Category Archives: Activism

Corporate Impunity: Strategies of struggle (Part I)

2016 was an important year in our continent’s struggle against corporate impunity: the first session of the Southern African Peoples Permanent Tribunal (PPT) took place in Swaziland. This Court, which was founded more than 30 years ago in Italy, is an independent body that examines situations of systemic human rights violations – especially in cases where existing legislation (both national and international) is not capable of safeguarding the rights of populations. Although it does not have the power to issue an obligatory sentence for the company (which, by the way, is very important and is one of the reasons we are working for – but let’s talk about it later on), the PPT is strategically very important: On the one hand, it allows victims to be heard and advised by a panel of experts from various areas and to establish partnerships; and on the other, it is a moment of complaint and visibility for the cases, and therefore, of exposure to infringing companies. And although in our country this criminal impunity is often seen as a synonym of cleverness and of the perpetrators degree of influence, on the international level things are not quite like that. Being labelled as a human rights violator is a matter of great concern to these corporations, and therefore it can lead to a change of attitude – not because their ethical principles and values are very important to them, but simply because a bad reputation affects the only thing that truly matters to corporations: their profits.

Ten cases from Swaziland, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Zambia and Mozambique were presented in last year’s PPT, most of them related to the extractive industry. From our country, for the serious impacts that their activities have on the communities around them and for the noncompliance with the promises they made to those communities before settling in the region (to the point that one of them actually started its mining activities without resettling those living within the concession area – as we have denounced through various channels including this one), we took to the court VALE and JINDAL. A Panel of Jurors listened attentively to the communities’ grievances and to a contextualization made by invited experts, and then released its deliberations.

This year the process is repeated: in August, seven cases from the Southern Africa region will be presented by the affected communities themselves and by the civil society organizations who work with them. This time, the general theme of the cases is Land, Food and Agriculture. In addition to cases presented by Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Madagascar and Mauritius – who will denounce large corporations such as Parmalat and Monsanto – this session of the PPT will also hear the denunciation of two Mozambican cases: the proposed Mphanda Nkuwa dam on the already strangled Zambezi River; and ProSavana, the Mozambican, Brazilian and Japanese governments’ triangular partnership program that aims to develop agribusiness in the Nacala Corridor. These two Mozambican cases have the same particularity: they are not yet implemented. However, and this is what made us chose these two cases for this year’s PPT (because, let’s face it, what we are not lacking in our country are examples of human rights violations by private initiatives), despite not being implemented yet, its impacts are not less significant.

In Mphanda Nkuwa, for example, local communities were visited for the first time in 2000 by representatives of the companies responsible for the construction of the dam. They ere warned that they could not build new houses in that region because they would not be compensated for them. Since then, these people live in total uncertainty and can no longer make any long-term plans, at the risk of losing their assets when they start construction. ProSavana, on the other hand, has been characterized by the secrecy, manipulation and misrepresentation of information with the aim of promoting a false idea that the project will promote agricultural development in the northern region of the country, while in fact it is an initiative that will serve to facilitate large scale encroachment of peasant lands. This program will also destroy the livelihoods of local populations and exacerbate their already grave poverty. There are already reports of manipulation and intimidation of leaders of local peasant organizations.

The mobilization of civil society (Mozambican, Japanese and Brazilian) in opposition to ProSavana was fundamental to halt to the initial plans of this program and postpone the conclusion of its Master Plan. The purpose of taking these two cases to the PPT is to bring together even more elements that may help stop these projects.

Spaces such as the PPT are also crucial for perceiving trends, identifying development models, and analyzing common practices of transnational corporations – as well as their strategies to escape responsibility. Thus, by moving these experiences to a more global scale, it is easy to see that these violations of fundamental human rights are not perpetrated by one or another transnational corporation in isolation. That is, these are not a couple of rotten apples in a sack full of beautiful apples. Rather, it is a generalized behavior that is enabled by an architecture of impunity, characteristic of our extractive capitalist development system. This architecture of impunity puts corporate rights above human rights, and makes way for an abundant number of examples of very lucrative corporate crimes.

The architecture of impunity consists of several elements and actors:

We have the economic power of corporations – on the basis of which these establish their relations with one another and with states – and of international financial institutions;

We have political power, which in turn is responsible for capturing policies and politicians that fail to regulate the collective interests of society to serve private interests;

Trade architecture, embodied by numerous trade and investment agreements, facilitates profit and allows corporations to file lawsuits against governments should they make decisions that affect their anticipated profits;

Legal power is represented by the financial capacity to hire and dispose of influential lawyers who defend corporations in endless processes, as well as by inadequate and insufficient legal instruments that regulate their actions; and finally

Social power, which is exercised in all spheres of our lives through the influence that corporations have in the media, academic spaces, civil society organizations, among others.

