Berta, Presente! How We Support Environmental Activists On the Frontlines

February 28, 2017 | No Comments

Update: Investors who had been supporting the Agua Zarca dam project withdrew funding in June 2017 after international outrage and pressure to pull out of the project as a result of Berta’s murder. Find out more here. 

A year ago, our dear friend and grantee Berta Cáceres was gunned down in her home. Her crime? Defending Honduran indigenous people’s basic human rights to clean water. We honor Berta, not just for her sacrifice, but for her courage, powerful voice, and tireless work to stand up for decency and our shared planet.

Her murder exposed a nerve, rightfully triggering worldwide condemnation of corporations’ and governments’ disregard for the environment, rights, and livelihoods of marginalized people.

But it was only the tip of the iceberg.

Other recent and sickening cases of violence against people defending their rights to rivers and forests include the murders of Goldman Environmental Prizewinners and Greengrants’ grantees Sebastian Alonso in Guatemala and Isidro Baldenegro López in Mexico.

According to Global Witness, 2015 was the worst year on record for killings of land and environmental defenders. Of the 185 people murdered, 40 percent were indigenous. Many of the killings occurred in Latin American countries such as Honduras, Brazil, and Colombia, but the Philippines, Indonesia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo also top the list.

Click here to read Peter Kostishack’s latest article, “On the Front Lines of Justice: Strategies to Support Embattled Local Activists” on the Yale School of Forestry & Environment’s blog.

It’s dangerous to be a person defending land, life, and resources

In all of the above countries, local people—and indigenous communities, in particular—are in conflict with governments that have sold off ancestral land, forests, and water to private interests.

For nearly 25 years, Global Greengrants Fund has supported communities to protect their ways of life and to advance their rights to lands, forests, water, and natural resources. In order to support those facing increasing danger, we need to mobilize our entire network of people on the frontlines, donors, and allies to stand in solidarity with people who risk persecution for their activism.

While it is not this organization or community’s role to protect activists, we are committed to helping those in our network be better prepared to face the growing threats of physical violence and repression. Read our new values statement here.

How Global Greengrants supports threatened environmental rights defenders

Above all, Global Greengrants Fund seeks to address the root causes of conflict, abuse, and environmental degradation. The growing violent backlash against the grassroots activists we support, and the violation of their rights to speak out, has the same root as much of the environmental destruction we work to prevent.

  • We have deep relationships in communities around the world, thanks to our expert advisors. This pre-established foundation of trust allows us to support local groups with grants that help bolster physical security, pay for training to mitigate situations in advance, secure legal assistance, develop safety protocols, purchase equipment and supplies, and relocate threatened people, when necessary.
  • We also work with our advisors to identify and connect activists with local security experts.
  • We collaborate with a variety of organizations, and, when appropriate, connect our grantees and advisors with our allies’ experts and resources.
  • We are committed to identifying secure methods for communicating with activists, protecting their information, and remaining flexible to meet their needs.

The belief that greater good can come from taking resources away from communities is just plain wrong, and drives violence against people and the planet. This is a tragedy we all have an obligation to end.

For more information about our efforts to support the safety and security of people in our global network, please email info@greengrants.org, subject line “Question about safety and security.”

Photo: Goldman Environmental Prize

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