Earth Rights International (ERI) is a nongovernmental, nonprofit organization that combines the power of law and the power of people in defense of human rights and the environment, which we define as "earth rights".
One man was a renowned author and producer. Another was a university lecturer. One, a truck driver. Another, an engineer. Many were fathers and husbands. All were executed. Their names were Ken Saro-Wiwa, Saturday Doobee, Nordu Eawo, Daniel Gbokoo, Paul Levera, Felix Nuate, Baribor Bera, Dr. Barinem Kiobel, and John Kpuinen, and most were leaders of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People—a nonviolent grassroots group from the Ogoni region of Nigeria that fought for Shell to clean up lands devastated by Shell’s oil operations in the Niger Delta.
They came to be known as the Ogoni Nine, and, to widespread international condemnation, were convicted of speculative charges on October 31, 1995. By November 10, they were dead—executed by the Nigerian military dictatorship of General Sani Abacha.
Of course, it shouldn't really matter what type of men they were, or the level of education they achieved. How many children they had, or what jobs they held. It should matter that they were bold environmentalists, unafraid to call out the oil industry and a corrupt government for “ecological racism.” It should matter that they unjustly died for their cause after being convicted by a military-appointed special tribunal—in part based on the testimony of prosecution witnesses who later recanted and came forward to say that they had been offered bribes of money and jobs at Shell. It should matter that this all occurred during a time when Shell reaped an average of 278,000 barrels of oil a day from Nigeria. And it should matter that their struggle continues.
In a final statement that Ken Saro-Wiwa penned before his death, he wrote that:
"The Company has, indeed, ducked this particular trial, but its day will surely come."
And so today, take a moment to remember the Ogoni Nine, and know that their movement is carried forward by survivors and advocacy groups who work to ensure that the day Ken Saro-Wiwa spoke of surely does come—today, their legacies live on through courts around the world:
This month, a court of appeals in the UK has agreed to hear an appeal by communities of the Niger Delta regarding extensive oil pollution on their lands.
In June, four Ogoni Nine widows initiated a suit in the Netherlands against Shell for complicity in the execution of their husbands.
And just last year, here in the U.S., we filed an action in federal court to gain access to important evidence to assist with the widows’ action in the Netherlands.
Over the past 20 years, ERI has worked with Ogoni communities to demand accountability for Shell’s complicity in human rights abuses. EarthRights continues to stand in solidarity with the movement of the Ogoni Nine, and remembers them today.
A Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in Myanmar builds fossil fuel infrastructure. A dam in Cambodia displaces thousands of villagers. Big oil in Ecuador threatens an ecologically diverse national park, home to two of the last indigenous tribes living in voluntary isolation on the planet. What do all of these situations have in common? Chinese funding, disregard for environmental and social risks, and immense impacts to local communities.
China is now at the forefront of international development investment, but Chinese investors often prioritize energy projects with little regard for the consequences to local peoples. Last year was the first year in which China’s outbound investments were greater than its inbound investments. This marks a major turning point for China.
This past week in Chiang Mai, Thailand, EarthRights International and the Mott Foundation hosted a “Transcontinental Dialogue on Chinese Investment and Financing in the Global South.” This conference brought together leaders in the movement to monitor Chinese outbound investment and address the pattern of negative impacts that seem to follow these investments across the Mekong Region of Southeast Asia and Latin America. China’s role in development in the Global South will only continue to grow. It’s vital that affected groups and civil society leaders share information and strategize on ways to diminish the negative impacts of these investments on local people. It’s important to be familiar with a few cases of Chinese investment that have been having intense impacts on communities.
The Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone in Myanmar
In Rakhine State, Myanmar, is the Kyaukphyu SEZ, right off the Bay of Bengal. This Special Economic Zone is supported by $10 billion of Chinese investment from state-owned enterprise CITIC. The SEZ is connected to energy and development projects such as a crude oil pipeline, a deep sea port in the Bay of Bengal, and an industrial park. This project has been met with intense criticism from local groups who fear displacement, loss of income, and detrimental impacts to the local environment.
Community members fishing in the area of the Lower Sesan 2 Dam.
The Lower Sesan 2 dam in Cambodia
The recently-completed Lower Sesan 2 Dam on the Sesan River in Cambodia is responsible for the eviction of nearly 5,000 people. Nearly 40,000 people may be on the verge of losing their fishing livelihoods. The Lower Sesan 2 Dam was constructed as a direct result of Chinese investment—the majority investor is Chinese state-owned enterprise HydroLacang. Local campaigners protested for years against the 800 million-dollar project, yet this didn’t stop the construction of the dam. The Mekong River and its tributaries, such as the Sesan River, flow through Cambodia and have provided a major source of food and livelihoods for generations. Chinese investment has pushed hydroelectric dams all throughout the Mekong region, specifically in Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos.
Drilling for oil on indigenous land in Ecuador
The Yasuní-ITT Initiative is a controversial project by the Ecuadorian government to drill for oil in one of the most biodiverse areas on the planet, the Yasuní National Park. The park is not only a habitat for hundreds of species that exist nowhere else on the globe but is also home for tribes of indigenous people living in voluntary isolation, the Tagaeri and the Taromenane. The Yasuní-ITT Initiative puts all living inhabitants of the Yasuní National Park at risk by drilling for oil in an attempt to pay back debt for oil deals made between PetroChina and PetroEcuador. Initially, Ecuador implored the international community to donate money to pay back the Chinese loans. Not enough money was raised. The decision to drill has been met with local protest as well as international criticism.
Ivonne Ramos from Acción Ecológica shares her expertise on the case of oil extraction in the indigenous Sapara territory of Ecuador.
The importance of dialogue and strategizing
When different regions of the world face similar challenges due to development projects from similar investors, it’s vital to share experiences and information. It may be possible to diminish negative impacts such as large scale environmental consequences and injustices to people already at risk for marginalization. At last week’s conference in Chiang Mai, participants shared strategies for identifying points of leverage and reaching out to major financiers and Chinese enterprises.