Discussing some of these elements and developing the cases that will be presented in the PPT next month, were the objectives that motivated the Workshop on the Architecture of Impunity, held in the context of the Southern Africa Campaign to Dismantle Corporate Power. Since it is the affected communities themselves who present the cases to the Panel of Jurors in the PPT, this enabled them to get the support of several resource people, to appeal, discuss and deepen the specificities of their denunciations and also to identify common ground with the other cases.

But the struggle to end corporate impunity is not only fought in the field of opinion sentences, nor is the important opinion of a panel of judges our only weapon to demand a different behavior from transnational corporations. Another battle is being waged to develop a legal instrument that will ultimately have the power to condemn and punish corporations – since the absence of such an instrument is currently one of the biggest gaps in international law. We are talking about the UN Intergovernmental Working Group, created in 2014 with the mandate to develop a binding treaty for transnational corporations on human rights issues, which will meet in October this year for its third session. At this time, transnational corporations simply have to follow voluntary standards and guiding principles that “advise” best practices on human rights issues. There is no doubt that this blind faith in corporate goodwill has had grave and irreparable consequences, both on people and on the planet. In next month’s article, we will look into this issue more carefully, getting deeper into the debate about the urgency of a legal mechanism that is accessible to any community affected by the operations of a transnational corporation. For now, we continue to look closely at next month’s PPT, certain that this will be another important moment regarding the convergence of struggles for a fairer, healthier and more common-good oriented world.

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When African Renewable Energy Was Hijacked

A few years ago, during the United Nations climate change negotiations in Paris in December 2015, 55 African leaders launched the Africa Renewable Energy Initiative (AREI). It pledged to follow a people-centred approach to renewable energy development and energy access work across our continent. It talked about rights and equity, very important for our context and for justice. It talked about community ownership and distributed power for African people, in both senses of the word ‘power’. It demanded new and additional renewable energy for our people – no double counting of funds for other projects. It was an African-owned and African-led initiative.

JA! people participated in the AREI meetings in Paris in December 2015 and in Marrakesh in November 2016. Civil society was included into this process from the beginning. Could this become something we would be proud of as Africans? The AREI was a unique approach, in a continent marred by ever-increasing development of dirty energies like coal, oil, gas and big hydro, where it is commonplace to sacrifice our people, kill the local ecology, grab lands and destroy the climate at the same time. The AREI put in strong and important criteria in place to avoid these terrible impacts and said that projects would not support fossil fuels or nuclear.

The AREI really pledged to be different. And this pledge to go for a different, people-based approach is really important. It moves us away from a system fix approach to a system change approach, to change the base principles which drive how we think about energy for people.

In Paris, developed countries stepped forward with $10 billion in pledges to support this initiative. But would these countries really let this initiative survive? Or would money talk? The frightening answer came just over a year later, and by early March 2017, the AREI was already in danger.

The first attack came from the European Commission (EC), and the French government which had helped birth this initiative in the UN talks in their country. What did the attack look like? They came forward at the board meeting with a plan to fund 19 renewable energy projects with an investment of a whopping 4.8 billion. You can read the press release dated 4 March of the European Commission at this link – http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-17-442_en.htm. When something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. The claim for 4.8 billion is false, they are providing a mere €300 million themselves and hoping to leverage the rest. Not just that, remember the AREI’s commitment for new and additional projects with strong criteria to prevent environmental injustices? Well, these proposed projects were already partly pre-existing ones, with all kinds of double-counting and dodgy accounting taking place on the financing. Some of the projects, like a geothermal project in Ethiopia, are from 2014, the year before the AREI initiative was even finalized. Worst of all, these projects are being rammed through without caring about criteria and impacts. Our colleagues discovered that at least 1 of these projects involves fossil fuels interests. We heard that 14 of these projects were just rubber-stamped through, while 5 of them were not even reviewed due to lack of time. The base principles of AREI were the first to be under attack. Even the vague notion of system change is threatening to the system.

 

African civil society began to hit back at this affront. By early April, JA! had joined over 180 African organizations who signed up to a letter demanding this hijack of the AREI be reversed. Last week at the UN negotiations in Bonn, on 18 May 2017, 111 international organizations outside of Africa released a letter supporting the African demands for the EC and France to stop the hijack of African renewable energy. A lot of media pick-up has happened around these letters.

