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May 27, 2013

UPDATE: Guatemalan human rights defender Rubén Herrera has been released!

by Denis Burke — last modified May 27, 2013 05:25 PM

Rubén Herrera has been released following a decision by a Guatemalan court. Thousands of people around the world gave their support to a Friends of the Earth International email campaign.

Rubén Herrera's most recent hearing resulted in a provisional decision to grant his release. Friends of the Earth International will continue to monitor the situation. Family and friends have expressed their thanks to everyone around the world who sent an email to the Guatemalan authorities calling for his release.


Rubén Herrera was arrested as he left his house in Huehuetenango district, Guatemala on March 15 this year.


Rubén has been an active community organiser, working on many environmental and social justice campaigns and bringing together networks and organizations commited to social good for most of his adult life.


The flimsy reasons for his arrest – including incitement and kidnapping – were decisively refuted by Rubén and his defense during a hearing on March 19. However, despite requests by Guatemala's Public Prosecutor to dismiss the case due to a lack of evidence, the judge ordered that the case continue and that Rubén Herrera return to court at the end of May. Following this hearing, the judge decided to release him.


Rubén's case is part of a deeply disturbing cycle of criminalization of human rights and environmental activists in his part of Guatemala (Barillas, Huehuetenango). Spanish company Hidralia SA is building a hydroelectric dam in the area, despite 90% of local community members voicing their opposition to and voting against the implementation of hydroelectric and mining projects in a 2007 consultation. Local communities have repeatedly implicated the company in political repression, intimidation and manipulation of local and national legal processes in recent years. Rubén has been involved in efforts to demand that the company pull out of the area.


Read more about the controversies surrounding transnational corporations in Guatemala

Read about another recent case in Guatemala, involving Hidralia's dam.

Read an interview with the director of Friends of the Earth Guatemala

May 23, 2013

Everest expedition calls for climate justice from top of the world

by Denis Burke — last modified May 23, 2013 05:20 PM

The Climbing for Climate Justice Everest expedition – organised by the Save the Himalayas Campaign and Khangri Media, in collaboration with Friends of the Earth Nepal / Pro Public – successfully climbed Mt. Everest on May 20 to demand climate justice from the top of the world.


The team returned to Kathmandu and held a press conference on May 25, 2013.


Sudarshan Gautam – a Nepal-born Canadian resident who has no arms – has just become the first person with no arms or prosthetic limbs to climb Mt Everest. He told the media that he saw how climate change is affecting the Himalayas, and stated that “Mount Everest has lost most of its glacier and now largely looks like a big black rock.” He urged the world community to reduce greenhouse gas emissions immediately.


Pemba Dorje Sherpa – who holds the world record for climbing Mount Everest in the fastest time and has set four World Records climbing Mt. Everest - said that it has become easier to reach the top due to climate change as there is less and less snow on Mt Everest. “You can get to camp 3 just using sports shoes these days,” he said.

Prakash Mani Sharma, Director of Friends of the Earth Nepal congratulated expedition members and thanked them for their effort to raise awareness of climate justice.

“Nepal is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and the people of Nepal are already suffering its consequences. Himalayan glaciers are melting rapidly and the risks of glacial lake outburst floods have significantly increased. There are more than 40 glacial lakes at risk of bursting. Outburst floods have catastrophic impacts on the life and property of the thousands of people residing downstream of those lakes,” warned Prakash Mani Sharma.

Two expedition members, Kapur Shrestha, and Min Bahadur Sherchan, 82, could not reach the top with the expedition and decided to attempt the climb separately, but were ultimately prevented from reaching the summit.

Nepali climber Min Bahadur Sherchan, 82, was aiming to become the oldest man to summit the mountain, a record he held for five years, until May 22, 2013, when 80 year old Yuichiro Miura from Japan summited the world's highest peak.


You can read more about the expedition in our press release and more on the rivalry between these octogenarian climbers in this article by Associated Press.


Image: Climbing for Climate Justice/ Save the World Heritage and Everest is Melting -  banners held by Pemba Dorge Sherpa ( left with white helmet ) and Suman Shrestha ( right without helmet )

Khangri Media and Pro Public/ FOE Nepal

May 21, 2013

Land grabbing in Uganda: Voices from the community

by Denis Burke — last modified May 21, 2013 01:15 PM

Images and videos capture personal and moving testimonies by people affected by Wilmar's plantations in Kalangala, Uganda.


Wilmar International is developing palm oil plantations in biodiverse islands off the coast of Lake Victoria, Uganda. The first phase of the project was completed in 2011 and the second phase of the project is currently going ahead. The second phase will expand palm oil plantations onto several other islands. The project is being promoted as a poverty-reducing endeavour, yet it is causing displacement, food insecurity and deforestation. Read more on the background to this case.



Watch more video testimonies from community members affected by land grabbing >

Images and personal stories





Land grabbing in Uganda II


Nathaniel Bagira


Okia comes from the mainland and is a palm plantation security guard. He is employed to protect the land from locals looking for firewood or people attempting to remove diesel from the diggers.

Some of the men and their machines on a newly cleared site of hundreds of acres by the lakeside. This land assumed by locals to be common land and therefore for public use was all of a sudden in the hands of the plantation owner, BIDCO. Locals were shown a piece of paper and told that BIDCO were now the new owners.
Nathaniel Bagira is one of only a few in the small village of Kasenyi who have not lost land. He, however, is worried that once the forestland has been consumed by the plantation, his 3.7 acre plot may be given to the company. Without the plot he has nothing and no way of supporting himself.


