A woman in Brazil holds a sign calling to save the Amazon.

An interview with Loreto de Amunategui, Internationalist Solidarity System Officer, on Human Rights Day 2022.

What does “internationalist solidarity” mean concretely, and how does it link to environmental justice?

Solidarity means standing up against all forms of oppression – such as patriarchy, racism and colonialism – and the various forms of violence which rob people of their capacity to organise and struggle for justice. Internationalist solidarity is when different groups of people, social movements and organisations articulate their demands for justice in a coordinated way. It allows us to stand together, from different parts of the world, to denounce injustice and offer concrete support to those who face oppression, persecution and violations of their rights.

Justice is not one-dimensional, and environmental justice cannot be achieved alone. We need to work for gender justice, social justice and economic justice at the same time, doing so in solidarity with the most marginalised communities – women, workers, peasants, indigenous peoples, Afro-descendant communities, and the urban working class.

Certain environmental struggles need our solidarity more than ever: defence of water and public services; construction of food sovereignty and agroecology; community forest management; and energy sovereignty – all of which intersect with patriarchy, racism and other oppressions.

How and why have Friends of the Earth International built an Internationalist Solidarity System? How does it respond to the challenges of our current context?

Our Internationalist Solidarity System (ISS) arose from the need to give an internationalist response to the current political context, where defenders of territories and peoples’ rights suffer constant attacks on their sovereignty and systematic violation of their rights.

Since the 2008 economic crisis, the world has witnessed a resurgence of conservative ideology that has taken on a particularly authoritarian character, rejecting traditional forms of politics, media and knowledge itself. These right-wing regimes are fostering political instability and actively eroding democratic principles. As the neoliberal capitalist system expands, stripping back regulations, privatising all aspects of our lives and ‘shrinking’ the state, repressive governments are imposing themselves with ever greater force. This political context has led to a devastating escalation of political violence, with attacks on peoples’ rights and those who defend them.

At the same time, transnational corporations continue extracting and exploiting the planet’s resources in the name of profit. The expansion of a neoliberal economic system is itself an underlying cause of the multiple crises we face – climate, biodiversity, food, water, and health crises – which threaten ecological systems and livelihoods.

Yet, in the face of crisis, people are organising to defend territories and rights, and questioning the very principles at the root of the system. We know that we need to change the system to protect and improve life on Earth. This moment of crisis opens the door for that system change. In this context, in 2019, Friends of the Earth International met with allied groups to develop a joint vision of solidarity, which is how the ISS was born.

This year, Human Rights Day takes place during the UN biodiversity talks, CBD COP15, where we defend the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities. How does the ISS support those struggles?

Solidarity work is holistic, and intersects with the many themes of Friends of the Earth International’s work – climate, economy, food systems, and biodiversity. The ISS coordinates directly with Friends of the Earth member groups, who work closely with Indigenous Peoples, local communities, peasants, rural peoples and fisherfolks, for example. It is these groups who are most often affected by the extractivist activities of transnational corporations and governments, through landgrabbing, plantations, and dirty energy projects like dams, mining and fossil fuels.

The rights of environmental defenders are paramount for the Global Biodiversity Framework discussed at the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). How can the world pretend to save biodiversity if we can’t save those who defend it? The rights of environmental defenders are closely linked with the rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities. When a corporation wants to pursue a destructive “development project”, it’s a whole territory under attack, and an entire community stands up to defend the territory.

The ISS elevates these local struggles and demands to the global, public arena, always taking into account security risks. There are some tools that we and our allies can use to advocate for defenders’ rights. One example is the UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas (UNDROP), which was adopted in December 2018. UNDROP represents an important step forward in strengthening legal frameworks that recognise collective rights, and has been a source of inspiration and empowerment for peasant, rural and indigenous communities. We are also advocating for an international binding UN treaty on transnational corporations and human rights, which would be another tool for affected communities to access justice.

2022 has been a busy year for solidarity cases, for example in Honduras and the Philippines. What are the current priorities for the ISS?

Honduras and Philippines are among the deadliest countries for environmental defenders. When the governments recently changed in these countries, we did an analysis to understand the realities and opportunities for defenders.

In Honduras, the democratic election of President Xiomara Castro in May 2022 gave movements a political opening to fight for real justice for Indigenous and Afro-descendant Peoples. We support their efforts and join them in denouncing attempts by the Public Ministry and Supreme Court, which continue under the mandate of former president Hernández, to undermine democracy and human rights. This year we published a report “To the resistance of the Honduran people: Internationalist solidarity and peoples’ rights” (in Spanish, soon in English), where we highlight the Honduran struggles that we have been supporting through the ISS over the years.

Also in May 2022, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the son of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos, took power in the Philippines. A recent report from Friends of the Earth Philippines (LRC) raises huge concern for the millions of Indigenous People in the country, as land grabbing, social and economic marginalisation, red tagging, and human rights abuses risk becoming even worse than under the previous regime.
Elsewhere, we continue to stand against the illegal occupation of Palestine and the war in Ukraine, and work with allies to support struggles in Colombia and Mozambique, among others. We have seen civic space shrinking around the world, from the ‘terrorism act’ in Mozambique to the ‘policing bill’ in England, and will work on strategies to address this in 2023.

Check out the ISS digital portal for more information about some of our main solidarity campaigns, and browse the Convention on Biological Diversity page to learn about our demands at #COP15.

More details: How does the ISS work?

Our Internationalist Solidarity System is led by a decentralised team, acting from the local up to the global level. There are focal points in each region, facilitated by one focal point based at the international secretariat. The federation’s Executive Committee provides political guidance, while programme and communications teams also play a role.

The ISS works through four main axes: political formation; documentation and analysis; rapid response; and mobilisation.

  • Political formation seeks to expand the political awareness of defenders and educate the general public about their role as political subjects. We use popular education methods, informed by up-to-date political context analysis with special focus on the rights of peoples and defenders. We host spaces for learning and exchange, such as workshops, webinars and events, often with allied movements La Via Campesina and World March of Women.
  • Documentation and analysis involves mapping and analysing patterns of threats and violence against defenders. Through this, we are building an evidence base and collective history of struggles against injustice worldwide, from which we can see the systemic nature of attacks. This can help us to anticipate and prevent attacks, and be used to push for measures that address the root causes of injustices. It will strengthen social movements with a collective understanding and more capacity to act in internationalist solidarity.
  • Rapid response mechanisms are in place for emergency situations faced by defenders, their families and communities. Responses include immediate security measures, relief assistance and ongoing monitoring and support for justice processes.
  • Mobilising political action means getting activists, groups and social movements to act together, with coherent messages and collective demands.

When a request for solidarity comes to the ISS, the team assesses the situation and decides the short and long term response – from providing funds to secure a person in danger, to asking groups to write letters to put pressure on governments, or using social media to voice demands and attract attention. We seek to be strategic by using the different entry points for exerting political pressure – governments, UN special rapporteurs, European-level mechanisms, and the general public.

Image by Friends of the Earth Brazil. The banner reads: “Saving the Amazon and its peoples is saving the planet’s climate.”