The EC knows it is being watched and is now on the back-foot. Our European colleagues were invited to a meeting with them in Bonn last week, where they found out that the EC is seriously trying to do damage control. They are shocked by the media pick-up and are calling it a scandal. But they are not yet saying how they will do things differently. This meeting took place on 16 May 2017. Some mainstream system-fix type civil society people already wanted to stop the international letter since they said the EC is talking to us. Others said, no way, the EC and France need to be exposed and they made sure the letter was released 2 days later, before the Bonn talks closed. You can read the press release here- http://campaign.r20.constantcontact.com/render?m=1102862873361&ca=c6022777-a64f-4bd8-b159-69ebbf8df668.

The Tragic Murder of Berta Caceres

In the early hours of the morning of 3rd March, Indigenous activist from Honduras and human rights defender, Berta Cáceres, was murdered in her home.
 
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Berta Caceres in the Rio Blanco region of western Honduras. Photo courtesy: Goldman Environmental Prize

Berta organised her fellow indigenous Lenca people. She was the co-founder, in 1993, of the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH). She was addressing the constant threats posed to indigenous communities in Honduras by illegal logging, and was supporting their fight for their territories and secure their livelihoods. They were opposing the Agua Zarca dam on the sacred Gualcarque river, which was being pushed by Chinese and Honduran companies.
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Berta Caceres at her beloved and sacred Gualcarque River where she, and the people of Rio Blanco have maintained a two year struggle to halt construction on the Agua Zarca Hydroelectric project. Photo courtesy: Goldman Environmental Prize

 
Since the US-backed military coup in Honduras in 2009, activists and human rights defenders have been under severe threat. Gustavo Castro Soto, from Otros Mundos Chiapas (Friends of the Earth Mexico) was in Berta’s home and is a witness to Berta’s killing. As of this writing, we are demanding that Honduran authorities provide him with safe passage to return to Mexico unharmed.
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  Photo courtesy: Friends of the Earth International.

The world should remember: Lima talks did nothing to stop the climate crisis

The UN climate change talks in Lima are over. Instead of finishing on Friday afternoon, they went on till 4am on Sunday. It came close to a few break-downs because developing countries were really pushing back at the way at which developed countries were trying to control the situation. But finally there was a so-called ‘consensus’. But make no mistake, what was agreed in Lima did not and will not do anything to stop climate change.

The final approved text was driven by the interests of rich developed countries and corporations. This contrasted sharply with the real leadership and inspiration demonstrated in Lima by social movements, organisations and the communities on the frontline, who are already suffering the impacts of climate change.

Rich developed countries came to Lima determined to ensure that the outcome reflected their short term economic interests, as if the climate crisis really does not matter. The outcome lacks courage, justice and solidarity with the billions of people affected by climate change.

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Activists chanting “no justice, no deal” 2 hours before the final terrible text was approved. Photo credit: Yumi Sato
At the same time as the negotiations, again this year the Philippines endured more extreme weather and communities around the world are paying for the carbon excess of others with their lives and livelihoods. The Lima outcome failed people and the planet at a time when real solutions are needed more urgently than ever before.

The outcome says nothing about the drastic emissions reductions needed before 2020, without which we are at risk of an even greater temperature rise and climate breakdown. The outcome undermines historical responsibility. The urgent obligation of developed countries to provide climate finance is glaringly missing. This text creates an architecture that will set us up for a doomed deal in Paris. This is completely unacceptable. Governments of developed countries need to urgently find the necessary courage and political will to deal with the scale of this planetary emergency.

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Protest inside COP 20 demanding an end to dirty energy. Photo credit: Luka Tomac

But away from the negotiating halls, people continue to mobilize and build an enduring movement to implement the real solutions to the climate crisis. Justiça Ambiental was there observing and building alliances with movements and organisations. The Peoples’ Summit on Climate Change (Cumbre de los Pueblos/ Cupula dos Povos) – which ran parallel to the UN talks – gathered together social movements and organisations from Peru, Latin America and all over the world. They exchanged experiences and continued to build momentum for the transformation needed to address the roots of the climate crisis and create a better, cleaner and more just world.

Almost 20,000 people marched in a huge protest (the March in Defense of Mother Earth) on December 10 — international human rights day.

