Friday, December 11, 2009

Environmental Lawyers: Telling the Stories has been hosting a remarkable series of environmental films and panels. I saw the movie “Crude” in the presence of representatives of the indigenous communities from Ecuador. This film documented the struggle the indigenous peoples of Ecuador have fought over the past 17 years against Chevron/Texaco. The oil companies have left an ecological mess where they have drilled for or transported oil. This film tells the stories of these people as they continue to suffer from cancers and other ailments they believe are related to the contaminated lands and water. It’s a remarkable story – with a fair amount of humor and hope – that I would recommend watching. The main lawyer for the plaintiffs is Pablo, who lives in a small shack and had just finished his law degree three years previously before taking on the “suits.”

After the film, a panel of one of the men working on the Ecuador case and three other environmental lawyers discussed some of the legal battles they have been fighting. One lawyer has been litigating a case in the Philippines where the children have sought protection for the forests, arguing that the forests should be there for their own and following generations. This is an important case exploring intergenerational rights. Another lawyer has been working with the Inuit, arguing that the Inuit have a right to culture – a culture that is being threatened by climate change.

Near the end of the Q&A session, I asked if the lawyers had had the same types of problems with threats that other human rights’ activists and witnesses have had in Central America and other regions. I was stunned by their answers. The lawyer from the Philippines had a contract put out on him and his partner – the partner was killed the next day. And the brother of Pablo, the Ecuadoran lawyer, was killed shortly after the first judicial investigation. And yet the fight continues – they are working for something greater than themselves. Next week there will be a film about the murder of a 77-year old American nun (Dorothy Stang) who was working to save the forests in Brazil. As one of the lawyers commented, “It’s a rough game.”

On a positive note, the lawyers believe that they are able to tell people’s stories through their litigation in a logical and evidence-based way. And they also believe that legal change is possible sometimes when political change is not.

On Saturday, four of us have tickets for the presentation by Wangari Maathai (Nobel Peace Prize 2004) and the film “Taking Root.”


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