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Human Rights Leaders File Amicus Brief in the case of Chilean Indigenous Environmental Activist

Washington D.C., December 6, 2019. – Four international Human Rights Organizations, the former United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Environment and an ex President of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights presented a legal brief today to the local Chilean federal court judging Mapuche leader and environmental activist, Alberto Curamil. The indigenous leader, who received the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize this year for his work defending indigenous lands and water conservation, was jailed over a year ago on what his legal defense claims are trumped up charges to stop his activism. He is currently in jail and on trial in Temuco, Chile.

The Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), the Center for Human Rights and Environment (CHRE), EarthRights International, The Goldman Environmental Foundation, John Knox, former UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Environment, and Dinah Shelton, Professor Emeritus at the George Washington University Law School and former Inter-American Commission on Human Rights President, collaborated on the amicus brief, stressing the critical role that the judiciary plays to prevent criminalization of environmental defenders. The brief, submitted today to the Chilean court in Temuco, also stresses the need of guarantees for environmental defenders to conduct their environmental advocacy work safely and free from persecution.

The authors highlight the misuse of the criminal process to persecute environmental defenders for their work, in particular the abuse of preventive or pre-trial detention as a mechanism to harass and silence environmental defenders. The authors cite international human rights law and jurisprudence on the reinforced obligation of the State in these types of cases. They insist that the judiciary must use the highest levels of scrutiny to avoid further human rights violations and comply with Chile’s international obligations to uphold international human rights law.

“The misuse of criminal process as a reprisal against environmental defenders does not only affect the defender but undermines democracy and delegitimizes the judiciary,” said CHRE founder and global human rights and environmental activist, Romina Picolotti. “In times where we need to restore and protect the Earth’s ecosystems we need more than ever to create the conditions for environmental defenders to conduct their work safely. Their work does not only benefit their communities but it is important for the entire Planet. The case of Alberto Curamil is extremely troublesome. He is a recognized indigenous leader and environmental activist that has been in jail for over a year in a process that shows a clear pattern of criminalization. We hope that this legal brief that we are submitting to the Chilean court will help serve justice.”

Maria Noel Leoni, Director for CEJIL’s Southern Cone and Bolivia Program stated, “It is imperative that the Judiciary follows through with the recommendations presented in the amicus brief. Chile has an outstanding debt with the Mapuche community manifested often in cases of criminalization. In the case of Curamil, it is of the utmost importance that the judiciary operate with the highest levels of compliance with international law regarding human rights defenders and indigenous peoples.”

“Environmental and land defenders should be free to protect their communities and our shared planet without risk of prosecution or harassment,” said EarthRights Amazon Program Director Juliana Bravo Valencia. “We urge the judiciary to deliver justice to Alberto Curamil and to not criminalize him or other earth rights defenders.”

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, based in Washington D.C., recently held a regional hearing, alarmed by the growing cases of environmentalists across Latin America that are being subject to criminal persecution and harassed by governments and by non-state actors aiming to thwart their advocacy and defense of the right to a healthy environment. In a statement released by the regional human rights body, the Commission warned “of the large numbers of murders of human rights defenders and social leaders in the region, and of the attacks, threats, harassment, intimidation, stigmatization and smear campaigns, and the intense criminalization processes that these individuals continue to face in the region.” To date, the Americas is the world’s most dangerous region for human rights defenders. In the same release, the Commission pointed to reports on arbitrary uses of criminal law against human rights defenders—especially environmental rights defenders.

For more information on Inter-American Hearing on Environmental Defenders see:

For more information on the Amicus Brief contact:
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Link to Amicus Brief: