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Ana Lucía Maya Aguierre at the Oregon Coast

Ana Lucía at the Oregon Coast

Last week, ELAW Fellow Ana Lucía Maya Aguirre returned home to Bogotá, Colombia after nearly six months of studying English at the American English Institute (AEI) and collaborating with ELAW in Eugene. During her Fellowship, Ana focused on strengthening the Asociación Ambiente y Sociedad (Association for Environment and Society), a newly formed organization of which Ana is a member.

Asociación Ambiente y Sociedad has four programs:

1. Climate Change, human rights and poverty
2. Citizenship, access to information, and participation
3. Biological and cultural diversity
4. Socio-environmental justice

Within these focus areas, the organization employs an array of strategies: providing legal support and trainings for communities working to protect their right to a healthy environment; researching policies and regulations; and working with ELAW and other international networks to create a broader, collective impact within Colombia and across borders.

During her Fellowship, Ana worked with ELAW staff to develop a strategic plan for Asociación Ambiente y Sociedad, exchange information about climate change and Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) and potential for future projects in Colombia, learn more about funding opportunities, and formulate research questions for a report on mining cases in Latin America.

ELAW volunteers helped Ana study English, conduct research for the mining report,  design a brochure, and translate the website for Asociación Ambiente y Sociedad.

ELAW is eager to collaborate with Ana and her colleagues at Asociación Ambiente y Sociedad to help realize their vision of a culture that understands the interdependence of humans and the environment, promotes environmental defense and human and environmental rights, and improves environmental governance and effective participation of civil society in environmental matters.

A huge thank you goes to all of the volunteers who helped make Ana’s Fellowship a success and to AEI for its generous support of ELAW Fellows. Find more information about ELAW’s Fellowship Program here.

Melanie Giangreco
Latin America Program Assistant

The Mekong Region in Southeast Asia is seeing an unprecedented boom in hydropower development to support the emerging economies in China, Thailand, and Vietnam. In Laos alone, government officials are planning and rapidly moving forward with large-scale dam projects to provide electricity for export to neighboring Thailand.

Not only do large-scale dams cause significant social and ecological impacts, but these projects also require lengthy transmission lines to carry electricity through the region. One such corridor runs through the Udon Thani province in northeastern Thailand. Several years ago, the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) proposed two 500-kV transmission lines to carry power from the Lao border to a substation within Thailand.

Although Thailand’s constitution guarantees the right of citizens to access information and participate in decisions that affect them, the government of Thailand approved the transmission line projects without the benefit of an environmental impact assessment (EIA) and without consulting local communities. The project has generated considerable concern among local communities, where families grow rice and fruit for sustenance and income. Many people were unaware of the project until EGAT announced the final transmission line route.

Advocates at EnLAW in Thailand, a public-interest environmental law NGO and ELAW partner, are assisting community members who live and maintain farms in the path of the transmission lines. The electricity being generated in Laos and brought to Thailand is not destined for these rural communities, but for urban dwellers and large-scale development projects — like a nearby potash mine. Some families have refused to sell their land to EGAT because the company was not offering a fair price. Others do not want to leave land that has been in their family for generations and are concerned about farming directly beneath powerful electricity transmission lines.

On May 25th, Thailand’s National Human Rights Commission issued a resolution asking EGAT to pause construction to allow time to negotiate with affected landowners to reach an agreement over the fair value of their land. The Commission criticized EGAT for demolishing homes without prior permission and expressed concern that EGAT’s activities were inciting violence and conflict with landowners. EGAT ignored the resolution and, just a few days later, attempted to enter onto one family’s land with heavy machinery and equipment to begin constructing a transmission line tower in the family’s rice paddy. Over a dozen people, including the landowners and a group of visiting university students, gathered to block EGAT. Regrettably, EGAT called in local police to forcibly remove the peaceful protesters and many were arrested. EnLAW attorney Montana Daungprapa was visiting the community at the time and witnessed the violence committed against people who simply want to protect their land and livelihoods, and receive fair compensation for their land rights.

Montana and her colleagues at EnLAW are assisting these individuals with their defense and with efforts to help those who are being impacted by the transmission line project gain fair compensation. The National Commission on Human Rights is continuing to investigate the situation. EnLAW’s persistence in this case is providing justice to landowners. Their work is critical to promoting greater accountability and transparency on the part of the Thai government and to protecting the rights of rural and impoverished citizens.

Liz Mitchell
ELAW Staff Attorney

We are thrilled to welcome three summer interns to ELAW! Our internship program is one of the many ways we engage with students interested in learning more about public interest environmental law and help them gain experience in the field. Interns come to us from all around the country and from many different backgrounds. Each brings a unique perspective and we are excited to begin working with them.

Zach, Aleah, and Rachel

This summer, we have two legal interns who will be researching the answers to legal questions posed by our partners around the world. Rachel Rivers is entering her third year of law school at Pennsylvania State University. Rachel grew up in the Bay area which she says “exposed [her] to a culture focused on reducing one’s carbon footprint, and working for change,” and informs her interest in working at ELAW. She has an interest in the intersection between human rights and the environment and looks forward to learning more about issues of displacement of native and local communities for the sake of environmental protection. We also welcome Zach Klonoski who is entering his third year at the University of Oregon Law School. A native Oregonian, Zach has a particular interest in climate change and energy legislation.

We also welcome our Summer program intern Aleah Jaeger who will be working on many projects throughout the summer. Aleah is a rising junior at Whitman College pursuing a degree in Environmental Science and Sociology with a minor in French.  She will use her French skills to translate documents and help partners in the Caribbean with their websites. She will also be working with ELAW Communications Director Maggie Keenan on our Fellowship program.

We are ecstatic to welcome these new faces to our office. They bring an enthusiasm and willingness to learn that is refreshing and inspiring. We hope they too will be inspired by their experience in public interest environmental law and will continue this important work far into the future.

Michele Kuhnle
Donor Liaison

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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