On World Environment Day, We Honor AJWS Grantees Fighting to Protect the Environment

Today is UN World Environment Day! On World Environment Day, we’re joining millions around the world to encourage awareness and action for the protection of our environment.

AJWS is proud to support activists fighting to protect the environment in countries around the world. We aid communities and movements organizing to protect the land, water and natural resources that people depend on for their survival. These advocates are working to stop damaging projects and insisting that local communities be consulted in and benefit from economic development. Together, these advocates and communities are building powerful social movements to ensure the ethical use of their natural resources. Learn more about AJWS’s support for land and water rights here.

Check out our photos below to learn about the activists AJWS supports who are fighting to protect the environment and advancing human rights around the world.

Pictured are members of Liberia’s Jogbahn clan, who saved their village from an attempted land grab with help from AJWS grantee Sustainable Development Institute (SDI). SDI helped 11 towns in Grand Bassa County, Liberia, push back on a British-owned palm oil company attempting to grab their land to extend their plantation. The fight took years, but the villagers eventually prevailed. AJWS continues to support SDI in Liberia to promote justice and ensure the rights of local people are protected and respected. SDI is fighting against illegal logging, social and economic injustices, weak law enforcement, poor accountability, abuse of community rights, and land grabbing in Liberia. SDI works to ensure that the benefits from natural resources are equitably distributed by improving the implementation of land laws governing the rights of forest communities. Photograph by Jonathan Torgovnik.
AJWS supports Comité Campesino del Altiplano (CCDA) to fight for the rights of small farmers in Guatemala, like the women pictured. CCDA is a grassroots organization of small farmers working in 16 departments of Guatemala to confront land rights challenges and meet the needs of rural, predominantly Mayan communities. CCDA staff help local farmers protest harmful farming techniques that are spoiling natural resources; protect their land from environmental damage; and learn to survive despite their changed landscape. CCDA provides livelihood trainings for women so that they can feed their families and generate income to support them. In partnership with other farmer-led groups, CCDA also compiles accounts of human rights abuses and brings this information to the public’s attention, leading protests and advocating for national legislation that will better protect the rights of local farmers. At the heart of their work is a desire to protect the environment, which has spiritual significance to many Guatemalans. Photograph by Jonathan Torgovnik.
Women from local villages in Kachin state, in northern Burma, come together for a meeting to discuss the importance of saving their ancestral villages from a flood that would destroy their lands. This flooding would occur if a gigantic dam is built by China Power Investment Corporation (CPI), a Chinese company that has been trying to advance this project in collaboration with the Burmese government for years. The proposed Myitsone Dam would generate electricity for China—and would also flood 47 Kachin villages. The government has already forced thousands of villagers to leave their homes behind and relocate, even though the dam has not been built. Pictured, the women come together for a monthly meeting in front of the Irrawaddy River near the site of the proposed dam. AJWS supports the local organization Mungchying Rawt Ja (MRJ) (meaning “Civil Development”) to help local people in Kachin state in northern Burma who are affected adversely by the government’s mega-development projects, and helps bring them together for meetings like this one, to build a grassroots movement and elevate their voices for their land and natural resource rights. Photograph by Jonathan Torgovnik.
Berta Cáceres (left), a champion of human and environmental rights in Honduras and longtime AJWS grantee, was murdered in her home in March 2016. She was a globally recognized human rights leader who gave a voice to the indigenous people of Honduras, as she bravely fought for their land and water rights. Berta Cáceres won the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2015 for her leadership in opposing one of Central America’s biggest hydropower projects, a multi-million-dollar dam, which would have devastated the surrounding areas that were home to indigenous communities. Berta was the co-founder of the Council of Indigenous Peoples of Honduras (COPINH), an organization dedicated to addressing threats to the collective rights of the indigenous Lenca communities in Honduras and to protecting their land from the negative effects of illegal logging and destructive mining and dam projects. To this day, COPINH fights for the Lenca communities’ rights and for meaningful economic opportunities for the members of this community. Read more about Berta here. Photo courtesy Goldman Environmental Prize.
Life in San Jose del Progreso in Oaxaca, Mexico, has been marked by widespread violence and human rights violations since 2006. The conflicts began when Fortuna Silver, a Canadian company, began mining for silver and gold there through chemical leaching processes. Half of the community is strongly opposed to the mine, which is polluting the air and rapidly depleting and contaminating the water supply for the town and nearby villages. To hold Fortuna Silver accountable, AJWS grantee Colectivo Oaxaqueño worked with grassroots organizations in the area to inform international human rights organizations and generate widespread news coverage of the situation. AJWS continues to support Colectivo Oaxaqueño to bring together grassroots activists to defend land and water rights for Mexico’s indigenous people. Read the full story here. Photo by Evan Abramson.
In 1982, the Guatemalan military massacred Carlos Chen Osorio’s wife and children and hundreds of other Maya Achi civilians to make way for the Chixoy hydroelectric dam. The dam’s floodwaters destroyed his ancestral farmland, and the military forced thousands of survivors out of their homes and plunged them into lasting poverty. But with support from local and international allies like AJWS grantee RedLAR (The Latin American Network Against Dams and for Rivers, Communities and Life), survivors like Carlos have spent decades advocating for reparations and official recognition of the killings. In November 2014, their tireless advocacy led to a historic result: Former Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina publicly apologized to the survivors of the Chixoy massacres and officially promised more than $150 million in aid and reparations for their communities. Now, Carlos and his peers are working to make sure that the government makes good on this promise so that the communities of Maya Achi can prosper and the families of those massacred can obtain some measure of justice. Read the full story here. Photograph by James Rodriguez.
In the spring of 2013, AJWS grantee Ogiek Peoples’ Development Program (OPDP) helped this woman’s community in Kenya win a legal case against loggers who were plundering forests that indigenous people depended on. AJWS continues to support OPDP to protect the culture and constitutional rights of Ogiek people, an indigenous community of forest dwellers in Kenya. Read more about AJWS’s contribution to Kenya’s land rights movement. Photo by Mark Tuschman.
This woman, pictured, is one of many Massai indigenous women in Kenya aided by AJWS grantee Il’laramatak Community Concerns (ICC). ICC is a local organization in Kenya that works to empower and defend the land rights of Massai indigenous women. In Laikipia county in Kenya, ICC is helping farm laborers protect their ancestral lands that they depend on for survival. Read more about ICC and AJWS’s contribution to Kenya’s land rights movement. Photo by Mark Tuschman.