Preparing Legal Briefs: Local Cases, International Law
EDLC is often asked by communities to assist their local lawyers in cases brought before domestic courts. These cases typically involve violations of the human rights of community members resulting from harm to their environment. The courts are usually required to consider international law in deciding these cases because people affected by harm to their environment enjoy substantial human rights protections under international law. Yet local lawyers often lack the time or training to address these issues, and many judges have a limited understanding of the relevant international law they must consider.
As a result, EDLC frequently prepares and submits legal briefs in these cases, focusing on the key issues under international human rights law. This international approach also dovetails with the local lawyers’ focus on domestic law. And when arguments based on international law are presented by lawyers from another country, it serves to emphasize to the court that international law must be followed.
EDLC has written briefs on behalf of communities around the world for use in cases that seek recognition of the land rights of indigenous peoples, tackle health and environmental harm caused by pollution from natural resource development projects, fight for the participatory rights of communities affected by mines and dams, and defend speech and protest critical of a wide variety of environmental harms.
EDLC is also frequently asked to advise affected communities, their local lawyers, non-governmental organizations, and others concerning strategies, resources, and networking in environmental human rights matters. EDLC has provided such advice on matters arising in three dozen countries around the world, and EDLC staff members have been invited to every continent to speak on human rights and corporate accountability issues before legal groups, non-governmental organizations, and foundations.
In addition, whenever EDLC places a case with a law firm, it suggests legal and strategic approaches for the firm to pursue. The firms have welcomed and followed such suggestions, and usually accept EDLC’s offer to remain involved in the case as a resource and as a liaison with the lawyers, the clients, and others working on the case. This role often involves advising on strategic issues and working in a variety of ways to provide additional support to the case effort.
EDLC assists environmental defenders by developing and providing resources that address recurring environmental human rights concerns. This approach enables EDLC to assist a greater number of individuals and communities than the “single case” approach.
EDLC has developed online resources for protecting the rights of environmental defenders. These environmental defenders are suffering direct violations of their fundamental civil and political human rights as the price for their advocacy for the environment and for their affected communities. The resources provide a starting point for individual environmental defenders and those working on their behalf to learn how to fight back against these human rights violations.
EDLC has also developed online resources to assist communities considering taking advantage of pro-democracy laws that allow them to hold local votes on proposed natural resource development projects that may harm their environment and violate their human rights. These votes are increasingly being used as a means of encouraging citizen participation and peacefully resolving critical development issues.
Partners Enrique Gomez-Pinzon and Elizabeth Bevington, Holland & Knight law firm