John Zziwa


Edison Musiimenta, Rosemary Nabukeera


Deforestation on Buvuma Island

John Zziwa is a farmer from the village of Njoga which is surrounded by palm plantations. John's neighbours (Epson and Rosemary) have joined the plantation scheme and have planted over forty acres with palm trees. Instead of walking home through a tropical forest John now walks through a plantation. Edison Musiimenta, Rosemary Nabukeera and daughter Maureen Nuwagaba have come from the mainland. Around eight years ago Edison came looking for work. He was so impressed with the quality of the soil and crop that he asked someone for a small plot of land to farm on. Edison is now one of the larger charcoal producers selling huge bags of the fuel to a mainland agent.
Deforestation on Buvuma Island


See more images and videos >

May 02, 2013

Transnational Corporations don’t respect Human Rights in Guatemala

by Radio Mundo Real — last modified May 02, 2013 11:35 AM

Social movements in Guatemala are being increasingly criminalized, repressed, intimidated and subjected to human rights abuses

Guatemala has increasingly opened its doors to foreign and European investors exploiting the country's hydrological and mineral resources, and sugar and palm oil plantations, which has resulted in mounting pressure on local communities and the environment, and has led to land grabs and human rights violations.

These violations often take place in collaboration with the government, according to the representatives of social movements.

The current government has introduced a policy of repression – pursuing and illegally incarcerating people from social movements resisting so called “development” projects,“ warned Víctor Barro, chair of Friends of the Earth Spain.

Barro took part in a November 2012 international mission organized by Friends of the Earth International that verified systematic human rights violations and criminalization of environmental activists and communities resisting mining and hydroelectric projects in Guatemala and El Salvador.

According to Natalia Atz Sunuc, Friends of the Earth Guatemala general coordinator : "Campesinos and indigenous people are labeled as 'terrorists' for defending their basic human rights in a peaceful way".

According to Paula del Cid, representative of the Feminist Association “La Cuerda” of Guatemala : "in a context of mandatory evictions, the role of the army is increasing, and sexual abuse is being used as a tool to intimidate women who are defending their land."

In June 2011, forty European parliamentarians denounced the situation in Guatemala, but the European Union still refuses to take an effective stance in its trade and investment policies.


Civil society organisations based in Brussels – Friends of the Earth Europe, Aprodev, CIFCA and Grupo Sur – have called on the European Union to ensure policies include mechanisms to monitor and enforce the defence of human rights.

The Spanish company Hidralia Energía, developing dams for hydroelectric power in Santa Cruz de Barillas, Guatemala, began development with neither permission nor consent from indigenous and local communities.


This is just one blatant example of how a company supported by the government grab land to exploit Guatemala's natural resources while criminalising peasants and indigenous people.


The Guatemalan and Spanish governments must take responsibility and do everything in their power to protect human rights in Guatemala,” said Víctor Barro, Chair of Friends of the Earth Spain.

A recent example of unjust detention is the case of Ruben Herrera who has been detained since March 2013 in Guatemala. He has participated in the resistance to projects such as Hidro Santa Cruz (originally Hidralia SA) and a member of the Peoples’ Assembly of Huehuetenango (ADH).


An international petition to free Herrera has been launched. The petition states that over 20 community leaders, including Ruben, are being unjustly persecuted or are unjustly put on trial.

Friends of the Earth Netherlands: Nigerians and Milieudefensie appeal in Shell case

by milieudefensie — last modified May 02, 2013 11:22 AM

AMSTERDAM/PORT HARCOURT, 1 May 2013 – Today, the Nigerian farmers from two villages who lost their case against Shell, together with Friends of the Earth Netherlands (Milieudefensie), have submitted an appeal to the 30 January decision by the court in The Hague. Milieudefensie is also filing an appeal in a third case. All the cases are centred around oil pollution due to spills from Shell pipelines and oil wells.

Chief Fidelis Oguru and Eric Dooh in court are plaintiffs in the case against Shell.In one case, the court ruled in favour of Milieudefensie and one of the  Nigerian plaintiffs, Elder Friday Akpan. Shell was ordered to pay compensation to this farmer from the village of Ikot Ada Udo, because the company did not adequately protect its oil well from vandalism, and oil from the well streamed over Akpan’s land. In this case, however, the court ruled that Shell Headquarters in The Hague could not be held liable for the failures of its subsidiary, which is responsible for the daily management of Shell in Nigeria. Milieudefensie hopes that the court in The Hague will reverse its decision on this point – for Milieudefensie it is clear that the headquarters shares responsibility for the massive environmental damage in Nigeria.

The lawyer for the farmers and Milieudefensie disputes in its entirety the decision taken by the court in the cases addressing damage from oil spills from Shell pipelines in the other two villages, Goi and Oruma. In those two cases, the court did not find Shell liable for the damages suffered by the farmers due to the oil spills because the cause was
considered to be sabotage and the court ruled that Shell could not have reasonably prevented it.

In Nigeria the cases are being watched with great interest. Oil and Mining campaigner Evert Hassink of Milieudefensie has been to the country numerous times: ‘In the village of Goi, Chief Eric Dooh and his fellow villagers are still living amidst the sticky black remnants of oil spills from the Shell Trans-Niger pipeline. In Oruma, Chief Fidelis
Oguru, Alali Efanga and the rest of the village are trying to rebuild normal lives. But the fish that supported them in the past have yet to return to the polluted creeks, and they are still hoping to receive compensation for all the years that agriculture was impossible because their fields were polluted by Shell oil.’

The case, which today enters its next phase in the court in The Hague, is of considerable international significance, especially after the recent decision by the US Supreme Court in a comparable case. It ruled that under US law it is not possible in principle to take multinationals to court for human rights violations outside the United States. This further increases the need to hold multinationals liable in their home