They also discussed new guidelines that China has been introducing to monitor Chinese businesses acting abroad. Some of the guidelines include the National Development and Reform Commission’s “Opinions On Further Guiding and Regulating Overseas Investment Orientation,” which directly discusses the need to meet environmental protection standards. There are also initiatives such as the Environmental Risk Management Initiative for China’s Overseas Investment, which many Chinese organizations such as The Green Finance Committee and the China Banking Association have agreed to, just to name a few. The problem with these guidelines is that many of them are voluntary and there is really no way to enforce them. But opening a dialogue about these issues is a hopeful first step.
It must also be said that it isn’t just China that is embracing such an aggressive investment scheme. It’s not so much the actor as it is the impacts of these widespread development plans that signal a disregard for those impacted, both humans and the Earth. Last week’s “Transcontinental Dialogue on Chinese Investment and Financing in the Global South” provided an important space to share strategies for ensuring that communities don’t have to face negative impacts in the future.
EarthRights International (ERI), together with Peruvian subsistence farmer Máxima Acuña Atalaya de Chaupe and her family, have filed a motion for a preliminary injunction in Delaware federal court against Newmont Mining Corporation and three of its corporate affiliates.
For over six years, Newmont has led a campaign of harassment and abuse against the family intended to force them off their land and pave the way for a new open pit gold mine in Peru, one of the largest in Latin America. The Chaupes filed a civil lawsuit in September with the same Delaware court. The threats to the Chaupe family have also been recognized by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which granted “precautionary measures” that require the Peruvian government to keep them safe.
But roughly one month after the lawsuit was filed, the security personnel of Newmont’s Peruvian affiliate, Minera Yanacocha, invaded the Chaupes’ farm and destroyed their potato crops, once again eliminating a source of food and income for the family. Newmont has shown no signs that it will stop the harassment anytime soon.
The pattern of abuses along with the recent invasion has forced the family to seek a court order to stop the campaign of intimidation. Today’s motion aims to protect the family while the federal court considers the family’s claims against Newmont in the U.S., and Peruvian courts resolve the underlying land dispute. If the judge grants the motion, Newmont and its affiliates will be ordered to stop physically and psychologically harassing the family and invading the family’s farm, known as Tragadero Grande.
“Even though we filed a lawsuit last month, Newmont and their security forces have continued to harass Maxima Acuña de Chaupe and her family. We have filed this motion to ask the court to stop the intimidation so the Chaupe family can peacefully live on and farm off their land. Newmont must respect their right to be left alone and stop its goons from harassing and attacking this family.”
-Marco Simons, General Counsel at ERI
“We are seeking justice through the preliminary injunction because we want the company to respect our rights and to stop harassing us in Tragadero Grande and the Cajamarca region where the company’s personnel are persecuting us. We are not free.”
-Ysidora Chaupe-Acuña, Plaintiff
"Clearly, we need the preliminary injunction because the company continues to enter the territory and psychologically abuses us and it is not fair for them to continue doing that. The Peruvian justice system does nothing. Our lives are not safe, our whole family's lives are not safe. We are risking that one of my family members will disappear because every day we are in danger and they do not let us sow [our seeds] and we need to have security."
-Jilda Chaupe-Acuña, Plaintiff
"The case is a symbol of the struggle to defend my rights as a citizen and prevent future threats from foreign companies.”
-Maxima Acuña de Chaupe, Plaintiff
The Chaupes are subsistence farmers who reside in the rural highlands of Cajamarca, Peru. They have cultivated crops and raised livestock on a plot of land known as Tragadero Grande for over twenty years. In 2011, agents of Newmont Mining Corporation attempted to forcibly oust the plaintiffs from their farm so that Newmont could expand their gold mining operations. Since then, Newmont’s agents have used harassment and violence to try to evict the plaintiffs from their farm. The Chaupes allege that they have been physically attacked and threatened, and that Newmont’s agents have destroyed their property and possessions, and killed or attacked their pets and livestock. They allege that Newmont has the power to cease these abuses but has declined to do so because the Chaupes stand in the way of Newmont’s plans to construct a massive gold mine.
The U.S. federal lawsuit filed in September, and the additional motion filed today, seek to stop a pattern of harassment and physical and psychological abuse that the Chaupe family has suffered at the hands of security personnel working on behalf of Newmont and its corporate affiliates. Newmont, a U.S. mining company incorporated in Delaware, is one of the world’s largest gold producers.
The case is Acuna-Atalaya v. Newmont Mining Corp., No. 17-cv-01315-GAM in the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware. In addition to EarthRights International, the plaintiffs are represented by Delaware pro bono attorney Misty Seemans.
EarthRights International (ERI), junto con la campesina peruana Máxima Acuña Atalaya de Chaupe y su familia, han presentado una solicitud para un orden judicial (medida cautelar) en la corte federal de Delaware contra Newmont Mining Corporation y tres de sus afiliados corporativos.
Durante más de seis años, Newmont ha liderado una campaña de hostigamiento y abuso contra la familia con la intención de expulsarlos de sus tierras y allanar el camino para una nueva mina de oro a cielo abierto en Perú, una de las más grandes de América Latina. Los Chaupes presentaron una demanda civil en septiembre ante el mismo tribunal de Delaware. Las amenazas a la familia Chaupe también han sido reconocidas por la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos, que otorgó "medidas cautelares" que requieren que el gobierno peruano las mantenga a salvo. La presente solicitud pide medidas cautelares de la corte estadounidense para que las empresas Newmont detengan el abuso.
Pero aproximadamente un mes después de que fue presentada la demanda, el personal de seguridad de la filial peruana de Newmont, Minera Yanacocha, invadió la granja de los Chaupes y destruyó sus cultivos de papa, eliminando una vez más una fuente de alimentos e ingresos para la familia. Newmont no ha mostrado señales de que detendrá el acoso.
El patrón de abusos junto con la invasión reciente ha forzado a la familia a buscar una orden judicial para detener la campaña de intimidación. La solicitud de hoy tiene como objetivo proteger a la familia, mientras que el tribunal federal considera los reclamos de la familia contra Newmont en los Estados Unidos, y los tribunales peruanos resuelven la disputa de tierras subyacente. Si el juez concede la solicitud, a Newmont y sus afiliados se les ordenarán que dejen de hostigar físicamente y psicológicamente a la familia y dejen de invadir la granja de la familia, conocida como Tragadero Grande.
