The year of environmental defenders – 2019 in review

Dear friend,

As 2019 draws to an end, we celebrate this year’s heroes, environmental defenders—dedicated activists who sacrifice their well-being, and even their lives, to defend and preserve the natural environment and health of their communities.

The climate crisis and accompanying environmental issues are finally prominent news this year. Thank you for being among the growing number of people who understand the urgency of these problems, and join together to uphold our basic human right to a clean and healthy environment.

Unfortunately, defenders protecting that right face unrelenting pressure and harassment, such as brutal physical attacks, trumped-up administrative and criminal legal fines, personal smear campaigns, and unwieldy bureaucratic obstacles aimed at impeding their work. Crude and our partners are no exception.

In Russia, our partner, Environmental Watch on the North Caucasus, is among the NGOs enduring spurious legal charges and continued violence against their members. In 2019, their office was violently raided three times by the authorities, who were masked and armed with automatic weapons. They broke in through the office windows and forced open doors with chainsaws. Environmental Watch’s leader, Andrey Rudomakha, was subjected to a disgusting smear campaign, attacked by online bots, and still faces the constant threat of physical violence, which he has already endured.

In Kazakhstan, our colleague Sergey Solyanik was illegally detained by the police in May of this year for his participation in our 16-year-long campaign defending the rights of the villagers of Berezovka, who, you’ll recall, suffered toxic exposure from the Karachaganak Oil and Gas Field. He was identified by the government as a “witness” in a criminal case of allegedly distributing false information about the careless 2014 mass poisoning of children. The case remains open, meaning the authorities are free to pressure him and other defenders who continue to help the suffering children.

Our trusted ally from Azerbaijan, Dr. Gubad Ibadoghlu, is a professor, economist, and dedicated member of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative coalition, which “promotes the open and accountable management of oil, gas and mineral resources.” Gubad was fired from his university teaching position of over 20 years for participating in EITI events.

Harassment of environmental defenders happens here in the United States, too. The current administration has proposed new legislation making pipeline protests a felony offense of up to 20 years prison time, even in cases of eminent domain when individuals are merely protecting their own property rights. Documented cases in which environmental defenders are labeled as terrorists are chilling, as are those of private security forces perpetrating violence against defenders on behalf of corporations. Since November 2016, 17 states have introduced legislation that would criminalize pipeline protests.

We are grateful you are allied with Crude and our partners, as we support each other in the face of these reprisals.

You will be happy to hear that Crude Accountability organized a unique exchange of environmental defenders in October. Activists from Russia, the Caucasus, and Central Asia shared experiences with US students and academics, policymakers, and most importantly, fellow environmentalists. Together, we toured fracking and related sites in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, spoke on college campuses, and celebrated our victories in the fight for a more sustainable future for all of us. There are no words to describe how thrilled the participants were to have had this opportunity to meet each other. During the exchange we also presented our new report about reprisals against defenders, Dangerous Work: https://crudeaccountability.org/wp-content/uploads/Report_DangerousWork_compressed_for_web.pdf

Despite the adversity we face, we are optimistic about the future. In solidarity with environmental defenders from around the globe, we are determined to keep working to protect the planet from unsustainable and unhealthy energy development. We hope this will inspire you to donate generously.  We ask you to give as much as you can at https://crudeaccountability.org/support-crude/or by writing a check to Crude Accountability, P.O. Box 2345, Alexandria, VA 22301.

Please support Crude and help us support our partners at home and abroad.

With best wishes for happy holidays, 

Kate Watters Executive Director

Leanne Grossman Chair, Board of Directors