Letter: Fracking on trial and the rights of nature

in Letters/Opinion by

The historic Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal Session on Human Rights, Fracking, and Climate Change will take place this May 14 to 18, cohosted by Spring Creek Project at Oregon State University, Corvallis, and live-streaming online.

For the first time in its nearly 40-year history, this session of the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal (PPT) will have an international focus and will include arguments about the rights of Nature in addition to the rights of people. Among those participating are individuals and groups from Newfoundland and Labrador.

The Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal is a highly respected international forum that grew from the Russell-Sartre Tribunal to investigate whether breaches of human rights norms occurred during the Vietnam War. Since then it has conducted a series of high-profile hearings to determine whether human rights standards were abridged in Bhopal, Chernobyl, and other sites worldwide. The Tribunal’s most recent session was on Myanmar’s (Burma’s) crimes against the Rohingya and Kachin refugees.

The upcoming session will focus on the potential human rights violations of unconventional hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and climate change. The Tribunal judges will also be asked to consider the rights of Nature, because the protection of a healthy environment may be a fundamental prerequisite for the protection of human rights.

Two Earth jurisprudence attorneys, Lisa Mead, LL.M., director of Scotland’s Earth Law Alliance, and Dr. Michelle Maloney, convener of the Australian Earth Laws Alliance, will present witness testimony and oral and written arguments addressing the session’s central questions from a Nature-rights perspective.

A team of human rights attorneys will present witness testimony and reports from preliminary tribunals held in areas where fracking is used in oil and gas extraction.

Amicusbriefs have been submitted by attorneys and others representing nongovernmental organizations, for which representatives will present evidence and arguments orally.

After examining evidence and hearing testimony, judges selected by the impartial PPT board will be asked to provide an advisory opinion on four central questions:

  1. Under what circumstances do fracking and other unconventional oil and gas extraction techniques breach human rights protected by international law as a matter of treaty or custom?
  1. Under what circumstances do fracking and other unconventional oil and gas extraction techniques warrant the issuance of either provisional measures, a judgment enjoining further activity, remediation relief or damages for causing environmental harm?
  2. What is the extent of responsibility and liability of States and non-State actors for violations of human rights and for environmental and climate harm caused by these oil and gas extraction techniques?
  3. What is the extent of responsibility and liability of States and non-State actors, both legal and moral, for violations of the rights of nature related to environmental and climate harm caused by these unconventional oil and gas extraction techniques?

The judges will likely spend several months reviewing the evidence and deliberating before issuing their opinion.

During the week of the Tribunal, attorneys, witnesses, and judges will convene via Zoom web conferencing software each day to hear evidence and testimony. The proceedings will be streamed on the Spring Creek Project Facebook page. A full schedule of daily Tribunal proceedings will be posted on the Spring Creek Project website and on tribunalonfracking.org in advance of the Tribunal for those who wish to follow along.

Leading up to this session of the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal, the Spring Creek Project is sharing the Bedrock Lectures on Human Rights and Climate Change, an online lecture series that invites artists, lawyers, scientists, writers, and activists to engage audiences in imagining how we can build communities in a world where environmental crises quickly become recognized as human rights crises. A new lecture is released each Wednesday by noon on YouTube. Cornell University emeritus professor Anthony Ingraffea, PhD, was the most recent presenter.

On May 14, on the opening evening of the Tribunal, writer and ecologist Sandra Steingraber, PhD, will deliver a keynote address. Steingraber will share her personal experience with fracking along with scientific data to illustrate how environmental injustices are related to social injustices.

So far, several individuals and organizations from this province have submitted amicus curiaebriefs to the PPT Tribunal. On this issue, Dr. Ian Simpson from Corner Brook, said “it is important for such international Court to know the Newfoundland story on fracking and make the link between the protection of our rights to human health”. For Raymond Cusson of Shoal Brook, NL, contributor and presenter to the PPT “the protection of our human rights for a clean and safe environment is critical for the Gros Morne region.” adding “protecting Gros Morne, Bay St. George, Port au Port and the entire west coast is a human rights concern, specially when it comes to the effects of climate change and clean drinking water.”

The Province has not officially responded yet to the NL Hydraulic Fracturing Review Panel report tabled on May 31, 2016.

-The Permanent People’s Tribunal on Fracking and Climate Change

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