"A pesar de que presentamos una demanda el mes pasado, Newmont y sus fuerzas de seguridad han seguido hostigando a Máxima Acuña de Chaupe y su familia. Hemos presentado esta solicitud para pedir al tribunal que detenga la intimidación para que la familia Chaupe pueda vivir pacíficamente y cultivar sus tierras. Newmont debe respetar su derecho a quedarse en paz y evitar que sus matones hostiguen y ataquen a esta familia".
- Marco Simons, Asesor Legal General en ERI
"Buscamos justicia a través de la orden judicial preliminar porque queremos que la compañía respete nuestros derechos y deje de hostigarnos en Tragadero Grande y la región de Cajamarca donde el personal de la compañía nos está persiguiendo. No somos libres".
- Ysidora Chaupe- Acuña, demandante
"Claramente, necesitamos el medias cautelares porque la compañía continúa ingresando al territorio y nos abusa psicológicamente y no es justo que continúen haciéndolo. El sistema de justicia peruano no hace nada. Nuestras vidas no son seguras, las vidas de toda nuestra familia no está seguro. Estamos arriesgándonos a que uno de los miembros de mi familia desaparezca porque todos los días estamos en peligro y no nos dejan sembrar [nuestras semillas] y tenemos que tener seguridad".
- Jilda Chaupe- Acuña, demandante
"El caso es un símbolo de la lucha para defender mis derechos como ciudadano y prevenir futuras amenazas de compañías extranjeras".
- Maxima Acuña de Chaupe, demandante
Los Chaupes son agricultores de subsistencia que residen en las tierras altas rurales de Cajamarca, Perú. Cultivaron cultivos y criaron ganado en un terreno conocido como Tragadero Grande durante más de veinte años. En 2011, agentes de Newmont Mining Corporation intentaron expulsarlos de su granja por la fuerza para que Newmont pudiera expandir sus operaciones de extracción de oro. Desde entonces, la familia reclama que los agentes de Newmont han utilizado el acoso y la violencia para tratar de desalojar a los demandantes de su granja. Los Chaupes alegan que han sido atacados y amenazados físicamente, y que los agentes de Newmont han destruido sus propiedades y posesiones, y han matado o atacado a sus mascotas y ganado. Alegan que Newmont tiene el poder de poner fin a estos abusos, pero se rehusaron a hacerlo porque los Chaupes se interponen en el camino de los planes de Newmont para construir una enorme mina de oro.
La demanda federal de EE. UU. fue presentada en septiembre 2017 y la solicitud adicional presentada hoy buscan detener un patrón de acoso y abuso físico y psicológico que la familia Chaupe ha sufrido a manos del personal de seguridad que trabaja en nombre de Newmont y sus filiales corporativas. Newmont, una compañía minera de EE. UU. constituida en Delaware, es uno de los productores de oro más grandes del mundo.
El caso es Acuna-Atalaya v. Newmont Mining Corp., No. 17-cv-01315-GAM en la Corte de Distrito Federal de los EE. UU. para el Distrito de Delaware. Además de EarthRights International, los demandantes están representados por la abogada pro bono de Delaware, Misty Seemans.
The most recent episode of RadioLab’s “More Perfect,” entitled “Enemy of Mankind,” highlights the Alien Tort Statute (ATS). More Perfect, which focuses on the U.S. Supreme Court, is a great show. But this episode presented some important misconceptions and left out some critical pieces. I responded with a bunch of tweets pointing out some of the issues; Twitter isn’t my favorite medium, though, so I’ll provide a little more explanation here – tweet-by-tweet!
I love @RadioLab; listened to every one! Great that MorePerfect highlights Alien Tort Statute. But lots of omissions & misconceptions
I do, in fact, love RadioLab. I have listened to every back-episode I can find. Some of my favorites that also implicate legal issues relating to EarthRights International’s work include “Neither Confirm Not Deny” and “Mau Mau.” I wish this episode of More Perfect were just a little . . . more perfect.
ATS never made US "world's policemen" - ONLY applies to people & corps already subject to US court jurisdiction
The episode omits some important distinctions about U.S. court jurisdiction – the word means two very different things. There is the court’s power to hear a certain type of case; that is what the ATS is about. The ATS gave U.S. federal courts the power to hear cases about violations of international law. But there is also the court’s power to hear a case against a particular defendant. That is a different kind of jurisdiction (known as “personal jurisdiction”), and the ATS did nothing to change those rules. So it never allowed cases against anyone in the world; it only ever allowed cases against people and corporations that were already subject to U.S. court jurisdiction. The rules around when a court can hear a case against someone are a bit complex, but the ATS never changed them.
US law has allowed suits for abuses abroad for centuries - actually, since UK law, before US existed
It is a longstanding principle of our legal system that, if a person is found in the U.S., a U.S. court can hear a case against them for anything they’ve done anywhere in the world. This goes back to the 1774 U.K. case of Mostyn v. Fabrigas, in which the court already said that the principle was well-established: “there is not a colour of a doubt” that a lawsuit against a defendant for causing personal injury can be filed “in any county in England,” if the defendant is “found” there – regardless of the fact that “the matter arises beyond the seas.” The U.S. Supreme Court recognized this principle in McKenna v. Fisk, in 1843. This has nothing to do with the ATS. Any ordinary state court in New York, for example, could hear a lawsuit against a New Yorker by someone alleging that the New Yorker tortured them in another country.
ATS does not impose "US" law because only accepted, universally-agreed int'l norms can be applied
The ATS allows claims to be heard in U.S. courts, but the fundamental rights at issue in those cases are rights under international law – universally-adopted principles – not U.S. law. In the Filartiga case itself, which started the modern usage of the ATS for human rights cases, the court said that ATS cases could only be brought for violations of “well-established, universally recognized norms of international law.” The ATS does not in any sense project U.S. law around the world. (The U.S. does that in all kinds of other ways, of course.)
We litigated the Wiwa v. Shell case, along with the Center for Constitutional Rights, for many years. After describing allegations that Shell hired the Nigerian military, and mobile police known as the “kill and go,” More Perfect suggests, “Shell denies all this.” The Guardian piece in the link has a lot of the details, but that’s not quite true. Shell publicly admitted to paying the Nigerian military on at least two occasions, and never denied that it called them in to respond to a couple of incidents – incidents where two of our clients were shot. One lost an arm; the other was killed.