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Thousands marching into the historic Plaza San Martin in central Lima, demanding climate justice. Photo credit: Luka Tomac

From farmers to miners to environmentalists to students… Marchers called for justice and real solutions to the climate crisis, including steep and immediate reductions in carbon emissions, stopping fossil fuels and deforestation, building renewable community-owned energy solutions, and protecting our agroecological food sovereignty systems.

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No false solutions! No REDD! Demands from the Dec 10 Human Rights Day march in Lima. Photo credit: Babawale Obayanju

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He steals, but he builds

A few days ago, the following headline caught our attention: “Roba, pero hace obras.” The article was from a Peruvian newspaper, and the statement was Susana Villarán’s, Alcaldesa (Mayor) of Lima, Peru’s capital, and candidate for re-election on the election that took place on the 5th of this month.

Campaigning, and by way of provocation to one of her political opponents, Villarán directed a shrewd critique to the Peruvian electorate, stating that the people were often too passive in the face of corruption. “This expression he steals but he builds is well known, (…) this kind of tolerance, that we get acquainted with in our homes, in schools, is everywhere and it is a terribly damaging culture.” – said the Peruvian politician.

Needless to say, a huge controversy broke out, and in the days that followed, many of the most important South American news media mentioned the case.

While political developments in Peru are of little or no interest to us Mozambicans, we could not help but find this news very interesting, the result of a very familiar social context and, as such, worthy of being shared. With our general elections at the door, and in a country where there is so much talk about corruption and so much corruption as there is in ours, we thought we could use it as a motto to share some ideas.

How many of us have heard, regarding elections in the country, the following barbarity: “Better leave him in power, at least he is already rich. If another comes, he will still have to get rich.” This is an example of the tolerance that Susana Villarán referred to, and it has to cease to exist in our society too so that we can move forward. Political corruption, regardless of shape or volume, is not acceptable in any way and should not be tolerated.

Another barbarity is the belief that the correct actions and decisions of someone in a position of power, serve as a counterweight to balance the ethical and morally wrong things they do. The good performance of a politician gives him/her credibility, not the right to take advantage of his/her position. After all, is it not the work of those in positions of power to honourably serve those who put them there? Do they not get a salary for it? Why are those who are caught stealing or conning their bosses arrested and fired and corrupt politicians in this country are not? These ideas may seem basic, but a lot of very well educated people often forget them.

But the problem of corruption in Mozambique is far deeper and extends far beyond our tolerance to the corruption of the political class. Far beyond… The biggest problem is that, among those who can afford to do it, corrupting someone is socially acceptable. It is OK to bribe the police. It is OK to “buy” a drivers license. It is OK to circumvent the Law of the Land to be able to get “that lot”. The result: after corrupting a lot of people on our way up, when we reach the top of the hierarchy, we Mozambicans think we have the right to be corrupted.

It is a cultural problem that we all have long been well aware of and that, as a people, we should all be engaged in solving. And we cannot afford the luxury of waiting for our leaders to take the initiative.

As a society, we have to be more demanding. For our democracy to grow, we must also grow and demand that our leaders grow with us. We have to guide them, we can not continue to allow them to decide our fates. We must show them the way we want to go. We must learn to impose our will, and they must learn to accept the responsibility to fulfil it.

Soon we will have elections and the possibility to choose who will represent us in the coming years. Let’s do it intelligently, and regardless of who wins, so that things truly change, we have to make it clear from the beginning that we, the people, own this country. That is what Democracy is all about.

Tear-drop in the Indian Ocean: JA! in Sri Lanka

In early October, Justiça Ambiental participated in the International Conference on The Role of Communities in Environmental Decision-Making. It was held in a beautiful forest resort in Kandy, in the central highlands of Sri Lanka. Kandy was the capital of the last kingdom in Sri Lanka. It fell to the British as late as 1815, after fighting off the Portuguese and Dutch colonisers for 300 years.

This was the pre-conference, which is always held before the Friends of the Earth International Biannual General Meeting (BGM). The pre-conference gives a chance for FoE member groups to meet and interact with communities from the local country that is hosting the BGM.

 

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JA staff along with over a hundred people from Friends of the Earth International. Photo credit: Victor Barro, FoEI

 

The pre-conference is based on the clear understanding that listening to the voices of local communities is the most vital part in environment and development decision-making. It is based on principles of environmental democracy, free prior and informed consent and management and ownership of resources in the hands of local communities.

