The Power of the Individual in a Land of Many Voices Environmentalist Yu Xiaogang is creating groundbreaking watershed management programs in China, a country that has spent decades trying to tame its powerful river system by building hydroelectric power plants. Yu, 55, created the Lashi watershed project after writing a social impact assessment on the effects of a dam built at Lashi Lake for his Ph.D. thesis. The dam had destroyed the local ecosystem, severely disrupting the lives of fishermen and farmers in the area. As farmland was destroyed by the dam, villagers turned to fishing. Then, as fish stocks dwindled, birds ate the seeds and grain from the remaining fields, further jeopardizing the people’s well-being. Yu brought together residents, the local government authorities and private entrepreneurs to rebuild the area, which today is acclaimed as one of the top 10 sustainable developments in the country. Among the project highlights were establishing a township watershed management committee, a lake-based community fishery association to protect wetland ecosystems and fish resources, minority women’s schools and micro-credit loan programs, poverty reducing projects and road-building projects. All involved the participation and empowerment of the local villagers. It was the first watershed project in the county to involve NGOs, residents and the local authorities. In 2002, Yu submitted a report to the central government on the social impact of the Manwan Dam on the Lancang (Mekong) River, which prompted the government to give the local community 70 million yuan ($8.7 million) in additional resettlement funds to mitigate the negative social impact of the dam. In the past, dam-building plans were simply dictated by government officials, but today, thanks to the advocacy efforts of Yu and others, the Chinese government now includes a social impact assessment in the decision-making process for all proposed major development projects. Taming the Three Parallel Rivers While Yu’s work has illustrated dams’ potential negative impact on communities, huge dam projects still are being proposed. As China’s economic health improves, pressure increases to supply more power by building hydroelectric power plants on the country’s river system. In 2003, the Yunnan provincial government announced plans to construct 13 new dams on the Nu River, one of the Three Parallel Rivers – the Nu, the Jinsha (Yangtze) and the Lancang (Mekong.) The Three Parallel Rivers and surrounding watersheds are a World Heritage Site, the epicenter of Chinese biodiversity containing virgin forests, 6,000 species of plants and 79 rare or endangered animal species. The dams would forcibly displace 50,000 people, indirectly affect the livelihoods of millions living downstream in China, Burma and Thailand, and negatively affect the flora and fauna in the surrounding areas. Yet, development continues, despite the lack of river management plans, public input and participation by affected villagers. The Legacy of the Lashi project Yu used the story of Lashi Lake and Manwan Dam to educate villagers in the Three Parallel Rivers area, taking them by bus to dam-affected communities on the Mekong River. There, villagers saw men and women, their way of living wiped out by the dam, picking through garbage dumps for scrap to sell. Yu also worked with CCTV on a television program about the effect of dams that aired nationwide. In 2004, Premier Wen Jiabao suspended plans for the dams on the Nu River, saying more research and scientific analysis was needed. The project still is on hold, but the provincial government, intent on building the dams, has proposed a scaled-back version with four dams. Yu is particularly interested in empowering the local villagers in the dam decision-making process through workshops and training programs. In 2004, he took five village representatives to a United Nations symposium on dam issues in Beijing, where they met with high-level government officials, dam company CEOs and experts on dam construction. Yu’s goal is for Chinese NGOs to advocate for the institutionalization, implementation and practice of social impact assessments for the interests of communities that are threatened by dam construction. “Having villager participation forever changed the history of the dam decision-making process,” Yu said about the experience. “In the past, affected peoples were silenced. They had no voice in what happened to them and had to accept decisions made by the government and dam companies.”
“We face so many environmental problems that these successes are only the first steps in the Long March. To realize true sustainable development throughout China, we need the full participation of all Chinese citizens.”
