We need to pursue all channels available to help obtain redress and justice for victims of human rights abuse, and to end the impunity that the perpetrators of attacks against earth rights defenders enjoy. ERI focuses, in particular, on the use of transnational litigation and efforts to strengthen global legal protections.
Using the power of law and litigation is core to ERI’s mission and our earth rights defenders strategy. Earth rights defenders are subjected to an increasing number of threats and attacks due in part to the impunity that the perpetrators of these attacks enjoy. Unless there is accountability for those responsible – and justice for victims – earth rights defenders will remain vulnerable to attack. Transnational litigation is one means of holding the perpetrators legally accountable.
Global legal protections can help to protect earth rights defenders, especially those in countries where the rule of law is weak and corruption is rampant. The United States has two relevant statutes with extraterritorial reach: the Global Magnitsky Act and the Alien Tort Statute, whose use in global corporate human rights cases ERI helped pioneer more than two decades ago.
The U.S. Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act allows the U.S. president to impose sanctions on foreign nationals responsible for gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.
The Alien Tort Statute has been an important tool allowing victims and survivors of horrific abuses – including torture, crimes against humanity, and genocide – to obtain justice in U.S. courts. But the successful use of this law as a tool for corporate accountable has also made it a target. Corporate lobbies devoted enormous energy and resources to undermining the law, resulting in a series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions that have limited its use.
Nevertheless, replication of these laws in other jurisdictions, such as the European Union, would help to strengthen global legal protections for earth rights defenders.
International organizations, such as the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC), have at times invested in reckless projects because they cannot be held accountable for their actions in courts. This immunity means there cannot be any redress for people harmed by IFC projects, unless the IFC chooses to provide redress – and it has chosen not to in several particularly egregious cases.
ERI is representing project-affected communities in two lawsuits against the IFC in U.S. courts. In October 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in Budha Ismail Jam v. IFC, which will determine whether the IFC is above the law. If the Court rules in favor of ERI’s clients, the case could help increase the accountability of the IFC and other international organizations when they engage in activities that cause environmental damage and human rights abuses.
The outcome of Jam v. IFC will have implications for Juana Doe v. IFC. In this case, ERI and others are representing Honduran farmers who have sued the IFC for aiding and abetting gross violations of human rights. The case arises out of a bloody land-grabbing campaign in the Bajo Aguán region of Honduras, orchestrated by a long-time client of the IFC’s.