JA’s Programs Officer presented at the session on ‘Infrastructure Development and Community Rights’. He talked about the struggles that Mozambican communities are facing because of the onslaught of mega-projects that are destroying community lives and livelihoods. JA staff also chaired the session on environmental decision-making for urban communities. Changes in urban settings are usually very rapid compared to rural environment. Poor communities are often displaced more than once. When they are displaced from their lands and forests, they usually become merely a labour source in urban centres and lose their traditions and rights. It was wonderful to interact with Sri Lankan communities, many of whom are facing very similar situations to those in Mozambique.

 

In the evening, we were treated to a cultural night, including traditional Kandyan dancers. It was nice to see how dance is such a crucial part of all ancient cultures and there are some similar themes across continents. The Kandyan dancers used some masks and themes that are reminiscent of those used in the northern Mozambican communities.

 

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Kanyan dancers. Photo credit: Daniel Ribeiro

 

The wonderful keynote address that night was delivered by Justice C.G. Weeramanthri. He is a Sri Lankan lawyer who served as a Judge of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague, from 1991 to 2000. Winner of the Right Livelihood Award in 2007, Justice Weeramanthri talked about the need for an ombudsman for future generations. “Nobody owns even one inch of land,” he said. He reminded us of the Native American tradition to consider the next 7 generations in our environmental decision-making.

Unfortunately the government of Mozambique and most other countries across the world at this moment are doing exactly the opposite. At least the Sri Lankan government seems to work a bit with local civil society, while here in Mozambique the government is usually working hard to undermine or weaken civil society.

After this inspiring speech, FoE Sri Lanka presented Environmental and Social Justice Awards to 13 icons of Sri Lanka. The list included an indigenous Vedda person who plays a leadership role in the indigenous rights, a Buddhist monk who has been instrumental in saving the Nilgala forest, a recently-deceased elder from the youth revolution of the 1970s who founded the Movement for Land and Agriculture Reforms and others.

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These monks were among those honoured with the environmental awards. Photo credit: Daniel Ribeiro

We felt honoured and humbled to be in the presence of these amazing individuals and movement leaders who have played an important role in the civil society of Sri Lanka.

Mozambique marches in support of Palestine

Yesterday, Saturday (2nd Aug) thousands of Mozambicans marched on the streets of our capital Maputo. Civil society and the general public, we all marched in solidarity with the Palestinian people and against the crimes committed by Israel against civilians, especially Palestinian children.

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Stop the massacre

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Marchers

Justiça Ambiental team also participated in the march, with our t-shirts bearing the Palestinian flag with the words ‘Palestina Livre’ (free Palestine) written across it. On the back was one of Yasser Arafat’s famous sayings, “A minha causa é liberdade” (My cause is liberation).

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JA people at the march

 

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Mozambican children marching for Palestinian children

 

We marched the streets chanting, “Palestina, Moçambique esta contigo” (Palestine, Mozambique is with you) and “Palestina viva” (long live Palestine) and “matança de crianças abaixo” (down with the killings of children) and more…

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“You just need to be human”

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Everyone gathered at the Samora Machel statue in Maputo

(All photos from Justiça Ambiental)

 

‘Israel has decided to be a racist apartheid state and not a democracy’

Once again the full murderous force of Israel’s military machine is unleashed against defenceless Palestinians in Gaza, while world leaders just watch the genocide of a nation in real time and do nothing.  When I started writing this article the death toll was well above 100 Palestinians (over half women and children) and zero Israeli civilian casualties or even major injuries, despite extensive coverage by western media of the deadly rocket attacks from Gaza. Sadly by the time I had finished writing the article the Palestinian death toll had gone over 1000 and by the time you read this it would have probably more than doubled. As Israeli Professor, Ilan Pappé says, “Israel, in 2014, made a decision that it prefers to be a racist apartheid state and not a democracy.”

Israel’s aggression violates the UN Charter and fundamental international laws and principles, but this is not new and past commissions have found numerous war atrocities and violations carried out by Israel during past attacks that have not resulted in any concrete actions by the UN or our world leaders. The international reaction to this latest crisis confirms that neither law nor justice dominate the diplomacy of leading western states and the UN, but geopolitical alignments.

