Peak & Prairie

Rocky Mountain Chapter's
Online Newsletter
December 1999 / January 2000


Sierra Club Announces Joint Campaign with Amnesty International

Grassroots Groups to Defend Environmental Defenders

San Francisco — Citing a flawed US foreign policy that too often promotes the narrow financial concerns of corporate giants over the universal human rights of people, the Sierra Club and Amnesty International USA today announced an alliance to push for stronger US support for environmental advocates abroad. Together the two preeminent grassroots organizations will undertake a three year campaign to highlight attacks on environmental defenders, mobilize pressure on repressive governments and to demand stronger action from the US government.

“We are extremely excited about this new partnership with Amnesty International,” said Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope. “We believe that the combined efforts of our active grassroots memberships will be difficult for governments and corporate polluters to ignore.”

“Today, unfortunately, trade trumps torture,” said William Schulz, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA- “Both our organizations have watched with mounting alarm a steady slide toward a ‘see no evil’ US foreign policy. Now we are going to do something about it. This is the first time that the two largest grassroots organizations in our respective fields have pledged to launch a common campaign to defend the defenders..”

“American foreign policy should reflect American values, not just corporate values,” added Pope.

For more than 100 years the Sierra Club has been the world’s premier citizen’s organization, working for the protection of wilderness and the natural environment. Amnesty International, founded in 1961, is a worldwide voluntary movement working to prevent some of the gravest violations by governments of people’s fundamental human rights. The activist groups have a combined membership in the US of nearly I million members.

“Together we will campaign to protect the fundamental civil liberties of environmental advocates worldwide,” said Pope, “particularly the rights of citizens to organize, to participate in their governments and to speak out. This is a natural international step for the Sierra Club — after all, we’ve been organizing people to protect the environment in the US since 1892.”

The Sierra Club’s Human Rights and the Environment Campaign was established in 1993 following the harassment and arrest of prominent Kenyan environmental advocate Prof. Wangari Maathai. Prof. Maathai was hospitalized earlier this week following an altercation with Nairobi developers in which local conservationists were brutally whipped and beaten. Maathai was attempting to plant tree seedlings in a public forest near Nairobi.

The Club has since waged vocal campaigns on behalf of the Ogoni people of Nigeria, including a rarely used member boycott of Royal/Dutch Shell, and on behalf of former Soviet submarine captain Alexandr Nikitin who has been charged with espionage by Russian authorities for exposing illegal nuclear waste dumping in the Arctic. Amnesty members around the globe have also adopted Nikitin’s case. Amnesty has more than a million members in 160 countries.

In December the Sierra Club announced that Nikitin was the recipient of its prestigious Chico Mendes Award for environmental heroism.

“What Alexandr Nikitin and Chico Mendes have in common is that they have both become symbols of the price often paid by brave environmental activists who dare to speak out,” said Pope. “The Nikitin case is evidence that environmental advocacy remains a dangerous exercise in countries where environmental protection is slighted.”

The Sierra Club and Amnesty International USA are not the only organizations to announce campaigns devoted to the human rights and environment link. The Washington DC based Center for International Environmental Law, EarthRights International, based in Washington, DC and Bangkok, and a team of three San Francisco based organizations the Natural Heritage Institute, Human Rights Advocates and the Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainable Development, also announced campaigns. Each of the groups received generous grants from the San Francisco-based Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund.

“We see an increasing number of cases where multinational corporations appear to encourage, benefit from or directly cause human rights and environmental violations overseas,” said Stephen Mills, Director of the Sierra Club’s International Program. “Governments struggling with faltering economies can be persuaded to turn a blind eye when millions of dollars are at stake.”

Sierra Club and Amnesty International USA plan to announce their new campaign targets later this year.

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