Campaigning to Prioritize Human Rights: Garnering Government Support for Environmental Rights of the Local Community

Terry Odendahl and Peter Kostishack, Global Greengrants Fund

Around the globe, degradation of the environment has become intrinsically linked to human rights violations. For example, large-scale mining projects alter ecology, subsistence patterns, and economic and social systems. In turn, local communities experience negative effects on their health, livelihoods, gender equality, security, and cultural practices.

Global Greengrants Fund works with local activists to advise its grantmaking and supports grassroots campaigns that address such violations. As part of this strategy, Global Greengrants Fund supported a multi-faceted/multi-organizational campaign to prevent open-pit gold mining in the hills outside of Challapata, Bolivia.

In 2011, as the mining company launched a persuasive campaign and government officials prioritized mining over human rights, Challapata residents sought to make their voices heard. Local organizations used small grants to inform the public and policymakers about the effects of mining, mobilize community opposition, and influence national policy around consultative rights.

Small grants under $5,000 supported a number of local groups. The Socio-Environmental Coordination Collective (Colectivo CASA) conducted an environmental impact assessment of the project and shared its findings with policymakers and the public. The groups Ayllus and Markas Qullasuyu National Council (CONAMAQ), Comité de Defensa Ambiental y Lechera de Challapata, and United Youth in Defense of Nature and Life (JUDNAVI) raised community awareness of the human rights and environmental effects of mining. The Environment and Development Bolivian Forum-Oruro (FOBOMADE Oruro) advocated for a national “free, prior, and informed consent legal framework[1] to apply to any such project affecting indigenous communities.

Funding the campaigns of these groups enabled the community of Challapata to rally for a common future invested in farming rather than mining. As a result, municipal government officials have announced they will not authorize any permits for activities, including mining, that conflict with the sustainable development interests of the community. While the mining company is still lobbying regional and national officials, grassroots organizers are optimistic that their work has ensured protection for their environmental and basic human rights.


[1] International law in the form of Convention No. 169 of the International Labour Organization (ILO) requires previous consultation and guarantees free, prior and informed consent for indigenous populations. Governments in countries that have ratified the ILO convention (like Bolivia and Peru) have yet to codify these requirements within their national law.

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