Chile Coal Protest

Human rights groups and communities in Chile filed a constitutional protection action over the environmental impacts of coal-fired power plants on September 23, 2021. (Photo: FIDH)

New Legal Campaign Aims to Protect People and Nature From Polluters' 'Irreparable Damage'

"States must listen to communities' demands to recognize the human right to a healthy environment and better regulate businesses with respect to the impacts of their operations."

Frontline communities in Latin America and advocacy groups on Thursday announced a new global campaign that targets major polluters and aims "make the right to a healthy environment an internationally recognized human right" through court action.

Launched ahead of United Nations climate talks scheduled for next month, the campaign kicked off with a pair of lawsuits filed in Chile and Colombia by the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and member organizations in each country.

"#SeeYouInCourt is not just a hashtag or a publicity campaign," FIDH said in a statement. "It launches a series of actions to hold companies accountable for their harmful practices that prevent tens of thousands of communities around the world from living in a healthy, safe, and clean environment."

A campaign video released Thursday calls out polluters for not only disregarding human rights and the environment but also pressuring governments "to conduct business at any cost."

"Money isn't everything: Nature is priceless and its destruction causes lasting, irreparable damage," said Luis Misael Socarras Ipuana, a human rights defender and leader of the Wayuu communities of Guajira in Colombia. "Defending nature means denouncing the social, economic, and spiritual harm that companies have caused by destroying it, putting the survival of our people at risk."

In Colombia, the Jose Alvear Restrepo Lawyers' Collective (CAJAR), an FIDH member, joined with communities impacted by the diversion of a waterway, the Arroyo Bruno, to expand the massive Cerrejon open-pit coal mine.

"The environmental and climate impacts of the diversion have endangered the lives of local Indigenous communities and destroyed the fragile tropical dry forest ecosystem," explains FIDH's webpage for the case. "All of this is taking place in the context of a water and climate crisis."

In Chile, FIDH member Observatorio Ciudadano, the Terram Foundation, and members of the communities of Quintero and Puchuncavi, filed a constitutional protection action against the company AES Gener--recently renamed AES Andes--and the Chilean government for the impacts of coal-fired power plants.

Jose Aylwin, director of Observatorio Ciudadano, explained that they are taking on "the complacency of the state and the lack of even the most basic due diligence by the companies responsible for greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change with serious human rights impacts."

The new lawsuits follow other coordinated legal actions against multinational polluters over the past year taken in the pursuit of justice and promoting the right to a healthy environment, noted FIDH's statement.

"Protecting the planet and fighting the climate crisis are two of the greatest challenges of our time," said FIDH president Alice Mogwe. "States must listen to communities' demands to recognize the human right to a healthy environment and better regulate businesses with respect to the impacts of their operations."

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