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The Planet

Environmental Wrongs, Human Rights

"The environment is humanity's first right." - Ken Saro-Wiwa

Activists from Mexico to Cambodia have been arrested, tortured, even executed for speaking out in defense of a healthy environment.

To expose these abuses, the Sierra Club and Amnesty International are releasing a report, "Environmentalists Under Fire," highlighting 10 of the most urgent human rights cases around the world. An abbreviated version of the cases is below.

Mexico
Kenya
Russia
China
Nigeria
Chad and Cameroon
India
Burma
Cambodia

Mexico

Last May, Mexican soldiers opened fire on a local village and arrested anti-logging activists and farmers Rodolfo Montiel and Teodoro Cabrera for alleged ties to a guerrilla movement. Both were later beaten and tortured into confession. Their real crime? Forming the Organization of Campesino Ecologists of the Sierra Petatlan in order to prevent further destruction of the Sierra Madre forests. Both are still in prison.

These arrests and beatings are just the tip of the iceberg. In 1995, members of Guerrero's state judicial police massacred 17 unarmed peasants who had gathered to protest a decision to resume logging in Aguas Blancas.

For several years, Mexican farmers have seen the Sierra Madre mountains stripped of old-growth forests by transnational logging companies such as Boise Cascade. Montiel and other activists organized protests demanding a complete halt to the logging, and on several occasions blocked trucks from leaving with their cargo. Logging on nearby mountains has increased soil erosion and contributed to a drastic reduction in crop yields.

WHAT YOU CAN DO:
Contact the Mexican ambassador to the United States and demand that Rodolfo Montiel and Teodoro Cabrera be released immediately. Write Ambassador Jesus Reyes-Heroles, Embassy of Mexico, 1911 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20006. Call (202) 728-1692.

Kenya

Wangari Maathai is the director of the Green Belt Movement, Kenya's most vocal environmental group. Her leadership and grassroots organizing skills have mobilized thousands of people to oppose the destruction of Kenya's forests. The Kenyan government has responded to her protests with arrests and beatings.

Russia

In the "new" Russia, ideas are not supposed to be silenced. The constitution allegedly protects environmental whistleblowers and environmental information has been declassified. But environmental and human-rights advocates are becoming targets of official harassment and persecution.

In 1999, Alexandr Nikitin (left), a nuclear engineer and former Soviet submarine captain, was charged for the eighth successive time with espionage for helping to expose Russia's illegal nuclear waste dumping. Nikitin's home and office are bugged, his car is routinely followed and vandalized and his lawyers suffer continued harassment from the Russian secret police. Why? Because he wrote two chapters in a report documenting the dangers of radioactive pollution from a decaying nuclear submarine fleet in the North Sea. Amnesty International and the U.S. State Department agree the report contained material easily garnered from open sources. Nikitin affirms, "I am convinced that ecology cannot be secret. Environmental openness is an inalienable human right. Any attempt to conceal any information about harmful impacts on people and the environment is a crime against humanity."

WHAT YOU CAN DO:
Urge President Yeltsin and the Russian government to withdraw all charges against Nikitin and investigate all the allegations of intimidation and harassment against him and his family. Write Boris Yeltsin, President of the Russian Federation, c/o His Excellency Yuri Ushakov, Ambassador, Embassy of the Russian Federation, 2650 Wisconsin Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20007.

China

Large-scale development projects such as the Three Gorges Dam and the World Bank's Western Poverty Reduction Project could have serious environmental consequences. China's environmental and human rights activists continue to be harassed and detained, and face grave risks to their safety and personal freedom when they speak out against such projects.

The Three Gorges Dam project will drown many villages located along the Yangtze River in China. Indigenous people, like the little girl pictured above, are being relocated before their homes are flooded.

Nigeria

More than 2,000 Ogoni people, including eight Ogoni leaders and Ken Saro-Wiwa (below), the leader of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People, have been executed in the struggle against pollution caused by oil exporter Royal/Dutch Shell. Shell publicly admitted to providing the Nigerian army with ammunition and supporting its military operation that left scores dead and destroyed many villages. Today, because of oil operations, well water in many areas is still unsafe to drink and crops do not grow where they used to.