It is an odd quirk that although both the Kiobel and Wiwa cases arose out of similar abuses against the Ogoni people in Nigeria, the Wiwa case settled for $15.5 million while the Kiobel case was ultimately dismissed by the U.S. Supreme Court. More Perfect blurs the lines between these cases, which is problematic for a couple of reasons. The piece never actually tells the story of Esther Kiobel, the abuses she went through, and the killing of her husband, Barinem Kiobel, who was hanged alongside Ken Saro-Wiwa. And it also ignores the fact that the Wiwa case did result in some measure of justice for the victims.
Most ATS victories are against US companies (not foreign) or US residents; US is responsible for conduct of both
Very few ATS cases have been against foreign companies; not “naïve” to think that US can hold US corps accountable
Shell was one of very few foreign companies sued under the ATS. Most cases – and nearly all successful cases – have been against U.S. companies. Of course, there’s no problem with U.S. courts hearing cases for abuses by U.S. companies. These companies have included Chevron and two of its predecessors (Unocal and Texaco), Chiquita, ExxonMobil, Coca-Cola, and the Drummond coal company.
The Center for Justice and Accountability has also brought a bunch of ATS cases against U.S. citizens and residents – generally, people who moved to the U.S. after committing abuses in other countries. Again, this is entirely appropriate – the U.S. should not be providing safe haven for human rights abusers. The U.S. government also goes after these people, often targeting them for deportation or even forced denaturalization (stripping their citizenship).
At one point, More Perfect suggests that the idea that the ATS could allow U.S. courts to enforce human rights norms now “seems to represent . . . naïveté.” But it’s not naïve at all to think that U.S. courts can enforce the law against U.S. corporations and residents. Indeed, that’s what the U.S. is required to do under international law: ensure that people and entities under its control do not use the U.S. as a safe haven from accountability for violating international law.
The Jesner v. Arab Bank case, in which the Supreme Court is now considering whether corporations can be sued under the ATS, is also a rare case against a non-U.S. company. That case, however, is in U.S. courts because Arab Bank allegedly used the U.S. financial system to make payments to terrorists.
Foreign govts generally only criticized ATS when applied against FOREIGN companies, not US corps – look into it!
More Perfect uncritically repeats the notion that foreign governments have repeatedly expressed annoyance with ATS cases. In fact, foreign governments have almost never weighed in on ATS cases. In the Kiobel case, the governments of England and the Netherlands did submit briefs arguing that Shell – a British/Dutch company – should not be subject to suit in U.S. courts. But foreign governments have not generally objected to U.S. courts holding U.S. companies accountable for abuses around the world. There’s no serious international law scholar who thinks that is a violation of international law.
Indeed, in Kiobel, Chevron submitted a brief that argued that the ATS should not allow lawsuits “against corporations for alleged human rights abuses outside the United States.” But even that brief acknowledged that “international law’s nationality principle” allows the U.S. to regulate “U.S. corporate activity abroad.” No one disputes this – in fact the U.S. government already does this in other areas, such as by prohibiting U.S. corporations from engaging in bribery outside the United States, under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
In fact, intl community (EU, UN, India, others) expressed concern over SCOTUS decision in Kiobel
More Perfect ignores the fact that the international community urged the Supreme Court to stand up for human rights in Kiobel, and expressed concern following the decision. The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, submitted a brief in support of the plaintiffs. The European Union also submitted a brief arguing that ATS cases were appropriately heard against U.S. corporations, or even against foreign companies if the case involved “the most grave violations of the law of nations, such as genocide or torture.” In fact, the European Union concluded that the U.S. courts, in applying the ATS, were acting “consistent with international law.”
Shortly after the decision, the U.N. Working Group on Business and Human Rights visited the United States – I was in the room when Working Group members expressed concern over the decision and U.S. commitment to providing remedies for human rights abuses. In the next Universal Periodic Review of the United States, the Government of India likewise expressed concern about the Kiobel decision and the U.S. commitment to corporate accountability.
Not true that ATS victories are "symbolic" and that "most" plaintiffs "never got any money"
More Perfect suggests that ATS victories have only been “symbolic,” and that of the victims who won, “most of them never got any money.” That’s simply not true. In fact, the majority of victories – including judgments and settlements – have resulted in at least some money being paid to the victims or their families. The link above was a count of victories made in 2009 and apparently updated in 2013, and of the 44 cases that can be described as plaintiff victories, at least 27 of them involved at least some money paid. As noted above, this includes the Wiwa v. Shell case itself, where Shell paid $15.5 million.
Even if no money paid, ATS cases not merely "symbolic" - establish legal principles & provide truth-telling function
ATS cases have been critically important even when they don’t result in money being paid. Filártiga helped to establish that torture was illegal everywhere, and other cases have served an important purpose in clarifying the norms of international human rights law. Equally important, these cases have provided an opportunity for victims to tell their stories, and to obtain the judgment of a court affirming that their rights were violated. That is incredibly valuable to many people – just listen to Dolly Filartiga!
Ridiculous to say HR movement leaves out US role in abuses; same lawyers also work on US accountability
This is one of the least honest critiques in the piece – Samuel Moyn’s suggestion that, “as they’ve presented their cases, the human rights movement leaves out how much the United States has often been involved in the evil they’re portraying in court.” This came from a commentator, not the More Perfect staff, but journalists should press a little bit on claims like this!
What even does it mean to say that “before we run around judging other countries, we should take a hard look at ourselves”? That U.S. human rights lawyers should simply stop their work because the U.S. government itself also engages in abuses? This is exactly backwards. It’s precisely because the U.S. has contributed to human rights abuses worldwide – including through U.S. corporations – that we must use the mechanisms of the U.S. legal system to seek accountability. The notion that U.S. human rights lawyers are somehow apologists for U.S. contributions to human rights abuses is completely absurd.