A Voice for the Forest and Its People Silas Kpanan’Ayoung Siakor, 36, exposed evidence that Liberia President Charles Taylor used the profits of unchecked, rampant logging to pay the costs of a brutal 14-year civil war that left 150,000 people dead. At great personal risk, Siakor collected extremely hard-to-get evidence of falsified logging records, illegal logging practices and associated human rights abuses. He passed the evidence to the United Nations Security Council, which then banned the export of Liberian timber, part of wider trade sanctions that remain in place today. “The evidence Silas Siakor collected at great personal risk was vital to putting sanctions in place and cutting the links between the logging industry and conflict,” said Arthur Blundell, chairman of the U.N. Panel of Experts on Liberia. Since Taylor was ousted in 2003, Siakor has been working with Liberia’s new leadership to create sustainable timber policies and give the local forest communities a voice through the first Forest People’s Congress, which he organized. He also is working with the $4 million Liberian Forest Initiative led by the U.S. State Department and the National Forest Service to support Liberia’s forest reform efforts. Siakor has urged the U.N. Security Council to maintain the sanctions until the corrupt logging companies that operated under the Taylor regime are removed, the forestry sector is reformed, and a workable forest management plan is in place. Demonstrating the power of the sanctions and the evidence Siakor exposed, the first presidential order issued by new President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf cancelled all of Liberia’s forest concessions. Johnson-Sirleaf, the first democratically elected female president in Africa, vowed that new forest use agreements will not be issued until a range of forest reforms has been carried out. Plundering Liberia’s Natural Resources Liberia’s forests cover 11.8 million acres, an area twice the size of Vermont, and include the last remaining closed-canopy tropical rainforest in the Upper Guinea Forests of West Africa. They are home to nearly half of Africa’s mammal species, including the pygmy hippopotamus, Liberian mongoose and West Africa’s largest forest elephant population. When he was president, Taylor raided the valuable hardwood forests by entering into secret agreements with a favored lumber company and awarding it the largest logging concessions in the country. The company’s private militia committed egregious human rights abuses including rape, beatings and indiscriminate destruction of entire villages. Siakor worked amid this chaotic and dangerous environment to steadily document and disseminate evidence that would end the plundering of one of Liberia’s greatest natural resources. Siakor hired observers at three ports, collecting information on 80 percent of logging exports. The observers found that the actual exports greatly exceeded official reports – and that arms shipments were being unloaded at the ports by timber company workers. Planning a Sustainable Future Siakor, the director of the Sustainable Development Institute, is coordinating civil society's participation in the forest sector reform, as mandated by the U.N. Security Council. Siakor organizes workshops and written proposals that outline forest sector reform priorities, emphasizing transparency, civil society input and sustainable forest management. His work led the interim government to protect 3.7 million acres of forest. Despite his outstanding achievements to date, Siakor is still fighting powerful forces that want to tap into Liberia’s forests as a source of income. The U.N. Security Council is under intense pressure from China, the new Liberian government and others to lift the timber sanctions.
“Our struggle for the environment is not about trees. It is a campaign for social justice and respect for human rights. It is about our right to have a healthy and safe environment.”
Creating a Mosaic of Protected Lands in the Amazon In a lawless, remote, northern region of the Brazilian Amazon, where land grabbing and illegal logging are destroying communities and the environment, Tarcísio Feitosa da Silva leads a grassroots coalition to protect the tropical forest and the people who live there. Working with local organizations, Feitosa revealed massive illegal logging and human rights abuses. Their work prompted the government to protect a mosaic of tropical rainforest areas that, together with existing indigenous lands, make up the world’s largest area of protected tropical forest, bigger than the state of Minnesota. The 240,000-square-kilometer area includes the Verde para Sempre Extractive Reserve, the Riozinho do Anfrizio Extractive Reserve, the Serra do Pardo National Park, and the Middle Lands Ecological Station. Working in a Deadly Environment Feitosa, 35, has spent more than 10 years fighting for human rights, environmental protection, and sustainable development in the Xingu and Middle Lands of Pará, some of the most remote areas of the Amazon. He works with the Pastoral Lands Commission, the social justice arm of the National Conference of Bishops (of Brazil), and is one of the elected leaders of the Movement for the Development of the Transamazon and the Xingu (MTDX), several of whose leaders were assassinated in recent years. In February 2005, Sister Dorothy Stang, an American nun who worked in Pará alongside Feitosa, was murdered. Feitosa has documented illegal logging activity, and in one high-profile action, tipped off government officials who raided the logging sites, seized 6,000 illegally felled mahogany trees, and sold them at auction to raise $1.5 million to create a fund supporting sustainable development and conservation efforts. Feitosa also helped organize a protest in which community members linked their boats to barricade the mouth of a major river, blocking barges carrying illegal logs. They were able to seize about 2,000 logs. Seeking Environmental Justice in Remote Regions Feitosa’s work is carried out in an extremely remote area that is a two-day boat ride from the nearest significant