In September 2003 the International Conference of Environmental Rights and Human Rights was held in Cartagena, Colombia. Co-organised by Friends of the Earth International the event played host to 250 delegates from environmental organisations, NGOs and social movements. Out of the workshops and discussions came this declaration.

The International Conference of Environmental Rights and Human Rights hosted in Cartagena, Colombia from the 16th to the 18th of September, 2003, organized by Friends of the Earth International, Transnational Institute and the Oil Watch network declares:

Two hundred and fifty delegates from environmental organizations, NGOs and social movements from all over the planet have carefully considered the way in which many governments promote the virtues of ‘free’ trade, a concept which predominantly benefits transnational corporations and the global economic elite, whilst wars proliferate and the people and nations of the south become ever poorer.

We came together in Cartagena, in the Americas, where the sound of African drums still resonate just as they have for the last three hundred years. This beat calls for emancipation and resistance against slavery, displacement and injustice.

We recognize that although there has been significant progress in the international recognition of individual human rights, many dictators and torturers still enjoy impunity. Violations of collective rights and environmental rights are caused by a predatory economic model that prevails and grows.

Clean air, water and land have been taken away from disinherited people across the world. Coloured people, small farmers, indigenous peoples, and slum dwellers are pushed back into the most undesirable areas, forced to live in hunger, driven away from tourist areas, persecuted and jailed. In Colombia, black people are killed and they are not allowed to bury their dead as required by tradition. We declare that these are social injustices committed by the few against most of humanity.

Environmental injustices are the daily bread of factory workers, of street vendors, of women, girls and boys who carry water across great distances. Urban pollution is concentrated in areas where the most impoverished live, where there are effluents in the drinking water and where people fight with birds of prey for the scraps in rubbish bins.

In Colombia, the fumigations which are used in an attempt to exterminate the coca and poppy crops, the ingredients of the psychoactive substances that present an escape for desperate young people all over the world, are achieved through blood and fire without any legal, medical, or social justification. When the Amazon is fumigated, large expanses of agricultural lands are also fumigated, leaving behind a big toxic footprint and rendering the soil infertile.

We came from Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, Oceania, and the Americas, summoned by the flutes, panpipes and celebratory music of the indigenous peoples. We affirmed our commitment to fight against the injustices caused by the greed emanating mainly from the North, which destroys ancestral values and cultures, which invades sacred places, which introduces machines which bore into the rock and stain the earth to extract metals, minerals, oil and pristine water. The greed pollutes the waterways and floods fertile soils, chasing weak people away, extinguishing life, exterminating fish and filling dams in order to generate energy that is squandered afterwards. Greed invades the everyday life of our towns with oil towers, disseminates the modem transgenic plague, and logs forests to create paper for unnecessary consumer goods.

Environmental problems stem from this ravenous greed. Our societies suffer from the impacts of this greed, and this is why we want to strengthen and multiply our organizations. Defenders of human and environmental rights exist because nature and human beings are being denied their rights. We seek environmental justice because there are environmental injustices taking place.

Organizations like Environmental Rights Action of Nigeria were founded in response to these injustices and fight to ensure that companies do not violate their rights and do not align with dictatorships. Madreselva, in Guatemala, in alliance with the Oilwatch Network, fight because they have seen how the sacred site of Tikal, in the forests of Peten is being desecrated by the oil industry, just as the Niger delta, the Orinoco and the Galician, Alaskan and Brazilian coasts have been desecrated by this industry.

As Multilateral Development Banks, Export Credit Agencies and similar institutions do not take responsibility for the social, political and ecological consequences of their financial operations, we have created networks and run campaigns to oppose their activities. In Cancún, small farmers and social movements aligned themselves with countries opposed to the unjust trade rules and agreements and protested against the WTO because this institution tries to guarantee rights for transnational corporations instead of environmental and human rights for people.

The commercialization of water and energy production and distribution has left thousands of people without access to these services. This is evident on the Caribbean coast of Colombia where slum dwellers sacrifice their wages to pay for the increasing costs of these vital services. Because of this, initiatives like the Energy Platform exist to create spaces for the convergence of organizations who raise common grievances on the operating conditions, access to and the quality of energy services.

In the United States organizations have emerged to fight for environmental justice and against ecological discrimination, and so far as we know, they have yet to be called terrorists. Some of our organizations were created in Europe, Asia and Oceania to fight against the catastrophes caused by nuclear power plants and the mining of radioactive materials. Forest dwellers have united to oppose forest monocultures and tree plantations. We have also come together to fight the threats to rural communities and consumers aIl over the world due to the introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that destroy traditional agricultural practices and take away food sovereignty.

Our organizations are not and never have been the fruit of terrorist conspiracies. We exist because peoples’ environmental and human rights are being infringed and denied. Our organizations are recognized, awarded and supported locally and internationally for the depth of our arguments, our persistence, our commitment and our work our fairness and for our dedication to environmental justice. Many governments should learn to defend their rights and their sovereignty against the unrestricted exploitation of their heritage and peoples by big business. They should learn from environmental and human rights organizations about how to defend the rights of their people against the imperialist attitudes of transnational institutions and companies and greedy nations.

To achieve security, a Latin word that refers to peace, we have to fight insecurity. Insecurity derives from the fact that many governments, especially the Group of Eight, multinational institutions and big investors focus on the security of the few thus sacrificing the security of majority.

We want this word security to recover its meaning, we want ecological security, food security and energy security. We want security that our water will not be expropriated. We want security that our glaciers will not disappear, and that our forests and lands will not turn into deserts. We want security that our climate will not continue to change. We want security that small farmers will not be displaced, that the Amazon will not be fumigated, that multilateral banks (World Bank, IMF etc) will not continue financing the plunder and the destruction of the planet. We want security that there will be an end to the criminalization and persecution of human rights defenders and environmentalists, as well as those who protest against injustices and war.

We want peace and security for everyone. We want security that we will have a habitable planet for present and future generations. This is why we have come together to set out our actions and proposals for creating a world of environmental and social justice.

The declaration was signed by all the candidates present.

Read the Friends of the Earth International publication ‘Our environment, our rights’.