One just needs a quick look at the history of the conflict to confirm this bias and lack of action in the face of undeniable facts. The UN has defined Israel’s occupation as illegal and numerous UN resolutions have demanded the withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from the occupied territories. UN resolution 3379 from 1975 even went on to declare Israeli Zionism ideology as a form of racism, stating “the racist regime in occupied Palestine and the racist regime in Zimbabwe and South Africa have a common imperialist origin, forming a whole and having the same racist structure and being organically linked in their policy aimed at repression of the dignity and integrity of the human being.” Desmond Tutu, Ronnie Kasrils, and other ANC members that fought against apartheid, clearly see the parallels and define the Israeli occupation of Palestine as a form of apartheid. Yet the world denounced and ended apartheid in one place, but is allowing the other to continue. Even when Nelson Mandela stated that “we know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians”.

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Photo: Grabbing of Palestinian land by Israel

Numerous leaders and public figures have spoken out in support of Palestine, from Nobel Peace Prize winners such as Desmond Tutu, Mairead Maguire, Betty Williams and Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, to civil society groups around the world representing millions of people, such as Friends of the Earth, La Via Campesina, and many more. This criticism is not new, during the early days of the creation of Israel numerous influential individuals, such as Mahatma Gandhi and Albert Einstein, raised concerns and criticism. Today even celebrities that are not known to be political have voiced their support of the Palestinian cause, such as footballer Cristiano Ronaldo. For anyone that doesn’t have the time to look into the details or considers the history too complicated, there is an easier way to decide on which side you should belong, simply look at the people you admire, your moral leaders.

Here in Mozambique, Samora Machel was a strong supporter of the Palestinian peoples’ struggles, and Yasser Arafat was a close ally and even attended Samora’s funeral. In Zambia, Kenneth Kaunda was an outspoken supporter of the Palestinian struggle. Many more moral leaders have already done the homework for you. If we claim to be people that are guided by justice and morals it’s now time for us to show solidarity towards the Palestinian people and their struggle.

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Photo: Friends of the Earth International solidarity mission to Palestine, October 2013

I was part of Friends of the Earth International’s latest solidarity mission to Palestine at the end of last year. Even though we were invited by Palestinians, they do not have the authority to invite us into their own country. Instead we had to get an Israeli visa. On arrival the first question asked by Israeli authorities is whether you plan on visiting the West Bank. If you answer yes you most likely will not be allowed entry at all. So we had to enter Palestine ‘unofficially’.

Heavy army presence is evident everywhere, there are road blocks and check points at the entrances to all cities in the West Bank. Israeli soldiers check everyone who passes, always and independent of the prevailing political tensions. This control has prevented over 11 million Palestinian refugees from returning home, even though they are entitled under the Geneva Convention on Refugees to return, which Israel continues to deny. Based on current borders only 17.7% of Palestine (all in the cities) is under Palestinian control, while the rest is controlled by the Israeli army. However, even in the areas under Palestinian control have numerous restrictions imposed by the Israeli army.

The Israeli occupation doesn´t stop with the control of land and movement, but an attack on all the fundamentals of human rights such as water, heath, education, childhood, labour, culture, etc. It is a total structured suppression of a nation to the point where it is a process of colonisation and ethnic cleansing.

During our visit, we realised that given the desert type of environment, water is a very valuable and vital resource for existence. All Palestinian water resources are under the complete control of the Israeli army, which regularly destroy Palestinian bore-holes and block construction of new ones. They impose inhumane water restrictions on Palestinians, while allowing excessive and unstainable use by Israeli settlers. The double standards and water grab by Israelis are impossible to hide. At present Isreali settlers consume daily almost 400 litres per person (more than double of London’s average use) and have swimming pools, exotic gardens and extensive agricultural lands with water-intensive crops that should never be planted in the desert. Meanwhile Palestinians don’t even come close to receiving the World Health Organisation’s daily recommended 100 litres per person and many survive on a little as 10 litres per day.

Water is just one of the fundamental pillars of life that is consistently being used by Israel to break the Palestinian nation and spirit, but it’s the same story for all sectors.

In health, Israel sends its waste to get dumped in Palestine and all high-polluting industries that were in Israel in the 1970s and were ordered by Courts to close due to risks to human health, were instead moved right next to Palestinian cities, like the Geshuri factories near Tulkarem. Israel is very aware of the health risks because, even today, if the wind starts blowing towards Israel, these factories have to halt production. But Palestinians have to just endure the toxins and cancer rates have increased significantly in the area.

The more time we spent in Palestine the more facts and details are continually exposed about the inhumane, unjust, illegal occupation of Palestine by Israel. We heard numerous accounts that the Israeli military arrests Palestinian children as young as 5 years old, a high number of whom are subjected to physical and verbal abuse and are threatened with sexual assault and death to themselves or their families. This abuse is confirmed by UN reports which also add that, in the last decade, over 7000 children are have been arrested and tortured.