town. The northern state of Pará encompasses more than one-quarter of the country’s Amazon and boasts extensive unspoiled forested regions and freshwater river beaches. It also is home to many traditional and indigenous communities that live in almost total isolation from the outside world. But starting in the 1970s, the government began to build roads through the Amazon to Pará, bringing in thousands of settlers. Pará now is one of the deep Amazon’s most lawless and environmentally threatened regions. Land grabbing, uncontrolled deforestation, illegal logging, and fires are rapidly destroying and degrading its forests. Logging has affected Pará more than any other region of the Amazon, resulting in the loss of one-fifth of the state’s tropical forest cover. Together, Pará’s deforested areas are about equal in size to the state of Colorado. The Brazilian government has begun to pave the last 1,174 kilometers of road connecting Pará to the rest of Brazil. Without controls or protection, this road will open one of the final intact swaths of the Amazon to expanded cattle ranching and soy production, easier access for loggers and a greater influx of settlers who will set more fires to clear forest for their crops. In the Amazon, deforested areas receive less rainfall, and the plants and trees retain less moisture. As the area dries, the entire region becomes more susceptible to widespread forest fires like those in 1998 that engulfed much of the Amazon, and to droughts like the one in 2005 that left many Amazon tributaries completely dry, fish dying in the sun and many communities stranded and hungry.
“Here in the Amazon we have the greatest corridor of protected areas in the world. This is important to guarantee the lives of the human populations that depend on the forest to survive and to give continuity to the forest and its resources. The municipal, state and federal governments of Brazil should now assume their clear role in protecting these forests.”
Anne Kajir won a precedent-setting lawsuit on landholder rights against a global timber company that conducted large-scale, illegal logging in the largest remaining intact block of tropical forests in the region.
Attorney Anne Kajir uncovered evidence that widespread corruption and complicity in the Papua New Guinea government had allowed rampant, illegal logging, which was destroying the largest remaining intact block of tropical forest in the Asia Pacific region. Read more »
Indigenous Lawyer vs. International Logging Interests Attorney Anne Kajir, 32, uncovered evidence that widespread corruption and complicity in the Papua New Guinea government has allowed rampant, illegal logging, which is destroying the largest remaining intact block of tropical forest in the Asia Pacific region. In 1997, her first year of practice, Kajir successfully defended a precedent-setting appeal in the Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea, which forced the logging industry to pay damages to indigenous land owners. Today, Kajir is the chief executive officer of the Environmental Law Centre in Port Moresby and is the lead attorney in a Supreme Court case aimed at stopping foreign timber companies’ large-scale, illegal deforestation practices, often accompanied by threats of harm to local landholders who dare to challenge them. Timber historically is a corrupting force in the politics of Papua New Guinea, whose government has long-standing, lucrative relationships with timber interests. Although the country’s constitution guarantees the land rights of traditional communities living in the forest, the reality is far different. Kajir has found evidence of widespread government corruption that has allowed these companies to act as a law unto themselves, ignoring the terms of the government-issued timber permits, and terrorizing the local communities – at gunpoint in some cases – into signing over their land rights. Facing Great Personal Risks Kajir has faced considerable personal risks in her nine years of posing legal challenges. She has been physically attacked more than once, and robbers forced their way into her home to steal her computer, which had files on all her legal cases. She continues to fight, building on her early legal success in representing communities and landholder groups against the timber companies. A current case alleges that the PNG Forest Authority, the state, and the lead logging company, Rimbunan Hijau, repeatedly violated federal law by issuing and using illegal logging permits in the forests of PNG’s western Province. The case includes evidence of logging company representatives refusing to get informed consent and timber rights from landowners, and villagers’ personal accounts of extreme intimidation, including having to sign documents at gunpoint and physical abuse and humiliation. Industrial Logging Decimating Forests of Papua New Guinea Since the 1980s, industrial logging has severely depleted and damaged PNG’s tropical forests. Malaysian companies dominate the business, led by Rimbunan Hijau, a multinational timber conglomerate with logging operations in China, Brazil, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Australia, New Zealand, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea. Forestry experts consider Rimbunan Hijau one of the most damaging and irresponsible global logging companies. Besides controlling 80 percent of logging in PNG, Rimbunan Hijau also owns one of the country’s two national newspapers. The current executive and legislative branches of the government fully support the logging industry, and particularly Rimbunan Hijau. The government’s support has weakened landholder rights. In 2005, a new forestry bill stripped language that had guaranteed consent of landowners as a requirement for timber permits; it also removed the “NGO seat” on the National Forest Board and replaced it with a seat for the timber industry. Many NGOs and legal experts in PNG believe that the revised bill violates protections and rights embedded in the country’s constitution. In fact, PNG is known for its pro-ecological constitution and sound environmental laws.
