Originally published in: The Nanaimo Times
Nanaimo, British Columbia January 2, 1996, A5
Copyright (c) 1996 by Kim Goldberg All Rights Reserved by Author (firstname.lastname@example.org)
by Kim Goldberg
Nanaimo Times columnist
The November (1995) execution of Nigerian environmentalist Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight of his fellow Ogoni tribesmen sparked a global public outcry, with Vancouver Islanders adding their voices to the protest.
In Nanaimo, Georgia Strait Alliance returned a $5,000 donation from the Shell Environment Fund due to the oil company's destruction of the Ogoni homeland which Saro-Wiwa and the others were working to protect, and for which they were killed.
In Courtenay, activists staged a demonstration in front of the local Shell gas station.
Sadly, Saro-Wiwa's execution for the crime of environmentalism is but the latest in a long line of similar murders targeting key environmental activists whose work poses a significant threat to corporate profitability.
The 1988 assassination of Chico Mendes, who led the protest against the destruction of the Amazon rainforest, is perhaps the best known case of an environmentalist cut down for his work, although it was just one of more than 1,000 land-related murders documented in rural Brazil that decade by Amnesty International.
The 1995 murder of environmentalist Janeth Kawas in Honduras occurred just a few days after she revealed that two agribusiness companies planned to invade 15,000 hectares of an ecological reserve. She was shot twice in the head while doing paperwork for the ecological foundation she ran.
One year earlier, a journalist in Cambodia was murdered two days after police warned him to stop investigating the military's illegal involvement in the country's timber industry.
In an age when national agendas are dictated by the needs of transnational corporations, citizens protecting the natural resources those corporations must exploit have become the new enemies of the state.
But the activist-victims of this frightening trend are not limited to developing nations.
In 1993 Leroy Jackson, a prominent Navaho environmentalist, was found dead in his van at a highway rest stop shortly before he was scheduled to turn over evidence of illegal logging on his reservation to the Department of the Interior in Washington, D.C.
In 1990, environmental activist and labor organizer Judi Bari was car-bombed in Oakland, California.
Bari began receiving a string of death threats after she brought a coalition of millworkers and environmentalists before local government and demanded that the county seize a logging company's timberlands and operate them in the public interest. One month later she was bombed.
Miraculously, Bari survived and continues to organize, despite the FBI's suspicious cover-up and mishandling of crucial evidence at the bomb scene. The bomber was never caught.
Each of these cases (and scores of others like them) reveals how closely environmental protection is intertwined with human rights, which has finally led activists from each of those movements to begin building coalitions.
"Guaranteeing basic civil rights such as free speech and free assembly is the best defense against both violent repression and environmental damage," states the Worldwatch Institute in a recent report linking human rights to the environment.
"If all the vulnerable members of society - the impoverished, indigenous peoples, ethnic minorities, women, children - had access to environmental information and could exercise their right to free speech, then potential polluters and profligate consumers would no longer be able to treat them as expendable, and would have to seek alternatives to their polluting activities and their overconsumption," says the report.
And perhaps if that happens we will finally see an end to this anti-democratic spate of lethal violence against citizens working to preserve some tiny fragment of the natural world.
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