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Palestinian children in a village where water & electricity access has been harmed by Israel (Daniel Ribeiro)

Everywhere we went, we saw the Israeli military abuse. In Zbeidat the military blocked the construction of a water and sewage system. Jobet Adeeb near Bethlehem has no electricity or water sewage system, and is barred from installing solar panels, electrical wiring, borehole or almost any structure that would improve the standard of living but the nearby Israeli settlement has all the modern luxuries and services. We visited a village that has been completely demolished, even though Israeli courts have recognised the rights to the land. Many more Palestinians that we met talked about the constant demolition notices they receive, that sometime are carried out immediately while others stay hanging over the family’s head for over a year, never knowing when the military would come to demolish their home. But just like in Gaza today, they know it will happen that one day they arrive home to a pile of rubble.

These experiences are all too common and regular that anyone that want to know the truth has to just spend some time in Palestine. I could carryon for pages and pages of the injustices and abuse by Israel. The evidence is clear. I often hear today’s younger generation asking our elders how did they let it happen – slavery, apartheid in South Africa, 2 World Wars, genocides and many other atrocities. I am sure that our children and grandchildren will ask us the same question. How and why did you allow the Palestinian genocide to happen? And in truth we have no excuses. As the saying goes: all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good people do nothing.

There are easy ways that all of us can help, such as supporting the Boycott, Disinvest and Sanctions (BDS) campaign. The campaign is non-violent and is inspired by the civil rights movement against segregation in the US and by the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. It is based on three basic pillars or principles:

  • Ending occupation and colonisation of all Arab lands occupied in June 1967 and dismantling the Apartheid Wall;
  • Recognising the fundamental rights and full equality of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel;
  • Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.

All these demands have a basis in UN resolutions on Palestine and they are simply requesting implementation of international law. They are basic rights and first steps in the struggle for justice. I call on all of us to join.

 

Margarita Declaration from Venezuela calls for eradication of dirty energy

Activists from Friends of the Earth, including from Justiça Ambiental, were present at the preparatory meeting for the social pre-COP held in Venezuela in July 2014. We were among about 280 activists from 130 civil society organisations, from Venezuela and across the world. We met for 4 days at Isla Margarita, an island off the mainland of Venezuela, to move to defeat climate change.

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Activists at Isla Margarita for the social pre-COP

This social pre-COP was a unique event. There is a pre-COP held every year before the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) COPs, which are the official UN climate change negotiations. However, civil society is usually never included in the pre-COP. This time, the Venezuelan government had a vision to involve civil society and make this a social pre-COP.

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Claudia Salerno. Photo credit: Zack Embree

In fact, the Venezuela government had to make a special effort to politely decline the meddling of the UNFCCC Secretariat in this July meeting that just happened. The pre-COP is being held in 2 parts, one in July and the other in early November. The Secretariat was discouraged from attending the July meeting because the space was for civil society to speak to one another freely. This was a very positive step and allowed rich exchange between civil society organisations and social movements from 6 continents. There was also a bit of freedom to deviate from the strict, alienating language of the UNFCCC space. Usually, the UNFCCC requires people to learn a whole new language to engage with the space. “Do you speak climate change?” asked Claudia Salerno, the Vice-Minister of Venezuela, while she was addressing a climate justice assembly. The July meeting allowed the space for the peoples’ demands in our own words.

The content discussions took place in 5 mesas (roundtables), namely: (1) Social Impacts of Climate Change, (2) Climate and Ethics: differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, (3) Social participation to combat climate change, (4) Social Action for transformation, (5) Empowering Actions in Developing Countries.

Each mesa debated issues under their topic and finalised the language they would like to contribute to the final declaration. It was very important that the declaration process was driven almost entirely by the people, not by governments or by bureaucrats. When the final Margarita declaration was read out by the Venezuela government officials late afternoon on Friday, 18 July, the words were of the participants.

The Margarita Declaration was quite an inspiring document, and included strong statements like calling for the eradication of dirty energy and talked about leaving 80% of known fossil fuel reserves in the ground to stop catastrophic climate change.

Vice-Minister Salerno acknowledged that Venezuela also needs to change, and that developing countries need a just transition away from dirty energy. This was a big step. At a time when other governments, from USA to Australia, India to Indonesia, Argentina to Mozambique all want to ignore climate science and increase dirty energy, this acknowledgement is a step in the right direction.