“Landowners depend entirely on their forests as a means of survival so they must be properly informed on the impacts of logging on their land before signing away their customary birth given rights to these natural resources. It will be genocide if the robber barons continue to roam at will or plunge deeper into our last remaining rainforests.”
Submitted by crwilliams06 on Mon, 2006-03-13 14:39
Craig Williams formed a nationwide grassroots coalition against the incineration of chemical weapons stored in the United States, and convinced the Pentagon to halt incineration plans at four major chemical weapons stockpiles.
A cabinetmaker by trade, Craig E. Williams is a decorated Vietnam War veteran who successfully convinced the Pentagon to stop plans to incinerate stockpiles of chemical weapons stored in multiple locations around the United States. Read more »
A Vietnam Veteran Fights a New Battle at Home A cabinetmaker by trade, 58-year-old Craig E. Williams is a decorated Vietnam War veteran who successfully convinced the Pentagon to stop plans to incinerate stockpiles of chemical weapons stored in multiple locations around the United States. Today, 24,000 tons of obsolete chemical weapons agents are stored in the United States. Williams started his campaign in 1985 after learning that one of nine weapons stockpiles to be burned was at an Army depot in his community. Worried that incineration would put local citizens and their environment at risk, he built a nationwide grassroots coalition — the Chemical Weapons Working Group (CWWG) — to demand safe disposal solutions and openness within the Pentagon’s program. A Lethal Legacy of the Cold War It was 1985, a year deep into President Reagan’s “Morning in America,” when Williams attended a public meeting and discovered that the Department of Defense, with no public input, had decided to build an incinerator at the Kentucky Blue Grass Army Depot located about eight miles from his home. Williams decided to speak out against the plan, joining forces with citizens who lived near the other eight proposed weapons incinerators. After almost 10 years of petitioning, Congress agreed in 1993 to delay funding some of the incinerators while calling for a report on safer methods of weapons destruction. However, the subsequent Army report recommended proceeding with incineration at six of the nine stockpile sites. The report did not address the clear and voluminous evidence presented two years earlier by Williams and the CWWG that not only were there significant technical and environmental problems and huge cost overruns at the incinerators, but that safer alternative disposal methods were available. Creating Coalitions and Working Within the System Williams laid out the evidence to Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, who championed Williams’ cause in Congress. It was a major victory for Williams and his allies when the Army announced in 1996 that it would use a safer water-based process to destroy the weapons at the Maryland and Indiana stockpile sites, while suspending funds for incinerators in Colorado and Kentucky. At about the same time, Williams also played a key role in getting citizens unprecedented access to previously closed-door meetings where military, state and federal government officials decided how to destroy chemical weapons. Exposing Pentagon Wrongdoing Even after the Army had officially agreed to alternative weapons disposal at four sites, another agenda was playing out at the Pentagon. Internal documents were leaked to Williams that confirmed the Pentagon was defying Congressional directives and holding up more than $300 million in federal funds for safe weapons disposal. The plan was to redirect those funds to existing incineration sites that had cost overruns, now up to 1,400 percent. In addition, Williams and CWWG brought forward numerous whistleblowers at the incinerators who reported that fires, chemical agent releases and other dangerous conditions accompanied the burning of weapons at those plants. Williams gave the internal Defense Department memos to Sen. McConnell, who made personal phone calls to senior defense officials and sponsored legislation mandating that the funds be released. Subsequently, the Pentagon released the $300-plus million, money that allowed the Colorado and Kentucky sites to safely destroy more than 880,000 chemical weapons. From Citizen Activist to a Leading Expert on Chemical Weapons Today, Williams continues working with CWWG member groups and citizens in Oregon, Utah, Alabama and Arkansas, where incinerators currently are destroying chemical weapons. They use legal challenges, media campaigns, citizen organizing and other means to ensure proper agent monitoring, air quality compliance, protection of workers rights and improved communication with the local communities. The CWWG also plays a critical role in the oversight of weapons disposal at the other stockpile sites where alternative technologies are being deployed, thereby assuring the military’s accountability and a transparent process. Williams, a translator in Vietnam, has remained active in veterans groups. He was one of the original group of veterans who formed the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation in 1980. The Foundation, in turn, was one of six organizations that co-founded the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, which was awarded the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize.
