, food containers, caps, plastic bottles, and more litter the beaches in Belize, Guatemala and Honduras. In a new report, ELAW’s science team found that inadequate management of waste at the local level poses a regional challenge.

“Waste management in Belize, Guatemala and Honduras is not just an aesthetic issue, it is a serious public health and environmental problem, says ELAW Staff Scientist Meche Lu. “Data from Belize indicate that approximately half of the waste there is not collected. Much of it is burned or disposed in waterways.”castaway (Print)

Elito Arceo, Chairman of Ambergris Caye Citizens for Sustainable Development (ACCSD) in Belize, concurs: “The amount of garbage that ends up on our beaches and reef is unbelievable. This is not what our tourists come here to see.”

ELAW’s science team recently published: “Ocean Waste in the Gulf of Honduras: Where it goes and what to do about it.” The report was a collaborative effort with organizations in the region working to turn the tide on ocean waste.

“This report shows that first of all we need to take responsibility for our own garbage,” says Arceo. “It’s time for all of us to change our habits. Education is the going to be the key.”

ELAW is helping local partners in Belize, Guatemala and Honduras hold community workshops to call attention to this problem and protect the Mesoamerican reef from further destruction.

Check out the full report here.

Maggie Keenan
Communications Director

Mangroves in Belize

The Mesoamerican Reef is shared by Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras.  ELAW  is working with grassroots advocates in each of these countries on a coordinated effort to protect marine resources.

“Our partners in Belize and Guatemala are on the verge of permanently protecting hundreds of square miles of important marine habitat,” says Lori Maddox, ELAW Associate Director. “Their good work is creating a linked chain of diverse, biological storehouses that will help revitalize a dying fishery and sustain the flow of tourist dollars to the entire region.”

Lori and ELAW Staff Scientist Heidi Weiskel traveled to Belize this month for a workshop with partners to advance this initiative.

Read about their visit in Ambergris Today, a Belize newspaper.

Maggie Keenan
ELAW Communications Director

Emilio d’Cuire, Honduras

Grassroots advocates are eager to travel to Eugene for individually-tailored ELAW Fellowships that help them  collaborate and build skills to better protect communities and the environment back home. In 2011, ELAW hosted 12 advocates from 11 countries in Africa, Latin America, and Europe.

ELAW seeks support for Emilio d’Cuire and other promising environmental advocates who seek ELAW Fellowships in 2012.  Support for the ELAW Fellowship Program will make it possible for Emilio to gain the skills and resources he needs to craft a greener future.

“I want to protect nature and improve the quality of life for the dispossessed,” says Emilio.  “I want to empower civil society.”

Emilio received a degree in biology from Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Honduras and took his passion to the Environmental Law Institute of Honduras (IDAMHO).   Short-sighted  tourism development schemes threaten the coast of Honduras, protected areas, and small fishing communities. Emilio and his co-workers are doing excellent work strengthening the rule of law and protecting the Mesoamerican Reef.

Meanwhile, Honduras is becoming increasingly violent.  The Peace Corps recently pulled out of Honduras and this is an excellent time for Emilio to travel to Oregon to gain skills and work with ELAW.  Honduras has the highest homicide rate in the world, and violent attacks against environmental activists are increasingly common.

Emilio has landed a tuition scholarship for the University of Oregon’s American English Institute’s Intensive English Program.  Stronger English skills, he says, will open up “a world of information.”  Many ELAW partners have gained English skills through the American English Institute and found it tremendously valuable

For more information about how you can support the ELAW Fellowship Program, contact Maggie Keenan at

Maggie Keenan
Communications Director

ELAW colleagues at the Environmental Law Workshop

I was fortunate to travel last month to Puerto Barrios, Guatemala, for the first annual Festival of the Sea, held in conjunction with a Trinational Fisheries Forum and Workshops on Environmental Law and the Human Right to Water.  The Fisheries Forum was poignant, with roughly 20 fishers from Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras doing the difficult work of discussing limits on their fishing grounds, in order to restore the fishery.  Our Guatemalan partners are working with Guatemalan fishing communities in the Gulf and the Ministry of Natural Resources to help create  “recuperation zones” that would be managed jointly by the agency and the fishers in Guatemala’s waters.

The Gulf of Honduras is a complicated web of Guatemalan, Belizean, Honduran, Garifuna, and Maya culture.  Negotiations among fishers WITHIN countries is complex, and when we are trying to reach across the many layers of jurisdictions and ethnic culture present in the Gulf, the complexities are far greater.

Alongside the work, we celebrated the food, culture, and livelihood of fishing communities in the region at the Festival of the Sea on the waterfront.   Fisheries are vital to sustaining coastal communities worldwide, and the roughly 500km of coastline in the Gulf of Honduras is home to nearly one million people.  This relatively small area holds tremendous biodiversity, but both species and local economies are in decline.

Lori Maddox
Associate Director

We are thrilled to welcome Yimy Chirinos to Eugene for a 10-week ELAW Fellowship.  Yimy is a newly appointed judge from Honduras who is eager to learn about environmental law.  He started his career as a prosecutor for the Public Ministry and his interest in the environment was piqued when he began prosecuting illegal development of the Honduran coast.

Yimy ChirinosAs a participant in 2011’s Mesoamerican Reef Leadership Program, Yimy is working to realize his vision of all judges and prosecutors in Honduras being trained in environmental issues and, in particular, measures for prosecuting environmental crimes.  He is also very concerned by the fact that environmental crimes often have such a long-lasting impact and that awarding damages may not remedy the problem.

“After a tree is cut down, what good would it do to throw one hundred, or even one thousand dollars at it?” he asks.