The declaration acknowledged the historical responsibility of developed countries in creating the crisis and demanded them to reduce emissions drastically, while also providing finance and technology to developing countries so we can provide our people with energy and a life of dignity without dirty and harmful energy.

Responding to the corporate capture of UN spaces and governments, the declaration rejected the interference of corporations in UN decisions.

The declaration unequivocally rejected false solutions to the climate crisis, including carbon markets, commodification of life; geo-engineering, agrofuels, agrotoxics, ‘green economy’, intellectual property rights; the mega-dams, monocultures and nuclear energy.

Notably, the declaration stated that fighting climate change needs a transformation of the economic, political, social and cultural systems at all levels. We need to transform the consumption model into Buen Vivir (Good Living) and global cooperative societies. We agree and, interestingly, JA hosted a seminar on Buen Vivir in Catembe last September.

It was interesting to reflect on Mozambique’s experience while watching Venezuela’s reaction to the declaration. Mozambique also has no historical responsibility for climate change. However, our country is going full steam ahead with dirty energy development, most of which is not even for our people, but rather it is being sold to the highest bidder and shipped out of the ports. We demand community-owned renewable energy to meet the needs of our people, not large-scale dirty energy for elites. You can find the Margarita declaration in English and Spanish.

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 Activists at pre-COP showing solidarity with Gaza. Photo credit: Jagoda Munic

Ramesh Agrawal: Fighting Jindal’s bullets with information and solidarity

As he hobbled up to the stage with a walking stick on one side, and supported by his son on the other, the crowd cheered loudly. Ramesh Agrawal was one of the amazing people who won the coveted Goldman Environmental Prize this year. He was honoured at a ceremony in San Francisco, where JA staff where present. We also met and interviewed him a few days before the prize was announced.

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Photo courtesy: Goldman Environmental Prize

Ramesh Agrawal, who is respectfully called Rameshji in India, is from an organisation called Jan Chetna Manch, meaning a platform to raise peoples’ consciousness.

 

He lives in Chattisgarh state of eastern India, which is rich in mineral resources and because of this there has been a huge attack on the lands and resources of the local people by the state in conjunction with corporations. It is a state with a high percentage of tribal communities.

 

Through a small internet café which Rameshji runs, he organised local communities to use the right to information as a powerful tool to learn about and challenge ‘development’ projects planned in their areas. One of the main companies who he has been targeting is Jindal Steel & Power, the same company which is also currently mining coal in Tete province, Mozambique.

 

In July 2013, Jindal sent its goons who went into Rameshji’s internet café, shot at him and left him to die. They commented that he had been writing too much these days and needed to be taught a lesson. Somehow Rameshji managed to make a phone call and get help. But he has been severely harmed by the bullets that entered his body.

 

This wasn’t the first time Rameshji had been targeted by the state-corporate nexus. In May 2011, he was arrested on falsified charges of extortion and defamation. At 4am his house was surrounded and he was arrested and jailed for 72 days without bail. Surprisingly, the charges against him had been filed a year ago, in 2010. Yet he was arrested only a year later, making a mockery of the justice system.

 

Why was he being targeted? Rameshji was actively using information to organise people and to oppose irregularities in Jindal’s coal blocks in the state. They were doing construction on government land without proper land acquisition and without an environmental impact assessment (EIA).

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Photo courtesy: Goldman Environmental Prize

This is really striking because Jindal in Mozambique has been operating in similar ways. They have been mining coal without an EIA and with communities still living in the mining zone; they are having health problems and even their right to movement has even been severely hampered.

 

Rameshji told us that Jindal’s coal mining is causing pollution and coal ash in the air. This has impacted the lives of people. They are unable to make their traditional food badi anymore because they have no place to dry it without contamination from the coal ash. It is interesting that communities are facing such a similar situation in Mozambique where they have no place to dry their mandioca without coal contamination.

 

Of course the threats of Jindal are well known in Mozambique too. Rameshji explained that Jindal’s policy on those calling out for justice is clear: bribe them, threaten them to make them back down, or if that fails then remove them.

 

Jindal is politically well-connected and they run an active public relations to portray a ‘clean image’. This is also their weakness, that they are quite concerned about their image with banks, share markets, consortiums, etc.

 

Through talking to Rameshji, we learnt of the struggles of communities in India against Jindal which are so similar to the struggles of communities in Mozambique against the same company. We need to strengthen communities on both sides to gain information and to fight for their rights together.

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Photo: Justiça Ambiental

 

 

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