Also absurd to say HR lawyers ignore strategies other than ATS; EVERY strategy was used for Ogoni in Nigeria
ATS gets attention over other strategies precisely because it IS effective at highlighting abuses
This is also a maddening suggestion – that somehow the lawyers using the ATS aren’t pursuing the right strategies. In the case of abuses against Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni people in Nigeria, the Ogoni and their advocates used just about every strategy imaginable – human rights reports by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Article 19, and others; cases against the Nigerian government in the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights; international advocacy and condemnation; expulsion of Nigeria from the Commonwealth of Nations; demonstrations at Shell stations – in order to try to protect rights and remedy abuses.
Maybe people don’t remember all those strategies because it’s the ATS case that drew the most attention. That sort of undermines the point that ATS litigation is not an effective strategy – if it’s the one people remember, it’s also the one that corporations remember.
It’s always hard to measure the overall effectiveness of a series of lawsuits on behavior, but the best evidence we have comes from corporate lawyers themselves, as well as from the business press. For example, when we settled the Doe v. Unocal, BusinessWeek called it “A Milestone for Human Rights.” In the link above, the authors – who are both lawyers hired by corporations to advise on human rights risks, among other things – acknowledge that ATS litigation has had a major impact. They note that “pressures” on corporations to “ensure respect for human rights” have “come from a variety of avenues,” but that ATS litigation is “among the most visible” of these pressures. And it is these pressures have led corporations to sign “global, industry-specific or multistakeholder voluntary codes of conduct, such as the United Nations (UN) Global Compact, the Electronic Industry Code of Conduct, the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights, and others.”
Access to justice and remedy for grave abuses is necessary component of restoring dignity and preventing future HR abuses
If you have a better way to promote HR & corp accountability let @EarthRightsIntl know! (been litigating cases for ~20 yrs)
At ERI, we firmly believe that remedies for grave human rights abuses are necessary. Other approaches are also necessary – I’ve never heard any human rights lawyer suggest that the ATS and similar approaches are some sort of silver bullet against human rights abuses. Systemic change, better monitoring, socialization of human rights, community empowerment – all of these strategies are worth pursuing. Done right, however, ATS cases can support all of these goals.
Advocates for justice have long recognized that remedies for past abuses are necessary, both to attend to the victims and to deter further abuse. This is what a justice system is all about. When it comes to individual perpetrators, few question that both individual accountability and justice for victims are important; it should be no different in the corporate context.
And last – I’m not being facetious when I say to let us know if you have a better approach! We’re always looking for new ideas, and we don’t have the magic formula to prevent or remedy abuses. We do the best we can with the tools that we have.
Earlier this month EarthRights International (ERI) and a pro bono attorney from Delaware, Misty Seemans, filed a lawsuit in the United States against Newmont, one of the world's largest mining companies. The suit was filed on behalf of Máxima Acuña Atalaya de Chaupe and her family, who claim that they have suffered physical and psychological attacks by the company for over six years. The reason for the lawsuit is simple: multinational corporations cannot commit human rights violations and it is necessary to hold them accountable.
Máxima Acuña and her family’s historic struggle for the defense of territory, life, and dignity is well known in Peru and Latin America. She has undoubtedly become a symbol of defending land and resisting extractive companies, which violate human rights throughout the continent. The lawsuit alleges that, since August 2011, the Chaupe family has faced a pattern of aggression and harassment by workers and people connected to Newmont Mining Corporation and Minera Yanacocha, Newmont’s indirect subsidiary in Peru.
At the center of the attacks against the Chaupe family is Newmont’s interest in Máxima’s land, where she has lived with her family for more than 20 years. This land holds particular interest for the Newmont’s Conga mine project, proposed to be the largest open pit gold mine in South America. The family claims that because they have refused to sell their land to Minera Yanacocha, the company has used force to try to evict them countless times.
The lawsuit has two main objectives: first, to stop the harassment and aggression against the Chaupe family in order to avoid future human rights violations; second, to obtain reparations for the physical and psychological suffering they have suffered for years, as well as for the damage to their crops and animals. That framework guarantees the right to due process and appropriate remedies and provides that companies must respect human rights, and that governments must control and regulate companies’ actions to protect and guarantee the life and integrity of all people.
Unsurprisingly, Newmont and its allies have denied the facts and human rights violations suffered by the Chaupe family, and present inadequate responses to their claims. This is just another way to continue to harass the family. But Minera Yanacocha and Newmont have themselves publicly admitted that “the Chaupe family has experienced forced evictions of Tragadero Grande (ie, against their will)."
Now it will be the U.S. court who will determine the truth of the facts and the company’s responsibility. It is time for justice for Máxima.
ERI has been fighting for compensation for victims of human rights abuses for over 20 years. This should not be controversial: compensation, in accordance with international norms and standards, is one of the elements to which any person who suffers a violation of his rights is entitled. Reparations are recognized by every major international human rights tribunal, and every national court system. Seeking compensation itself is part of the right to a remedy, exercised through judicial means, regardless of which court is considering the case.
The Chaupe family believes that this U.S. lawsuit is the family’s only opportunity to obtain justice in the face of the violations committed by Newmont and Minera Yanacocha, and an important for liability of companies in the extractive industry for act arbitrarily and violently against subsistence farmers on our continent.
El mes pasado, la abogada y lideresa de la Nación U’Wa, Aura Tegría Cristancho estuvo tres semanas en los Estados Unidos. Mientras estuvo en Washington D.C. con la meta de obtener información sobre su caso en la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos, Aura hizo una presentación sobre la movilización de la Nación U’wa en defensa de su territorio en Colombia. Su presentación, organizada por nuestros amigos/as de Amazon Watch, comenzó con el video “Guardians of the Blue Planet” el cual ilustra la conexión de la Nación U’wa con la Madre Tierra y la difícil batalla que han estado dando para proteger su territorio.
La lucha ha sido larga y llena de sinsabores por la respuesta de un Estado que se niega cumplir y respetar sus derechos. Así por ejemplo, a pesar de que se firmó un convenio en 2014 para no invadir el territorio U’wa, el gobierno colombiano no solo incumplió el convenio, sino que sigue desconociendo sus obligaciones internacionales s y permitió que Ecopetrol construya la planta de gas Gibraltar en territorio U’wa. En julio de 2016 la Nación U’wa organizó una toma de manera pacífica la planta y la mantuvieron ocupada durante 49 días.
