Paris: Defenders of Mother Earth

Judge’s Statement: Ruth Nyambura, Political ecologist, African Ecofeminists Collective (Kenya)
Judge’s Statement: Atossa Soltani, Amazon Watch (USA)

Criminalization of defenders of Mother Earth in EcuadorBelén Páez (Pachamama Foundation), Manari Ushigua (Sápara leader), Braulio Gutierrez (Yasunidos)
Fossil fuel and chemical contaminationYudith Nieto, and Bryan Parras (USA-Houston TX)

Manari Ushigua (Sápara leader), Braulio Gutierrez (Yasunidos), and Belén Páez (Executive Director, Pachamama Foundation) presented the case of the criminalization of defenders of Mother Earth that is occurring in Ecuador. Presenters detailed the ruthlessness of actions being taken against Defenders.  Yudith Nieto, Juan and Byron Parras (USA-Houston TX, T.E.J.A.S) presented the case demonstrating the devastating effects of Fossil fuels and chemical contamination on communities in Ecuador and around the world.  The 2nd International Rights of Nature Tribunal in Lima, Peru was dedicated to José Isidro Tendetza Antun, Shuar leader from the Condor Mine region of Ecuador. Only days before the Tribunal commenced in December 2014, José Tendetza’s lifeless body was found bound and gagged in a river.

Ruth Nyambura, Political ecologist, African Ecofeminists Collective (Kenya)

I want to start by saying when it comes to criminalization, it’s very clear from the stories that we’ve heard from activists that we need to imagine ways to protect the rights of defenders in ways that are holistic – that cater to the different spaces that they occupy. It is something that we’ve acknowledged that it’s not one of the things that we have included in the Declaration. How do we talk about the rights of Mother Nature if we don’t talk about the people who are talking in the forefront and defending Mother Nature? And not just talking about them but talking about the bodies that are weaponized, the black and brown bodies in Africa in Asia, in Latin America, in the global south and the global north, when you talk about Canada and the tar sands in Canada, when you talk about activists in California and activists in Houston. So it’s very clear that we need to imagine the bodies and the ways to protect the bodies that stand in front of the frontlines that are always getting the spaces.

The issues of criminalization of these defenders:

We also need to look at this (the issues of criminalization of these defenders) as a way to further and enrich our discussions and understanding of the systemic and cultural issues such as capitalism and patriarchy. We need to borrow from, if I should say this, a feminist’s analysis of how this functions, it’s not just about criminalization we need to build our understanding of the system using the criminalization of these defenders. We also need to, when we talk about rights, and this has come up several times, how can we demand rights from States whose DNA is built to destroy. How do we demand rights of defenders from genocidal states, how do we demand for the rights of indigenous defenders, I think that’s an element, when you talk about rights, when you talk about legislation, when you talk about constitutions defending our rights to protests, how can we get rights from such states and such systems?

I acknowledge that our parliaments and our courts are still valuable sites of struggle but we must go beyond acknowledging that these spaces are valuable sites of struggle and reimagine new ways, new spaces, when you talk about legislations, when you talk about courts, when you talk about parliaments, we definitely do need to reimagine that or its impossible for the rights of defenders to be protected from systems and spaces that are created to continue privileging the already privileged.

At the same time our conception of criminalization has to go beyond legislation, the legislation that is being used to stop protesters on the streets, legislation that is used to stop the convoy of buses from this country to this other country. We need to look at when you talk about criminalization we need to capture the myriad of ways and spaces such as our education systems that make us passive, that make it okay to criminalize activism, and I borrow a very personal story that I did not know of Ken Saro-Wiwa until I was 21 years old and I found out about him because I was reading one of the last short stories he wrote before he died “Africa Kills Her Son” that is how I came to know Ken Saro-Wiwa .   My understanding of Ken Saro-Wiwa as the environmental activist came much later, so we need to also transform spaces that we have. It’s not just criminalization, again it’s a heavy word, I don’t want us to only conceptualize criminalization as legislation, but there are other ways, other spaces, that stop people from acting out against injustice.

