Written by Dalila Mujagic and Meghana Bahar.

This post is dedicated to our ancestors, human and other-than-human, who remind us that to constantly re-root ourselves into the soil is to decolonize justice. We honor the wildness of Mother Earth whom the ancients strove to eternally water. In their memory, we continue the fight for Earth Justice.

WITNESS is proud to launch our newest resource ‘Video as Evidence Environmental Defense Guide’, which seeks to assist communities that are affected by extractive industries, to collect high-quality, actionable video and photo documentation of violations committed by Big Mining, governments, and many other perpetrators. 

We recognize the great risks that environmental defenders take to stand up to power, and understand that the collection of visual evidence is only one strategy communities use to protect their environmental human rights. We hope to support this resistance by sharing the Video as Evidence Environmental Defense Guide throughout the coming months via our global campaign that amplifies the calls for Earth Justice. Join us by re-posting our materials or retweeting us using the hashtag: #Video4Earth.

Why We Must Protect Our Land Defenders and Water Protectors

Calls to protect the Earth and all her living beings are growing louder and stronger in an unprecedented time when communities across the world are experiencing and being impacted by devastating environmental crises. Although the causes of global warming originate in the Global North, those who live in the Global South are disproportionately bearing the effects of extractive industries, forced displacement, and persecution for their activism. 

Historically, the Global North has emitted 92% of the total CO2 in the atmosphere. This means we cannot speak about the planetary crisis without naming colonialism, capitalism, white supremacy, racism, and genocide, issues increasingly becoming part of global conversations. To protect the Earth we must also protect those who have cared for her, since time immemorial: Indigenous peoples, along with their allies, who face direct crises.

Wa’Omoni Rising: What Our Ancestors Told Us

See more from our partners.

Environmental defenders and monitors living close to natural habitats, have always been the first line of defense against the industries responsible for the destruction of our shared natural resources. Time after time, affected peoples have peacefully stood up to the corporate exploitation of forests, wetlands, oceans, coastlines, skies, and biodiversity hotspots. The price of resistance is high. Around the world, those defending community lands and our shared environment continue to be silenced.

See here for the work of our partners. 

Returning Ancestral Lands is to Allow Ecosystems to Thrive

Since 2016, more than four defenders have been murdered every week. Countless others have been threatened, arrested, and thrown in jail for daring to oppose the governments or corporations seeking to profit from the extraction of shared natural resources. Yet, governments across the globe continue to plan, permit, subsidize, and welcome extractive industries into their countries. These industries—mining, oil and gas, timber, hydro, agri-business, and high-end real estate—very often place profit over communities. 

The presence of multinational extractive corporations all too often results in the forced eviction of communities from their ancestral lands, health problems stemming from the pollution, the reckless destruction of the natural resources communities depend upon for their very survival, and more. Extractive operations that began with the forced evictions of Indigenous nations, the enslavement of hundreds of thousands of people, and the killing of many prisoners, continue to harm communities. Around the world, extractive industries arrive and simultaneously injure people and the essential resources communities rely upon for their very survival.

Read from the report ‘Unpaid Debt: The Legacy of Lundin, Petronas and OMV in Block 5A, Sudan 1997 – 2003’ to learn about the devastation wreaked by oil wars.

Why use the Environmental Defense Guide for Earth Justice

The Guide contains information and good practices to help community-based documenters collect visual documentation of environmental human rights crimes and violations so that the documentation can be effectively used in advocacy and accountability processes. It features learnings from numerous partners and allies in this fight, utilizing a wealth of tactics and technologies to achieve justice for their communities. Through the use of community land patrols, camera trap photos and videos, drone footage, satellite imagery, and territorial mapping, the Kofán Nation of the community of Sinangoe succeeded in using reliable, evidence-based, real-time information about invaders to better defend their ancestral land and rights. 

Beyond the risk to life and health, there are yet other barriers in the struggle to protect our basic environmental human rights. Power, politics, and profit not only drive the desire to exploit natural resources, they also fuel the fight for justice and legal accountability. Yet Indigenous communities, like the Endorois community of Kenya, whose lives and livelihoods are threatened in the name of “development”—a central narrative of capitalism—still fight for justice and accountability, and inspire countless others to do the same.

Read this report by WITNESS and partners CEMIRIDE. 

Restoring Right Relations is Decolonizing Justice 

The protection of our planet is the human rights challenge of the present. If we fail to protect our land, air, water, and atmosphere, not only will we prevent solutions to entrenched human rights challenges—poverty, migration, war, disease, state-sponsored violence, and racial injustice—we will worsen all these problems. As a species, we are yet healing the generations of woundings caused by harms enacted upon each other, and the resulting harms exerted on our planet.  

Juba Wajiin Community Fights for Land Rights

It is important to acknowledge that many communities will never receive the justice they deserve, let alone justice in a court of law. However, it is also important to remember that justice does not only come from courtrooms. #Video4Earth can help us shine a spotlight on an obscured land grab, inspire divestment from multinational companies partaking in disaster capitalism, or convince a judge to stop a destructive extractives project. Justice can take many forms, and communities have the right to define which paths to take.

Justice precludes balance and harmony. This applies to any order – universal, natural, human. If the planet is to continue to nourish its inhabitants and thrive in its vegetal splendor, coming back to balance – or right relations – with the Earth, her resources, her peoples, is imperative. 

Accountability apologizes. Accountability makes active reparations. Justice turns off the oil taps. Decolonial justice travels back to the roots.

Follow WITNESS’s regional hubs for multilingual resources:

~ Published 21st April 2023.

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