Attendees watch Guardians of the Blue Planet before Aura's presentation.
La Larga Lucha
La toma pacifica de la planta en territorio U´wa es una muestra de su fortaleza, pues tuvo un impacto directo en el país ya que causó el aumento del 25 por ciento en los precios del gas en la región Santander y resultó en un hecho con cobertura en las noticias internacionales. Permanecieron unidos para proteger su territorio a pesar de haber sido acusados erróneamente por el gobierno de haber secuestrado a los trabajadores de la planta. Los guardianes empuñaron los bastones y se mantuvieron pacíficos aun cuando el gobierno aterrizó tres helicópteros del Escuadrón Móvil Antidisturbios en la planta. Entonces se preguntaron a si mismos, por qué el gobierno colombiano los trataba como delincuentes por la ocupación pacífica de la planta y la respuesta es fácil, es el mismo argumento, desacreditar y criminalizar la lucha y la defensa del territorio. Pese a ello, después de participar en dos negociaciones con el gobierno, llegaron al acuerdo de que el gobierno cumpliría el convenio original y en cambio, la Nación U’wa liberó la planta de gas.
Mientras Aura estaba en el podio, el hermoso himno de la Nación U’wa tocado en el video reverberó en mi mente la imagen de la gente U'wa resiliente y unida “que con valentía y fuerza en sus corazones, por justicia y pervivencia hoy empuña los bastones”.
La misión de la Nación U’wa
La Nación U’wa siguea el camino de sus ancestros para defender y proteger la tierra. Su misión para mantener equilibrio entre los cuatro pilares – la tierra, el agua, las montañas y el cielo- va más allá que proteger su territorio. Demandan respeto para la Madre Tierra y que sea protegida, porque toda la naturaleza está conectada y la destrucción del medio ambiente en cualquier parte es una amenaza a todas las comunidades del mundo. En la tradición de la Nación U’wa, el petróleo es la sangre de la Madre Tierra, lo cual ayuda mantener un equilibrio de los espíritus.
La convicción y entusiasmo de Aura traspasa más que el deseo de la Nación U’wa, representa las comunidades en todo el mundo, las cuales todas son hermanas de la Nación U’wa. Trabaja en unidad con otra gente de la región para defender juntos la tierra y los recursos para que pueden vivir en paz y armonía con la madre tierra. La clave de su éxito son las relaciones internacionales que han formado y como describió Aura, la unidad entre hermanos y el apoyo de sus compañeros es un equilibrio natural que mantiene la paz. Ella ha estado inspirada por otros movimientos en el mundo, incluso la protesta de Dakota Access Pipeline en los Estados Unidos.
Es difícil tener la resistencia para mantenerse fuerte día tras día, pero lo que renueva la fuerza de Aura y la Nación U’wa es ver el efecto global de su trabajo y esfuerzo y compartir con otras activistas. Aura prometió que continuarán luchando por sus derechos y proteger a la Madre Tierra hasta que se apague el sol y hasta que el último U'wa esté en pie.
El bloqueo de Petróleo Occidental
En Colombia, la Nación U’wa ha visto gran éxito en el bloque de la perforación de gas por Petróleo Occidental y el desmantelamiento de Ecopetrol en su territorio. Estos logros son debido a la estrategia innovadora y fuerte que viene de su cultura, conocimientos legales, comunicación interna y acciones colectivas pacíficas. Su comunidad, liderada por los ancianos, participa en acciones y movilizaciones para exigir el respeto de sus derechos y la protección de la tierra para vivir en paz.
Mientras que el gobierno de Colombia y las FARC el año pasado participaron en las negociaciones y las conversaciones de paz, y ahora sobre su implementación y cumplimiento, la Nación U'wa está exigiendo que el gobierno cumpla con los acuerdos de 2014 sobre los derechos al territorio de los campesinos y grupos indígenas. El acuerdo de paz en Colombia representa una logra impresionante en el ámbito de resolución de conflictos. Sin embargo, la Nación U’wa teme que resultara en el aumento de inversión extranjero en la región y la amenaza de mega proyectos. Expresa que el gobierno debe tomar en cuenta las visiones de todos los que participan en la sociedad civil, incluyendo por supuesto a los campesinos, indígenas y afrodescendientes. Espera que las negociones de estos temas sean posibles en las nuevas conversaciones entre el gobierno y el ELN.
Lo que trae el futuro
El caso de la Nación U’wa está denunciado ante la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos hace más de 10 años, finalmente en el 2015 se declaró la admisibilidad del caso y ahora continúan a la espera del informe de fondo, en el que esperan se declare la responsabilidad del Estado colombiano. El caso es innovador ya que desafía la ley general en América Latina de que el Estado es el dueño de los recursos del subsuelo como minerales, petróleo y gas. La Nación U’wa afirma que son de ellos en cuanto son parte integral de la Madre Tierra, sostienen que estos recursos son intrínsecos y no pueden separarse de su tierra ni concederse. La abogada de ERI Marissa Vahlsing, quien también estuvo presente en el evento, agregó que “la Nación U’wa tiene la ventaja, no solo en su convicción, sino también en las estrategias legales.” Describió que tiene documentos, los títulos del Rey de España, quien colonizó la región originalmente, que reconocen que la Nación U’wa es la dueña de la tierra que forma su territorio tanto como los recursos bajo el suelo.
La determinación de Aura y la Nación U’wa para proteger la tierra, la cultura y el medio ambiente fue tangible durante su presentación. Describió que en el movimiento, lo importante no es lo que se puede ver, si no lo que se siente. Las comunidades indígenas y los hermanos alrededor del mundo quizás no comparten las mismas creencias culturales como la Nación U’wa, pero se suman al movimiento por su pasión compartida para proteger los derechos humanos y coexistir pacíficamente con la Madre Tierra.
Last month, U’wa indigenous leader and lawyer Aura Tegría Cristancho began a three-week visit to the U.S. While in Washington D.C. to advocate for the U’wa case at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), she gave a presentation to discuss the mobilization of the U’wa in defense of their territory in Colombia. Her presentation, hosted by our friends at Amazon Watch, began with the screening of the Guardians of the Blue Planet which shows the U’wa Nation’s connection to Madre Tierra (Mother Earth) and the difficult battle they have been fighting to protect their territory. Despite having made agreements in 2014 not to encroach on U’wa territory, the Colombian government failed to uphold these protections and allowed Ecopetrol to construct the Gibraltar Gas Plant in U’wa territory. In July 2016, the U’wa organized a peaceful take-over of the plant and maintained occupation of the plant for 49 days.