And maybe just to continue just a little more – we need a systems approach to climate crisis. We need to talk about racism. We need to talk about class issue. We need to talk about colonization. We need to talk about patriarchy. We need to unpack what we mean by climate justice. We definitely need to borrow the ideas of climate justice from the defenders who we’ve seen here today. What does climate justice mean to activists in Texas? What does climate justice mean to defenders who are undocumented in spaces where borders are reinforced? We also need to understand climate justice from that particular perspective. We also need to reimagine our energy system, challenging and transforming our economic systems, transforming gender relations, resisting the privatization of the commons, privatization of our seeds, water and land. And also we need to reinforce the radical idea that another world is possible and our fight is unstoppable. What we can clearly see from the presentation of the activists is that there are violations that have occurred here. Article 2-1J, The Right to Full and Prompt Restoration of Violation of the Rights Recognized in this Declaration Caused by Human Activities, 2.  each being has a right to a place and to play a role in Mother Earth for her harmonious functioning and 3. every being has a right to wellbeing and to live free from torture or cruel treatment by human beings.

I will not go into the beautiful discussions that have already been heard about IPCC or the UNFCCC, I believe we have already had a beautiful discussion on that. I want to really focus on those who are on the frontlines. And maybe just a final, as I leave the stage, I want to leave with the words of Audrey Lloyd, a wonderful feminist that a lot of us especially feminists of colour look to. That “there’s no such thing as a single issue struggle because we do not live single issue lives.”

And again I want to salute every single defender every single activist who puts their bodies, emotional wellbeing, their families on the frontlines to fight for climate justice and to fight for it in an intersectional way. We see you we acknowledge you, we see you,

Thank you very much

Atossa Soltani, Amazon Watch (USA)

So the framework for the Rights of Nature is such a powerful framework. I’ve been sitting here all day thinking about how our brains and our synopses are being rewired. Although this framework of the Rights of Nature is among indigenous and traditional cultures everywhere, in our model world there’s been such repetition of the market economy and our purpose on this earth is being in search of jobs and in search of a sacred market economy that we have forgotten, maybe we’re not hearing enough these frameworks. So I think we’re actually doing a great thing today, creating a new synopses in our minds and how to understand this framework, how to look at everything from this framework.

This is a paradigm shift. It’s instantaneous and it can only grow from here, and it’s collective. As a community we’re creating a community understanding of this. And I hope everyone here is able to take and spread this framework to ten or twenty others, or thousands of others, and through this way we can build this Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature. Now, of course I feel that this case around the human rights defenders is really key, because it is. From this new perspective of earth as a living system and that we are all connected and we are part of the collective intelligence of the world, as the Declaration on the Rights of Nature suggests, that we are, the human rights defenders are actually the earth defending itself. I’ve loved seeing that logo around town, “this is the earth defending itself.” and these defenders are to be encouraged. It’s like the immune system we need to give them vitamins and encourage them to build up a defense system of the earth, of the living system of the earth. And so they should not be punished they should be encouraged, and it should be all of our sacred work, and their sacred life purpose of all of us to protect and defend Mother Earth, to protect and defend the web of life, and to hold the primacy of the web of life as the most important thing we’re about.

This is also this concept we’ve heard from indigenous contributors earlier today of being good ancestors, of being responsible to the seventh generation, and that framework of being good ancestors. And to treat the earth from the perspective of the seventh generation is another powerful framework, another way of basically reframing the narrative of what are we about, what is our purpose as human beings on this earth. And of course my heart’s been broken like many of you hearing all of the tragedy around the Earth. And it seems like an endless stream of really wrong ways of seeing the world are producing these technological fixes, these things like bioengineering and geo-engineering and it’s really heartbreaking to hear about all the devastation and disaster that’s happening around the world. And one case that’s not even hear today but maybe could be a recommendation of a future tribunal case is the case of a goldmine, the big iron-ore mine in Brazil, where two dams broke and a whole river is threatened. Now if we were to look at the rights that Ecuador has violated in the case of Ecuador, we would say that not only have there been articles of the rights of the universal rights of Mother Earth have been broken but also Ecuador’s own constitution rights and bodies of law has been violated. Ecuador would be in the case of the beating of women, indigenous women who were reclaiming the right to free and prior informed consent, the collective rights to their territories and rainforests to be free from oil.