In a similar case, Chevron requested the assistance of the Nigerian government to squelch a non-violent protest in 1998. Security forces killed two youths and arrested 11 others for peacefully occupying a Chevron Parabe platform. The youths were demanding that Chevron make financial compensations for polluting the water and that the company invest in community development. The U.S. importation of Nigeria's oil was enough to keep the Clinton administration silent.

WHAT YOU CAN DO:
Call on Chevron and Shell to publicly renounce the use of force to protect their business interests, and clean up pollution in the Niger Delta. Tell the Nigerian government not to ignore human-rights violations to protect trade interests. Call Chevron at (415) 894-7700; call Shell at (800) 248-4257; call the Nigerian Embassy at (202) 986-8400.

Chad and Cameroon

Plans to develop the Doba oil fields in Chad and construct a 1,050-kilometer pipeline to Cameroon threaten the lives of thousands of indigenous people. The project is sponsored by oil giants Exxon, Shell and Elf, which have histories of environmental and human-rights abuses.

Chadian security forces have reportedly killed over 200 unarmed civilians in the Doba oil region as part of the oil pipeline project.

Yorongar Ngarejv, a member of the Chadian parliament, criticized the corruption and human-rights abuses surrounding the plan. His objections led to anonymous threats and harassment by members of the National Security Agency, and ended in his arrest and a three-year prison sentence. Thanks to international pressure, Ngarejv was released 10 months after his arrest.

An activist in Cameroon has been threatened anonymously for publicly voicing his concern that the project would dislocate indigenous people, destroy habitat and pollute the ocean (he asked that his name be left out of the report).

WHAT YOU CAN DO:
Urge Exxon to protect human rights and carry out a full environmental impact assessment. Call the embassies of Chad and Cameroon and demand a moratorium on the pipeline project until the oil companies commit to protecting human rights and the environment. Call the Embassy of Chad at (202) 462-4009; the Embassy of Cameroon at (202) 265-8790; write to Exxon at 5959 Las Colinas Blvd., Irving, TX 75039.

India

Thousands of villages continue to face the threat of flooding by the growing waters of the Narmada River as construction of the Sardar Sarovar dam continues. Activist Medha Patkar and thousands of villagers have vowed to drown rather than lose their homes and forests.

Burma

After his arrest and torture for demonstrating in a pro-democratic rally, Ka Hsaw Wa (right) escaped to the mountains where he witnessed rape, torture and forced labor by the Burmese military in connection with the construction of the Yadana Gas pipeline. The pipeline is a joint venture between U.S.-based Unocal, France's Total and the Burmese military government.

Ka Hsaw Wa has gathered information for a landmark suit, now in U.S. Federal Court. It charges that Unocal and Total, through the Burmese army, continues to commit massive human-rights violations that include the use of violence to relocate villages, forcing labor in the pipeline area and raping and torturing villagers.

Cambodia

Activists Kim Sen and Meas Minear were arrested in January as they protested toxic-waste dumping near a Cambodian village, where several hundred people fell ill and two died. Amnesty International, the Sierra Club and others successfully pressured the Cambodian government to release them. Seven months later, all charges against Sen and Minear were dropped.

Resources
HUMAN RIGHTS AND THE ENVIRONMENT CAMPAIGN

Sam Parry, International Program conservation organizer, (202) 675-7907, sam.parry@sierraclub.org. (Contact Parry to locate Amnesty International activists in your area.)

To order copies of the report "Environmentalists Under Fire: 10 Urgent Cases of Human Rights Abuses," contact Alejandro Queral, Human Rights and the Environment Campaign associate representative, (202) 675-6279, alejandro.queral@sierraclub.org

Check out the Sierra Club Human Rights and Environment Campaign Web site at www.sierraclub.org/human-rights/

 


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