Amnesty International and Sierra Club join forces to protect environmental activists
Thomas Gillespie
February 2001

"Democracy today is not possible without a politics that can control global economic forces, because without such control it won't matter who people vote for--corporations will rule."
--Professor Michael Sandel, Harvard University

In 1995, the Nigerian government hanged Ken Saro-Wiwa, an internationally repected environmentalist, human rights activist and writer, and eight other Ogoni activists. Their crime? Demanding a safe environment and just compensation from Shell Oil for the destruction caused by oil exploration in Ogoniland. Many believe Shell had the power to help prevent these killings but did not use the influence it had.

From emerging economies in the South to economic superpowers in the North, governments are lowering environmental standards to increase global trade and are allowing their foreign policies to be driven and directed by corporate, instead of democratic values.

In many parts of the world, corporations and governments are conspiring to violate the rights of environmental activists in the name of profit and economic development. Millions of dollars are on the line and environmental activists who protest are being persecuted.

In an effort to ensure that economic globalization includes protections of human rights and the environment, Amnesty International and the Sierra Club have initiated a three-year joint campaign to work toward long-term protections for environmental activists and corporate accountability in cases of human rights and environmental abuses. The goal of the campaign is to address the pattern of human rights abuses that occur in the wake of environmental degradation and defend the rights of environmental activists.

Through public awareness and grassroots activism, its twin objectives are (1) to increase pressure on the U.S. government to include the human rights of environmental advocates as a central factor of its foreign policy and (2) to provide direct support for threatened activists in other nations through grassroots activities. Our tactics for realizing these goals include lobbying, extensive use of media, community events, demonstrations, direct letter writing, shareholder activism, lawsuits, trade initiatives, and support of ethical competitors.

I had the opportunity to express my concerns regarding the impact of economic globalization on our community and on human rights and the environment this past week, joining more than 200 students from around the country for the first-of-its-kind joint Amnesty International and Sierra Club Youth Summit on Globalization in Washington, DC.

The summit culminated with a rally at the U.S. Capitol on Monday morning before meetings with members of Congress. I met with staff in the offices of Rep. Karen Thurman (D-FL), Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL), and Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) to introduce the International Right-To-Know (IRTK) initiative.

Under this initiative, U.S. based multinational corporations would be required to disclose basic information on their human rights, labor and environmental practices to the U.S. government and affected local communities in countries where they operate. This initiative builds on existing domestic right to know laws and will aid local communities in defending their basic rights. By showing our public officials that globalization must include the protection of the environment, human rights and labor, we can start to make positive changes.

Our efforts combined with those of Amnesty International and Sierra Club members all over the world have already brought significant victories, in countries as far away as Russia, where Alexander Nikitin was acquitted of espionage charges he incurred by writing an article about military nuclear waste dumping practices. As part of a high profile, international campaign, we have the opportunity to impact global change like never before!

To get involved in the Human Rights and the Environment Campaign, contact:
David Fazzino, UF Campaign Organizer:, (352) 246-6680 or

Upcoming opportunities to learn more about this campaign:

Thomas Gillespie is the Southeast Regional Organizer for Amnesty International USA's Human Rights and the Environment Campaign. He can be contacted at:, (352) 338-0795

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