A death threat via instant message? Lottie Cunningham Wren gets these now. Her work as an attorney protecting the land rights of indigenous people in Nicaragua has drawn the anger of powerful, lawless interests.
Alfred Brownell, a Liberian attorney, barely escaped a raging armed militia while working to curtail palm oil farming that was pushing villagers off their traditional agricultural lands.
In Mexico, Eduardo Mosqueda Sánchez, an attorney representing indigenous community members concerned with the environmental impacts of a mining operation, was beaten, arrested, and jailed for 10 months on trumped up charges, later dismissed by a judge.
For close to 30 years, ELAW’s global network has linked brave, pioneering advocates. Across the world, these advocates risk their lives when they step up to challenge corporations or governments that violate human rights and environmental laws.
When these advocates are attacked, ELAW responds. When Lottie received the death threat while attending ELAW’s 2017 Annual International Meeting in Eugene, Alfred quickly organized a letter to the Nicaraguan government on her behalf, signed by attorneys from around the world. The letter was published in La Prensa, a Nicaraguan newspaper. It sent a clear message: lawyers around the world are standing with Lottie.
When Eduardo was jailed, ELAW reached out to allies, including the Mexican Human Rights Commission and the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, ensuring that Mexican officials knew a global spotlight was shining on Eduardo and his treatment.
ELAW works to protect advocates, spotlight bad actors, and deter further attacks. In addition to sharing critical legal and scientific information, ELAW advocates protect each other.
Now, ELAW is doubling down on critical work and helping advocates protect data and people, and build community resilience.
With help from digital and personal security experts, ELAW is collaborating with advocates to recognize and respond to threats. Protective tactics might be as simple as installing a camera, hiring security staff, or learning to protect digital assets. Each situation is unique, so security solutions must be tailored to fit the local context. Recently, ELAW worked to strengthen a threatened community by boosting food security and improving educational opportunities for marginalized, indigenous youth.
The global network engages quickly to protect advocates and communities, deter attacks, and build strength and resilience. When a partner is threatened, ELAW can quickly draw global attention, not only from media, but from allies with common goals of keeping community members safe.
“ELAW stands with our courageous grassroots partners around the globe,” says Executive Director Bern Johnson. “We will use all legal tools at the domestic and international levels to fight back against attacks on civil society.”
Powerful interests try to silence grassroots advocates. ELAW is dedicated to protecting public interest attorneys, so they can continue their vital work. ELAW is learning, collaborating, and sharing best practices to defend environmental defenders.