About the Environmental Defender Law Center

The problem

When the environment is harmed, so are nearby communities, whose members suffer violations of their human rights to health, property, and way of life. To make matters worse, governments often violate these affected communities’ rights to information, expression, and participation in environmental decision-making. And if communities cannot advocate for their human rights or for their environment, harm to both is inevitable.

What is EDLC?

The Environmental Defender Law Center (EDLC) is a non-profit organization that works to protect the human rights of people in developing countries who are fighting to protect their environment. EDLC was created in 2003 to provide a range of legal services to environmental defenders, especially by finding private lawyers to work for free on their behalf.

EDLC identifies cases where environmental defenders need and want legal assistance, and helps them without charge by Finding Lawyers, Providing Resources, and Giving Grants. EDLC specializes in cases of international significance, where innovative legal strategies can be developed and later replicated to help other environmental defenders. EDLC is funded exclusively by foundation grants and individual donations.

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Who are environmental defenders?

Environmental defenders assisted by EDLC are:

  • Individuals charged with crimes to stop them from raising environmental concerns
  • Victims of harms resulting from resource development projects
  • Communities denied a voice in environmental decisions that affect them
  • Indigenous people whose traditional use of their land is threatened

The role of lawyers

EDLC’s work is driven by the belief that legal systems around the world must protect environmental defenders and recognize the rights of affected communities, and that private lawyers and public interest lawyers can each play a critical role in achieving these goals. Lawyers are justifiably proud of their long tradition of undertaking pro bono representation of clients who are otherwise unable to afford legal services. Law firms of all political stripes and sizes frequently render invaluable legal services without charge to such clients. Scores of lawyers have donated thousands of hours working on EDLC cases, often traveling to distant countries to help their clients.

Why it works

Governments are never anxious to see their human rights violations paraded before the international community. Having lawyers put their weight behind the traditionally powerless and unrepresented also lends legitimacy to the position being taken and the result being sought. The mere fact of such representation immediately tends to level the playing field. And when top law firms take on EDLC cases, foreign governments and courts recognize the tremendous resources and influence – legal, diplomatic, and political- that these firms can bring to bear.