Yimy will be collaborating with ELAW staff during his stay to develop his vision for training his fellow judges in Honduras.  Yimy will also be improving his English skills through an intensive course at the University of Oregon’s American English Institute (AEI).

Thanks to dedicated volunteers, Yimy’s visit is off to an enjoyable start and he is already starting to feel at home in Eugene.  ELAW volunteer Killian Doherty interpreted for Yimy during his orientation to AEI and tour of the UO campus, then introduced Yimy to soyburgers at Eugene’s own Holy Cow Café.  ELAW volunteer interpreter Gabriela Perez helped show him the ropes around the UO campus.  If you are interested in volunteering with ELAW as a translator, web programmer, or office assistant please send an email to

In addition to our amazing volunteers, ELAW thanks the Summit Foundation and AEI for making Yimy’s fellowship possible.

Melanie Giangreco
Office Manager

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) has condemned Honduras for the murder of  environmental activist Jeannette Kawas more than a decade ago.

Jeanette Kawas                                Copyright © 2009 Defensores en linea

Jeanette Kawas Copyright © 2009 Defensores en linea

Jeannette was President of the Foundation for the Protection of Lancetilla, Punta Sal, Punta Izopo and Texiguat (PROLANSATE ).  This grassroots organization’s mission is to improve the quality of life of people in the river basins in Bahia de Tela region, in Honduras.

At age 47, Jeannette was a committed environmental activist who, along with others, denounced the intentions of private investors and companies to illegally take over the Peninsula of Punta Sal, denounced the contamination of freshwater resources and the depredation of the forests in the region.

The opinion of the IACHR states: “from the presented documents, we can establish indeed that there are strong evidences to conclude that the state of Honduras has direct responsibility in victim’s murder.”  In addition, the order recognizes that after Kawas’ death the state of Honduras failed to fulfill its duties by committing serious omissions in the investigations, and their actions impeded the ability of plaintiffs to learn the truth of what happened.

In 2002 representatives of the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) and the Honduras’ Team for Reflection, Research and Communication ofthe Company of Jesus (ERIC) denounced Kawas’ killing and the murders of two other environmental activists in a case before the Inter-AmericanCommission of Human Rights.  Investigators in Jeanette Kawas’ case determined that there were orders to kill her.  This was the first homicide against an environmental activist in Honduras.  After Kawas was killed, there was a series of other murders against environmentalists in Honduras.

ELAW partner Clarisa Vega, a lawyer and former environmental prosecutor in Honduras, participated in this case as special witness.  Clarisa declared that in Honduras today there are still threats and murders committed against environmentalists, who some consider enemies ofdevelopment.

The order of the IACHR of May 6, 2009 requires the state of Honduras to pay compensations for material and non-material damages, expenses and other damages to Jeanette Kawas’ family.  It also orders Honduras to complete the investigations of the crime and to conduct public actions for international recognition to honor Jeanette Kawas.  As the plaintiffs in this case said, this is an historical order considering the context of historical violence that environmental activists have to face in Honduras and throughout the world.

Meche Lu, Staff Scientist

Spanish Version of Meche’s post:

La Corte Interamericana de Derechos Humanos (CIDH) condenó al Estado de Honduras por la muerte de Jeannette Kawas.

Jeannette Kawas, ambientalista hondureña, fue asesinada de un balazo la noche del 5 de febrero de 1995 mientras trabajaba en su casa.  Jeannette erapresidenta de la Fundación para la Protección de Lancetilla, Punta Sal, Punta Izopo y Texiguat (PROLANSATE), organización creada con el objetode mejorar la calidad de vida de los pobladores de las cuencas hidrográficas de la Bahía de Tela, en el Departamento de Atlántida, Honduras.Jeannette a sus 47 años era una dinámica defensora del ambiente y denunció entre otras cosas, los intentos de personas y entidades privadasde apoderarse ilegalmente de la Península de Punta Sal, la contaminación de las lagunas y la depredación de los bosques de la región.  Lasentencia de la CIDH afirma “del material que obra en el expediente, puede establecerse que efectivamente se presentan fuertes indicios para concluirque existe responsabilidad estatal directa en la privación de la vida de la presunta víctima”.  Además reconoce que tras la muerte la víctima elEstado de Honduras incumplió sus deberes al cometerse graves omisiones en las investigaciones por lo tanto se negó el derecho a conocer la verdadsobre lo sucedido.

Representantes del Centro por la Justicia y el Derecho Internacional (CEJIL) y el Equipo de Reflexión, Investigación y Comunicación de la Compañíade Jesús en Honduras (ERIC) denunciaron este caso y los asesinatos de dos personas mas ante la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos en el2002.  Las indagaciones del caso de Jeannette Kawas determinaron que el caso se trató de un crimen por encargo.  Este crimen fue el primerasesinato en Honduras por defender los recursos naturales y el ambiente después del cual se sucedieron una serie de asesinatos contra otrosdefensores ambientalistas en Honduras.  Clarisa Vega, abogada de Honduras, ex fiscal especial sobre medio ambiente y miembro de ELAW,participó en este caso en calidad de perito y declaró que en Honduras actualmente existe un ambiente de persecución, amenazas y asesinatos encontra de ambientalistas, quienes son considerados por algunos como enemigos del desarrollo.

La sentencia de la CIDH del pasado 6 de mayo dispone que el Estado de Honduras pague de indemnizaciones por daños materiales e inmateriales,reintegro de gastos a los familiares de Jeannette Kawas.  También entre otras medidas concluir las investigaciones del crimen y realizar unacto público de reconocimiento de responsabilidad internacional.  Como manifiestan los demandantes en este caso, esta es una sentencia históricaconsiderando el contexto de violencia que enfrentan los defensores del ambiente en Honduras y podemos añadir en el mundo entero.

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