Albion Monitor /News

Seven Activists Win Top Environmental Award

(IPS) SAN FRANCISCO -- Loir Botor Dingit has been fighting some of Indonesia's most powerful timber corporations that have seized forest lands held for centuries by indigenous groups.

Juan Pablo Orrego's efforts to save one of the world's last major free-flowing rivers has turned into Chile's most important environmental battle.

These two men are among the seven activists from around the world who are this year's recipients of the eighth annual Goldman Environmental Prize.

Russian whistleblower still faces possibility of death penalty
At ceremonies here on April 14, prizes also went to a Samoan who helped stop logging in an endangered lowland rainforest and a former Russian naval officer charged with treason for exposing the danger of nuclear catastrophe arising from his country's deteriorating submarine fleet.

Alexander Nikitin served as a naval officer in the Soviet Northern Fleet from 1974 until 1985 when he was chief engineer on nuclear-powered submarines. He later worked at the Ministry of Defense in Moscow until his retirement in 1992.

In 1995, Nikitin began working with the Bellona Foundation, a Norwegian environmental group which he helped publish a report, "The Russian Northern Fleet -- Source of Radioactive Contamination." The report largely confirmed fears about the possibility of a major nuclear disaster that could result from the hundreds of crumbling submarines based at the Kola Peninsula.

He was arrested by Russian authorities in Feb. 1996 on charges of espionage but was released last December after international protests, including a resolution by the European Parliament, on his behalf. Yet the charges, which carry the death penalty, have not been dismissed.

Victories for Native peoples wanting to protect their lands
The Goldman Prize, which includes $75,000 to the winners, is perhaps the most prestigious international awards made to environmental activists.

In Chile, Juan Pablo Orrego's Grupo de Accion por el Bio Bio (GABB) has campaigned against the building of the Ralco Dam that would flood more than 70 kilometers of river valley and displace the indigenous Pehuenche people.

ENDESA, the utility company which wants to build the dam, has been trying to secure international financial support, but has found it hard going largely because of GABB campaigns and legal efforts, as well as a landmark complaint submitted to the World Bank's inspection panel, according to the Goldman Foundation.

On the other side of the world, the paramount chief of the Bentian Tribal Council in Indonesia forged a common front on behalf of the Bentian and other Dayak tribes to protect their lands.

The Dayak tribes won a major victory last September when the Ministry of Forestry announced it would launch a pilot project under which forest communities would be given legal rights to up to 10,000 hectares of forests. This is the first time the rights of Kalimantan indigenous groups have been officially recognized by the government.

The government's regional forestry office followed up with a finding that logging in the Bentian's area was illegal, another first in Indonesia's history.

Terri Swearingen, a nurse from the state of Ohio, received a prize for her campaign against the construction of toxic waste incinerators
Fuiono Senio, a Samoan High Chief, worked with another Goldman winner, U.S. professor Paul Alan Cox, to save the rainforest of Savai'i Island in Western Samoa in Polynesia from extensive logging that has already felled much of the forests of the island region.

In 1988, the Samoan government informed the village of Valealupo that it would not build a new school house there unless the local forest could be logged to raise the necessary money.

Cox and Fuiono persuaded village chiefs to seek alternative funding for the school and save the forest. Despite their lack of fund-raising experience, the two gained sufficient commitments from donors to build the school in exchange for which the village has agreed to protect the rainforest for a 50-year period.

Goldman Awards were also given to a U.S. community activist who has campaigned against the construction of toxic waste incinerators and to a British man who helped create the world's first multinational enforcement body to fight illegal wildlife trade.

Nick Carter, a British citizen working in Zambia, was honored for his efforts to build an international wildlife law enforcement body in Africa. After a four-decade career in protecting wildlife, Carter saw his most recent efforts bear fruit last December when the Lusaka Agreement, signed by Zambia, Uganda, Lesotho, Kenya, South Africa, and Swaziland, officially took effect.

The Agreement is designed to foster cooperation among national agencies charged with wildlife enforcement, and sponsors training programs for wildlife-protection personnel.

Terri Swearingen, a nurse from the state of Ohio, received a prize for her campaign against the construction of toxic waste incinerators, many of which have been built in or near poor communities throughout the United States. Incinerators have been found to emit heavy metals, including dioxins, known to cause cancer and other health problems.

Arrested more than a dozen times for taking part in community protests, her campaign, according to the Goldman Foundation, received national publicity and is credited with influencing the 1993 declaration by the Bill Clinton administration of an 18-month moratorium for new incinerators and the declaration by the governor of Ohio of an outright ban on the construction of new facilities.

Comments? Send a letter to the editor.

Albion Monitor April 19, 1997 (

All Rights Reserved.

Contact for permission to reproduce.

Front Page