“We must not leave the health of our families and protection of the world ecology to corporations, governments and military organizations preoccupied with profit, power and armed conquest. Rather, we must take that responsibility into our own hands. It’s up to us to come together across cultural and political divides to prevent these military-industrial polluters from degrading the earth and threatening the well-being of our communities for their own selfish interests.”
Olya Melen is a firebrand attorney who used legal channels to temporarily halt construction of a massive canal that would have cut through the heart of the Danube Delta, one of the world’s most valuable wetlands. For her efforts, she was denounced by the notoriously corrupt and lawless pre-Orange Revolution government. On the coast of the Black Sea, the Danube Delta is a maze of lakes and rivers covering over 1 million acres in Romania and Ukraine. It contains the largest reed beds in the world and abundant wildlife. It was designated as a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention and as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve. In 2004, without public notice and in violation of international and national environmental laws, the Ukrainian government began dredging and shoring up narrow and shallow sections of a 106-mile delta waterway to create a canal that would allow large vessels to travel directly between the Danube River and the Black Sea. The organization where Melen was working, Environment-People-Law (EPL), learned about the project and immediately filed lawsuits to prevent construction. Melen took the lead on the case despite having no previous courtroom experience. “I became an environmentalist accidentally,” she says, in retrospect. Determination in the Face of Corruption In her first-ever court case, Melen opposed a team of government lawyers seeking to end the protected status of rivers and ponds in the Danube Biosphere Reserve. Over the next few years, government lawyers and ministers used scare tactics against her and her clients and she was publicly accused of being a traitor and a Romanian spy. Undeterred, Melen broadened her strategy. Aware that Ukraine was bound by numerous international conventions, EPL filed complaints with the Aarhus and Espoo conventions to force the Ukrainian government to justify its canal plans at a time when it was seeking acceptance to the European Union. In her first significant victory, Melen proved that the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the canal, which had been approved by the Minister of Environment, was inadequate. The judge ruled that the canal development flouted environmental laws and could adversely affect the Danube Delta’s biodiversity. “I was always optimistic about our chances and never thought about defeat,” Melen says. “I kept repeating the phrase ‘Nothing is impossible.’” In spite of international pressure, the Ukrainian government, under the former President Leonid Kuchma, refused to stop the first phase of canal construction, arguing that it was needed to boost the local economy. The first phase has now been completed. But Melen’s high-profile challenge played a pivotal role in prompting the new government that swept into office after the Orange Revolution to temporarily halt additional construction. In August 2005, the new Minister for the Environment rejected plans for the second phase of the proposed canal. However, the Danube Delta is still under threat. President Viktor Yushchenko has publicly voiced his support for the completion of the Danube-Black Sea Canal. Melen and her colleagues are poised to use all legal means to continue to protect the most sensitive areas of the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
“As a public interest environmental lawyer, my goal is to seek the rule of law to preserve nature for present and future generations. Our fragile Mother Earth badly needs legal defenders.”