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.
Chad and Cameroon
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
HUMAN RIGHTS AND THE ENVIRONMENT CAMPAIGN
Sam Parry, International Program conservation organizer, (202) 675-7907,
firstname.lastname@example.org. (Contact Parry to locate Amnesty International activists in your
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, email@example.com
Check out the Sierra Club Human Rights and Environment Campaign Web site at www.sierraclub.org/human-rights/
Up to Top