We’re talking also of the rights of associations like Fundación Pachamama to exist and to operate and to be able to organize and express freely and to provide both positive services to communities and also work on advocacy and policy change. This is a free right under any democratic open society, but in particular its recognized by the Universal Declaration and Ecuador’s own constitution: Article 2 talks about every being has the right to wellbeing to live free from torture or cruel treatment by human beings. And also article 3H talks about empowering humans and institutions to defend the rights of Mother Earth and all beings. And so we’ve seen this horrible trend in Ecuador from being a proponent for the Rights of Nature to going backwards and now prosecuting human rights defenders and indigenous peoples who basically have legal rights to their collective territories and are governors of their own lands.  And so in this case we’re seeing an alarming trend not, just in Ecuador, but also in Peru where we’ve had a huge number of people dying who were defending against illegal logging.

In Ecuador itself we’ve seen in Yasuni national park we’ve heard from Yasunidos.  We also know in Ecuador there’s been these oil-induced violence among isolated and contacted peoples. And there’s been several massacres that have occurred in Ecuador in the last several years in the last three years; there’s been massacres some thirty people have been killed in inter-tribal conflict perpetuated by the industry. And we’ve heard that Fundación Pachamama was shot down and their appeals were denied. We heard that Yasunidos attempted a referendum and was shot down even though a majority of Ecuadorian public supported leaving oil in the ground in Ecuador. Currently, even today I believe today there are still people in jail, a dozen or so people are in jail, from the protests that happened in August. Additionally there are 10 or 11 we heard from Manari Ushigua and Belen Paez that are people still facing human rights charges, they’re facing charges by the government for acting in defense of their human rights.

So for all of these reasons we’d like to recommend that the tribunal find the Ecuadorian government guilty of violation of human rights, that we are calling on the government to immediately free political prisoners, to drop the charges against the leaders, to allow the NGO’s to be permitted to carry out their activities, to respect the Inter-American Court on respecting indigenous peoples free prior informed consent on decisions that affect their territories and to say no to fossil fuel drilling if so they choose, and to respect their rights, immediately to respect their rights to freely organize and express themselves free of intimidation, free of harassment. That companies –also the oil industry is all over Ecuadorian amazon, whether its Chevron or Andes Petroleum from China and others who are basically attempting to divide the communities, continuously going back and seeding divisions and offering bribes and this really speaks to the importance of communities rights to organize and their voices to be heard. And to solutions like the Sarayaku solution for the living forest. If you go to the website, they talk about the living forests, idea of sacred lands that are safe for all of nature’s creatures, and they as indigenous peoples are the guardians of the forest.

I’m also encouraged by the global alliance that was just launched by legendary Chief Raoni of the Kayapo people of the Brazilian Amazon of the defenders of nature’s rights. The alliance of indigenous peoples in defense of mothers’ rights had a two-day summit here, and that’s another thing we need to encourage and support we need to support and align and connect, like nature itself, create these interconnected webs.

Now lastly on the cases, I think those things will bring the case to close in the case of Ecuador. In the case of Houston, Manchester, I really want to thank Yudith Nieto, and Bryan Parras  for coming for their testimonies, I think it’s a really important thing you’ve brought forth which is this idea of the communities affected by this industrial mindset that are being oppressed and intimidated both in intimidation by authorities but also the systemic oppression that these communities are facing and the need to look at revising the Articles, amending the Declaration in order to have a more specific provision that addresses the needs of the communities that are dealing with this kind of systemic oppression.

So on that note I want to say thank you for this amazing mind, consciousness shifting – paradigm shifting exercise, that we hope continues to grow and replicate like nature itself and nothing to say that doesn’t hold anyone here from organizing a tribunal in their own communities to continue to bring cases that are in your area, of course we are limited in how many cases we can bring, so I appreciate your time and energy. Thank you.

For more visit:  Paris International Rights of Nature Tribunal

Also visit:  Paris Judges’ Statements.

And: Judges biographies

Tribunal Video Credits:  A special thank you to Panasonic; 2nd Side Adventures, LLC; Diana Weynand, Producer, Supervising Editor; Clément Guerra, Camera; Sophie Guerra, Sound; and Editors: Sean Lea, Sachie Masuda, and Rebecca Ryden.