Attendees watch Guardians of the Blue Planet before Aura's presentation.
The Long Struggle
Their demonstration of fortitude had a direct impact on the country as it caused a 25 percent increase in gas prices for the Santander region and resulted in international news coverage. They stood united to protect their territory despite being wrongly accused by the government of kidnapping the gas plant workers. They held their batons as peaceful guardians even as the government sent in anti-riot police. They asked themselves why they were being treated like guerillas for a non-violent occupation, while in 2000, the government didn’t hesitate or question the legality of evicting the U’wa and expropriating their land, during which three U’wa children died. After two negotiations with the government, it was agreed that the government would fulfill its original agreement and in return, the U’wa released the gas plant.
As Aura took over the podium, the beautiful hymn played in the video reverberated in my mind with the imagery of the resilient U’wa people united: “with courage and strength in their hearts raising their ceremonial batons in pursuit of justice and survival.”
The U’wa Mission
The U’wa nation follows the path left by their ancestors to defend and protect the earth. Their mission to maintain the balance between the four pillars-earth, water, mountains, and sky-goes beyond protecting their land. They demand that Mother Nature be respected and protected, for all of nature is connected and environmental destruction anywhere is a threat to all communities. In U’wa tradition, water connects the current world with the after world and oil is the blood of Mother Earth which helps maintain the spiritual balance.
Aura’s conviction and enthusiasm transverses more than the desire of the U’wa, but represents communities around the world, which are all brothers to the U’wa. They work in unity with the campesinos of the region to defend the land and resources together so that all can live more peacefully and in harmony with Mother Nature. Their key to success is the international relationships they have formed and Aura described the unity between brothers and the support from partners as a natural equilibrium which creates peace. She has been inspired by other movements around the world, including the Dakota Access Pipeline protests in the U.S.
While the fight continues, it can be difficult to have the resistance and resilience to stay strong day after day, but what renews the strength of Aura and the U’wa people is seeing the global effect of their work and uniting with other activists. Aura pledged that they will continue to fight for their rights and to protect Mother Earth when the Sun does not rise anymore and until the last U’wa is standing.
Blocking Occidental Petroleum
In Colombia, the U’wa have seen huge successes in blocking Occidental Petroleum from drilling on their land and dismantling Ecopetrol from drilling for natural gas at Magellanes in their territory. These victories are also largely due to their innovative and strong legal strategies that draw upon their culture, western knowledge, international communication and peaceful collectives. Their community, led by the elders, takes part in mobilized action to demand rights and protection of land in order to live in peace.
As the Colombian government and the FARC engage in negotiations and peace talks, the U’wa are demanding that the government honors the agreements from 2014 on rights to territory for campesinos and indigenous groups. The peace deal in Colombia is seen as a huge accomplishment in conflict resolution. However, the U’wa fear this will lead to increased foreign investments and more threats of mega projects. They express that the government needs to take into account the visions of all who participate in civil society, including the campesinos, indigenous and African descendants. They hope that discussion of these topics will be possible in the new talks between the government and the ELN.
What the Future Holds
The U’wa case was a request for 15 years in front of the IACHR until 2015 when it was granted admissibility, allowing the case to move forward in Colombia. As the first case of its kind, it is opening doors for other indigenous cases in the IACHR. The legal strategies and community organization demonstrate that the path is set for others to follow suit in demanding human rights and land rights.
The U’wa’s case is groundbreaking in that it challenges the general law in Latin America that the government owns subsurface resources such as minerals, oil, and gas. The U’wa defend that these resources are inextricable and cannot be separated from their land or conceded. ERI Attorney Marissa Vahlsing, who also spoke at the event, added “the U’wa have the advantage, not only in their conviction but also in their legal strategies.” She described that they have proof of titles from the King of Spain, who originally colonized the region, which recognizes that they own the land that makes up their territories as well as the resources below ground.
The determination of Aura and the U’wa to protect their land, culture, and the environment was tangible during her presentation. She described that with their movement, it is not what you see, but what you feel. The brother communities and indigenous groups around the world may not share the same cultural beliefs as the U’wa, but they strengthen the movement through their shared passion to protect human rights and coexist peacefully with Mother Earth.
Earlier this month EarthRights International (ERI) and a pro bono attorney from Delaware, Misty Seemans, filed a lawsuit in the United States against Newmont, one of the world's largest mining companies. The suit was filed on behalf of Máxima Acuña Atalaya and her family, who claim that they have suffered physical and psychological attacks by the company for over six years. The reason for the lawsuit is simple: Multinational Corporations cannot commit human rights violations and it is necessary to hold them accountable.
Máxima Acuña and her family’s struggle for the defense of territory, life, and dignity, has been historic and is well known in Peru and Latin America. She has undoubtedly become a symbol of the defense of territory and resistance against the extractive industry which violates human rights throughout the continent. The lawsuit alleges that since August 2011, the Chaupe family has faced a pattern of aggression and harassment by workers and people connected to the mining company Newmont Mining Corporation and Minera Yanacocha, which is an indirect subsidiary of Newmont in Peru. (Newmont owns more than 50% of Minera Yanacocha through its subsidiary Newmont Second Capital).
At the center of the attacks against the Chaupe family is the interest of the mining company in Máxima’s land, where she has lived with her family for more than 20 years. This land holds particular interest for the Conga mining project, and with it the largest open pit gold mine of South America. The family claims that because Máxima and her family have refused to sell their land to Minera Yanacocha, they and their workers have used force to try to evict them countless times.
The lawsuit has two main objectives: first, to stop the harassment and aggression against the Chaupe family in order to avoid future human rights violations and, secondly, to obtain reparations for the physical and psychological suffering they have suffered for years, as well as for the damage to their crops and animals. Both of these are under the framework of the right to justice and under the premise that companies must respect human rights, and that governments must control and regulate the companies’ actions to protect and guarantee the life and integrity of all people.
