Basically, Earth Rights International (ERI) is a nongovernmental, nonprofit organization that combines the power of law and the power of people in defense of human rights and the environment, which we define as "earth rights." We specialize in fact-finding, legal actions against perpetrators of earth rights abuses, training grassroots and community leaders, and advocacy campaigns. Through these strategies, EarthRights International seeks to end earth rights abuses, to provide real solutions for real people, and to promote and protect human rights and the environment in the communities where we work
As you said there is some changes inside Burma but why we still want to do that kind of work is we are trying to evaluate that kind of effective work is , especially now we are working with the groups inside Burma , we take their lead and offer support and we have done a lot of consultation . The groups also ask for us are training, so we are much more focus on training , including outside and inside of the country , advocate on how to collect the data and store the documents , use the data to use campaigns we also bring sometimes environmental experts from different country to give awareness training on the different agenda. However, it also started with what the groups need.
We also do the documentation along with the collaboration with the groups inside which means the more effective way could be like engaging, getting to know the work of government and which way to contribute and the community, Eg- if the community wants to start with campaign and we will start with international support for eg- there are bodies like CO-ECD The organization of Economic Cooperation and Development and we train them on that.
For Legal, which I am part of, we have some mandate for varies according to region. In US, the legal team work most on cases in court, litigation for cases outside of the US and bring it to US court and that is better chances and the space of achieving for Justice. For them working in court and working with the government to have set policies. So they engage like congress and the policy of the government and also assisting with the community with the legal cases.
But here in Asia is really different as we work with a network of lawyers called “Mekong Legal Network “ compose of lawyers from all the Mekong country, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, China and Burma . We gather for the meeting in every year and focus on the trust boundary cases. For example, building the dam on the Mekong Rivers related with the impacts to the communities. In that case, we use the international legal steadies to address the issue in Laos. And another example in Land case in Cambodia, there is a sugar company and it is owned by the sugar company and that is the trust boundary case and we work with Thai lawyers on this case.
To summarizes, it is working with lawyers in the regions so that the clients who are communities have better access to the international communities because most of the time when you bring a case to your own country and the court are weak, nothing happen but when you bring it to the international groups then there will be more attention and there will be more pressure to act. So there is a sort of good networking and every aspects of international support.
Q: Is there any plan on EIA work on Burma/ Myanmar?
Now we also start work with Burmese lawyers who are inside. Mostly they said that they need training as they need to improve education, knowledge and they said we have been in the dark for very long time, so now we need to have the training for the lawyers. So we make lots of exchange programs. May be in the future we can support them as we support now to the Mekong Lawyers and starts from training afterward doing network and from there we start exploring networks and different ways of working together and we are starting training with the accommodation of legal training and working with community through the training with the local lawyers and the local training and make sure that they are aware of each other.
Q: I do have a question while the lawyer and social activates gathering the information, is there happened targeting by the government or police. So in that case how the Earth rights give a suggestion about that?
We are always conscious about the dangerous of doing this kind of work. For example- with the legal team or the lawyers, we always think the safety and the security first. If doing this kind of works will get them in to trouble that is not that kind of worthy. We always alert them we or the victim need you there. That’s why you should careful your step and be smart about that. For example, in Vietnam it is really different from Thailand. In Thailand Sor can go to the media and any other organization freely, she can be in YouTube and in Thailand it is ok to do that. But In Vietnam if the lawyers do that he will be in danger which means he will be affected and his style is different. He works more with government instead of going against them. So he gives them useful advices. He brings the issues of the community and he finds cases for the collaboration inside government, so different styles. So there are many different strategies. For example, we don’t publish their names and faces in our website, we take those precautions and if we do interview with media, we try to be very quiet on this matter. Otherwise we won’t be affective if we get attention and it can stop our work what we have be doing. It really depends on the region, country, matter and the sensitiveness.
Q: Can you explain me more about how you identify the cases which will be in the format of the EIA?
It depends on the country for example in Cambodia, the lawyers we work with, they have a very strong community and almost every week they share to the experiences each other. We also have a deep constant process of communication with them whenever we discuss with them their cases and updates. For the reports, the campaign groups mainly doing and then they do interviews with them but if your target is the investors or the company we do publish it outside not inside as mainly on our target. So it doesn’t have to be inside the country.
Q: Are there any other cases like the local community requesting to EIA directly to get help from EIA?
There is always the local organization they approach and from there if the case become very much serious we, the headquarters doing the international work. We sometimes bring the people of from abroad to teach the local community how to do effective EIA and from there they again distribute the local people to aware that. It mostly likes the effective networking.
Q: Questioning on the Controversial development , for example in Burma the development seems to be really welcomed by the local community but for the cause of the consequences and the impact after that are not realize not that much. So what is your opinion on that?
Our believe is when it’s come to the development project, we always look after the right of people every single one especially for those who will be more affected by the development project. We don’t think having this kind of economic benefit justified the development. What we always say, there is a kind of process that they should always have a consultation with the local people. They should always be informing of what going to be happened. If they have to be relocated there should be always sufficient compensation and most of the time, these things are disregarded. Most of the time people only know about the project when starts and force them away and started saying that you cannot stay here anymore. We always said that first inform, consult that they know and access that they know that impact of that. They should be following the international standard.
Q: Emphasizing changes of the Burma and the eyes of the businessmen, we really concern on the coming of the massive coming of the investment. Any comment of that?
What the Burmese groups preparing for it is doing training and the good networking with the international groups as once when we train the lawyers always mentioning with that what kind of remedies is available in the international and comparing with the domestic. We always closely work with the local community groups which means working together with them, address the issue is the way of achieving the goals in short period. So answering your question will be both good and bad. Sometimes good for the economy but on the other hand there are abuses, community lose their land they don’t get paid well and their labour rights are not follow. However, if they have higher awareness they can look after their rights and they can safe guards their own rights. When there is violation they won’t just like take it all to suffer. They will know this is something wrong and we can do about on that.
Since as you mention, we can do work with the international organization, even thought the local people would like to work with inside but the domestic law doesn’t have or sometimes it has but doesn’t applied to the reality. So those obstacles how Earth rights overcome on that?
So that’s why it has to be combination of legal and the media and campaigns. For example- sometimes the company would react to the media since they make the reputation of the news. So, if there bad publicity for them in media so they will try to address it in the media. If the law are difficult to implement in Burma , there should be laws outside of Myanmar which the foreign company should follow their law of their own country. Example- if the company is from US, you can find the case in US and you can send the complain letters as most of the country form the west they have stronger legal system.
Q: Your view on the relief of sanction in Burma?
We don’t really make a formal position to say when it comes to sanction since it is not something we are focusing on. It’s not our expedites and it’s not our jobs. So we don’t have an opinion when it comes to the sanction, when it comes to the business , it has to be done right and so in terms of sanction there are others groups that take position. So our works is working with the local lawyers and local organization. Whether there are sanction or not, we try to address specific problems inside seeing with the different tools and different strategies. We mostly concern on the policies and micro – economic and as well as legal and campaigning.