Throughout the developing world, many resource development projects are causing grave harm to the environment and human rights of affected communities. This is happening in particular to the lands, health, culture, and way of life of indigenous peoples. Projects are too often undertaken or conducted in disregard of the rights and views of these communities, and without taking necessary measures to avoid damage to the environment. The resulting harms include the denial of the most fundamental civil and political freedoms, displacement, and large-scale and severe human health effects and environmental devastation. Governments are often complicit in this behavior.
Litigation in national courts using domestic law
Environmental defenders often must turn to the courts to seek effective remedies. In national courts around the world, a growing number of private and public interest attorneys are bringing cases based on domestic law to prevent unwanted resource development projects, and to obtain compensation and other remedies for victims of harms related to those projects.
Legal actions threaten serious financial and reputational consequences for the offending party that violates human rights. They also put others on notice of the risk of rights violations occurring, and of the potential for legal liability in the absence of active measures to prevent such violations. Successful cases will lead to more cases being filed for similar violations, and the risk of cascading consequences can have a preventive effect on future violations.
EDLC’s grant program
EDLC believes that the financial obstacles to bringing these cases can be overcome in part by advancing expenses to lawyers pursuing such claims. In 2010, EDLC created a grant program for expenses in public interest litigation against those responsible for resource development projects that harm the human rights, health, and environment of communities in developing countries. EDLC’s financial support can make the difference between whether or not a case is brought.
While cases are much less expensive to litigate in developing countries, the ability of local groups and their lawyers to obtain even these relatively small amounts of money for expenses and/or legal fees is critical. Yet it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to obtain such funding from foundations on a “one time, one case” basis. This underscores the need for EDLC’s fund- the only one of its type spanning the developing world. EDLC has provided roughly one hundred grants supporting cases of this type, a number of which are described in the Cases section of this website.
Whether or not EDLC provides a grant in a particular case, it can often help by finding lawyers or providing other resources.
How to Apply
Contact EDLC by email for further information on what types of cases are eligible, how the program works, and how to apply.
EDLC Programs in Action
Cambodian Villagers Sue Sugar Company over Land Grabs
After Thai sugar giant Mitr Phol obtained a concession in 2008 to develop a massive plantation in northern Cambodia, thousands of local villagers were forcibly displaced from their land as they watched their crops be looted and their homes demolished and burned. In 2015, the Thai National Human Rights Commission found Mitr Phol responsible for the land grab and called upon the company to “correct and remedy the impacts,” but no compensation was provided. U.S. NGO Inclusive Development International and its partner Equitable Cambodia then asked EDLC for support in bringing a class action case in Thailand against the company on behalf of over hundreds of Cambodian families harmed by the project. EDLC has provided funding, furnished ongoing legal and strategic advice, and recruited a pro bono economist to support the case.
In 2019, the trial court denied certification of the class of more than 700 farming families. But in July 2020, the court of appeals reversed the decision, holding that the plaintiffs could bring the case on a class basis. The appellate court’s decision in this case— the first transnational natural resource development case brought outside of Europe or North America—establishes an important precedent promoting access to justice for foreign plaintiffs harmed by the actions of companies abroad. EDLC is now assisting the plaintiffs as they prepare for trial on the merits.