It is no surprise that the mining companies Minera Yanacocha, Newmont, and other individuals and institutions have denied the facts and human rights violations suffered by the Chaupe family and present inadequate responses to their claims. That is just another way to continue to harass the family. However, now it will be the judges who will determine the truth of the facts and the responsibility of the company. It is time for justice for Máxima.
It is important to note that Minera Yanacocha and Newmont have themselves publicly stated that "the Chaupe family has experienced forced evictions of Tragadero Grande (ie, against their will)."
In relation to the reparation requested in the lawsuit, the court in the United States will decide whether the family is entitled to receive the reparation and the amount if the reparation is granted. As a legal practice in the U.S., judges award damages to the plaintiffs when and if appropriate in the context of the case.
Compensation for human rights violations should not be controversial, since this, in accordance with international norms and standards, is one of the elements to which any person who suffers a violation of his rights is entitled. Reparations are recognized by all the main human rights tribunals.
Moreover, in consideration of this practice accepted by international and regional human rights courts and domestic courts, seeking a reparation is a legitimate right exercised through judicial means regardless of which court is considering the case.
In this case, the claim is before a domestic court in the United States against a multinational company. Filing this lawsuit does not justify circumventing the right of the family to the payment of a fair and comprehensive reparation. Companies should also be required to pay reparations for the damages and violations of human rights for which they are found responsible. The family believes that the lawsuit filed in the United States is the family's only opportunity to obtain justice in the face of the violations committed by Newmont and Minera Yanacocha and the possibility of creating judicial precedent for liability of companies in the extractive industry for act arbitrarily and violently against subsistence farmers on our continent.
Hace un par de semanas EarthRights International ERI y una abogada pro bono de Delaware, Misty Seemans presentamos una demanda en los Estados Unidos contra Newmont, una de las empresas mineras más grandes del mundo. La demanda se presentó en representación de Máxima Acuña Atalaya y su familia, quienes reclaman que han sufrido ataques físicos y psicológicos por parte de la minera hace más de 6 años. La razón de la demanda es sencilla: las Corporaciones multinacionales no pueden cometer violaciones de derechos humanos y es necesario exigir su responsabilidad y sanción.
La lucha por la defensa del territorio, la vida y la dignidad ha hecho que la historia de Máxima Acuña y su familia sea conocida en Perú y América Latina, pues sin duda ella se ha convertido en un símbolo de la defensa del territorio que resiste a un modelo extractivista que viola derechos humanos en todo el continente. La demanda alega que, desde agosto de 2011, la familia Chaupe ha enfrentado un patrón de agresiones y hostigamientos por parte de trabajadores y personas conectadas a la empresa minera Newmont Mining Corporation y la Minera Yanacocha, que es una filial indirecta de Newmont en Perú. (Por su filial, Newmont Second Capital, Newmont es el dueño de más de 50% de Minera Yanacocha.).
La fuente de los ataques contra la familia Chaupe es el interes que tienen las mineras sobre el terreno de Máxima, en el que ha vivido junto con su familia por más de 20 años. Sobre este terreno hay un interés particular para el proyecto minero Conga, y con él la explotación de oro más grande de Sur América. Así pues, la familia reclama que ante la negativa de Máxima y su familia de vender su terreno a Minera Yanacocha, estas y sus trabajadores han utilizado la fuerza y han intentado desalojarles incontables veces.
La demanda tiene dos objetivos principales, primero, frenar el hostigamiento y las agresiones contra la familia Chaupe para que evitar violaciones de derechos humanos futuros y, segundo, que la familia sea reparada por el sufrimiento físico y psicológico que ha padecido durante años, así como por el daño a sus cultivos y animales. Ambas cosas, al amparo del derecho a la justicia, y bajo la premisa de que las empresas deben respetar los derechos humanos y los Estados deben fiscalizar y regular su accionar, para proteger y garantizar la vida e integridad de todas las personas.
No es una sorpresa que la minera Yanacocha, Newmont, otras personas e instituciones, nieguen los hechos y las violaciones de derechos humanos que ha sufrido la familia y presenten manifestaciones inadecuadas en su contra y sobre los reclamos y denuncias públicas que realizan. Esa es una manera más de seguir con el hostigamiento y violencia verbal en su contra. Sin embargo, ahora serán los jueces los que van a determinen la veracidad de los hechos y la responsabilidad de la empresa. Es momento de que se haga justicia para Máxima.
Es importante señalar que las propias empresas Yanacocha y Newmont han manifestado públicamente que “la familia Chaupe ha experimentado intentos de desalojo forzado de Tragadero Grande (es decir, en contra de su voluntad)”.
En relación con la reparación solicitada en la demanda, la Corte en los Estados Unidos va a decidir si la familia tiene derecho a recibir la reparación y el monto de la misma. Como práctica jurídica en ese país, los jueces otorgan una reparación a los demandantes si sufrieron daños y si es apropiado de acuerdo al contexto del caso.
La indemnización por violaciones de derechos humanos no debe ser controversial, pues esta, conforme a las normas y estándares internacionales constituye uno de los elementos de la reparación a la que tiene derecho toda persona que sufre una violación a sus derechos. La reparación ha sido un concepto ampliamente desarrollado y reconocido por los principales Tribunales de derechos humanos.
En consideración a la práctica aceptada por las cortes internacionales y regionales de derechos humanos, y por la práctica de los tribunales locales, la solicitud de una reparación es además de legítima un derecho que se reclama por vía judicial, cualquiera sea el Tribunal.
En este caso, el reclamo es ante una corte doméstica en los Estados Unidos contra una empresa multinacional y ante esta instancia no hay ninguna justificación para obviar el derecho que tiene la familia al pago de una reparación justa e integral. A las empresas también se les debe obligar a pagar reparaciones por los daños y las violaciones de derechos humanos de los que se les encuentre responsables. La familia cree que la demanda presentada en los Estados Unidos es la única oportunidad de la familia para obtener justicia ante las violaciones cometidas por Newmont y Minera Yanacocha, y la posibilidad de generar precedentes sobre la responsabilidad que tienen las empresas de la industria extractiva por actuar de manera arbitraria y violenta contra las campesinas y campesinos de nuestro continente.