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December 1999 Planet Main
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The Planet

Human Rights Factsheet

There are places in the world where a threat to the environment can also mean a threat to freedom, or even life. Activists don't just fight pollution and irresponsible development, but also violence, persecution and oppression.

Protesters of a destructive dam in India have been arrested and beaten because they refused to move. A former submarine captain in Russia faces charges of treason and espionage for writing a report about illegal dumping of nuclear waste. In countries such as Brazil and Nigeria, environmentalists have been killed for their peaceful actions.

Human Rights and the Environment

Over the past several years, environmentalists and human-rights advocates have increasingly realized that they share each other's struggles.

Places slated for massive environmental exploitation are often remote areas inhabited by native peoples where respect for human rights can go unrecognized. In many nations, environmental laws are non-existent or not enforced and citizens who fight environmental degradation are imprisoned, harassed or even killed.

Many basic freedoms that some Americans take for granted are not universal. In order for environmental progress to be made, political rights and civil liberties must be present. This includes the rights of freedom to speak, organize and petition.

Heroes and Their Rights

At the heart of this struggle are the environmental defenders, our modern heroes who risk their lives to protect the land, water and air.

The environmental abuses they are fighting often occur because countries need foreign investment enough that they will ignore environmental or labor standards. This practice threatens the lives of many indigenous people because the natural world they depend on for their livelihood is being destroyed. Foreign investment may help a nation's finances in the short term, but all too often it's not sustainable development; it's the plundering of natural resources.

The Sierra Club's Response

The Sierra Club and Amnesty International have embarked on a campaign to defend the human rights of environmental defenders.

The goals of the Human Rights and the Environment Campaign are to generate international awareness and action around countries where human-rights abuses are committed against activists, and to promote a U.S. foreign policy that consistently addresses human-rights and environmental concerns. We are leading efforts to encourage international criticism of offending nations and corporations, and to urge the Clinton administration to include environmental protection as an element of American foreign policy. International pressure must be applied to the governments that commit human-rights violations, and to the multinational companies that operate in these countries.

The convergence of human-rights and environmental abuse provides the opportunity for two formidable activist organizations to successfully pool their experience for a common purpose: protecting the environmental health of the planet by protecting the rights of its inhabitants.

For More Information

Contact Sam Parry, International Program conservation organizer, 408 C St., NE, Washington, DC 20002, (202) 675-7907, sam.parry@sierraclub.org.)

 


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