EDLC is frequently asked to advise communities, their lawyers, non-governmental organizations, and others concerning strategies, resources, and networking in environmental human rights matters. EDLC has provided such advice on matters arising in dozens of countries around the world, and EDLC staff members have been invited to every continent to speak on human rights and corporate accountability issues before legal groups, non-governmental organizations, and foundations.
Protecting the rights of environmental defenders
Environmental defenders are suffering direct violations of their fundamental civil and political human rights. EDLC’s resources provide a starting point for learning how to fight back against these human rights violations, and include information on:
- Resource Directory for Environmental Defenders
- Defending against criminal charges and defamation (SLAPP) lawsuits
- Combating impunity
- Human rights law and remedies
- Violations in countries around the world
- How EDLC can help
Communities often need assistance from scientific and other experts, whether for litigation or for other purposes. EDLC has access to a number of expert networks, and has helped obtained expert assistance on numerous occasions. Experts are often willing to work on a pro bono or reduced fee basis, and EDLC is often able to fund their expenses.
Preparing legal briefs: local cases, international law
EDLC is frequently asked to assist local lawyers in cases brought before domestic courts. These cases typically involve violations of the human rights of community members resulting from harm to their environment. Domestic courts are usually required to consider international law in deciding these cases, and people affected by harm to their environment enjoy substantial protections under international human rights law. Yet local lawyers often lack the time or training to address these issues, and many judges have a limited understanding of the relevant international law they must consider.
As a result, EDLC frequently prepares and submits legal briefs in these cases, focusing on the key issues under international human rights law. This international approach also dovetails with the local lawyers’ focus on domestic law. EDLC has written briefs in cases that seek recognition of the land rights of indigenous peoples, tackle health and environmental harm caused by pollution from resource development projects, fight for the participatory rights of communities affected by mines and dams, and defend speech and protest critical of a wide variety of environmental harms.
EDLC Programs in Action
Mexican Town Saved from Dam
The residents of the historic town of Temacapulín in Jalisco learned in 2008 that their homes would be flooded by the El Zapotillo dam. After some initial losses, lawyers working for the law collective COAPI finally obtained a court decision in 2011 halting construction of the dam. The ruling declared that the rights of the residents of Temacapulín had been violated because they had not been informed or consulted before the decision was made to flood their town. The Mexican government refused to enforce the decision.
EDLC prepared an analysis of the Mexican government’s violations of international law and displacement standards in the course of the project. The analysis was submitted in a legal brief and in an expert study that were widely used in support of the various lawsuits to stop the dam. EDLC also provided critical funding for the local lawyers. Meanwhile, the residents of Temacapulín organized a local vote in which they would express their opinion on the project. The vote, validated by authorities, resulted in 98% of the voters opposing the project.
In 2013, the Supreme Court of Mexico ruled that the agreement signed by the state of Jalisco to increase the size of the dam was void, and ordered that the dam not be built higher than eighty meters, as originally planned. The lawyers have returned to the trial court on several occasions since, and have succeeded in keeping this order in place. For now, the town has been spared.