Seven Environmental Crusaders From Around the World Awarded 1999 Goldman Prize. A pair of Aboriginal women fighting an Australian uranium mine, a Cameroonian lawyer protecting the region's vast rainforests, and a young Burmese man working to expose environmental and human rights abuses are winners of the tenth annual Goldman Environmental Prize.

They are among seven environmental heroes from around the globe who will receive the prestigious Goldman Prize today at a ceremony in San Francisco. Each of the winners received a "no strings attached" award of $125,000 from the Goldman Environmental Foundation. The total of $750,000 given annually to grassroots heroes from each of the six continental regions makes it the world's largest award for grassroots environmentalists.

This year's winners are: From Australia, Jacqui Katona and Yvonne Margarula, two Aboriginal women who have led a massive national campaign to prevent mining of Jabiluka, one of the world's largest uranium deposits. Located on land that is traditionally owned by the Mirrar people, Jabiluka is surrounded by the country's largest national park, Kakadu, a World Heritage site known for its cultural significance and rich biodiversity. Mining operations, which have been delayed due to the campaign, would release long-lasting radioactive tailings into the park. Katona and Margarula have initiated a process which may lead to the park's designation as a World Heritage site "in danger."

From Burma, Ka Hsaw Wa, a young man from the Karen ethnic minority who has undergone torture and risked death in opposition to the environmental and human rights policies of a brutal military government. Fleeing Rangoon, he went to live in the forests near the Thai border, where he discovered extensive abuses taking place in the regions inhabited by Burmese. He has documented thousands of cases of forced labor, execution, rape and confiscation of property carried out by the military in support of a pipeline project by a consortium including U.S.-based Unocal and the French Total petroleum companies. This information has formed the basis of a precedent-setting lawsuit in U.S. court.

From Canada, Bernard Martin, a fourth generation fisher who advocated reduced fishing quotas after seeing firsthand that factory trawlers were decimating the once-abundant species of the Grand Banks cod fishery. The call was not heeded and in 1992 the fishery closed, abruptly throwing 30,000 Newfoundlanders, including Martin, out of work. Determined that the disaster not be repeated, Martin co-founded FORCE: Fishers Organized for the Revitalization of Communities and Ecosystems. He has traveled extensively throughout Canada and around the world, educating the general public and working with his fellow fishers to develop strategies to protect the earth's over-burdened oceans.

From Honduras, Jorge Varela, who has promoted a model of shrimping that respects fragile resources in the Gulf of Fonseca where commercial shrimp farms have proliferated in recent years (largely due to demand from North America) and have led to the clearing of coastal mangrove forests, the poisoning of estuaries, and the loss of common fishing grounds. Varela is co-founder of CODEFFAGOLF, an organization of gulf residents that has succeeded in securing two consecutive moratoriums on the expansion of shrimp farming, is bringing 107,000 hectares of wetlands under protection and is sustaining relief efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch's devastation.

From Cameroon, Samuel Nguiffo, a man who has struggled tirelessly to stop the liquidation of the world's second largest contiguous rainforest for short-term profit. As a lawyer and founder of the Center for Environment and Development, Nguiffo has worked to inform forest-dwelling peoples, including Pygmies, of their legal right to manage their traditional lands. He is also at the forefront of an international effort to ensure that the Chad/Cameroon oil pipeline project does not bring about large-scale forest destruction, marine pollution and social dislocation.

From Slovakia, Michal Kravcik, a hydrologist who succeeded in galvanizing community participation to stop a proposed large dam, an environmentally destructive project that was conceived during the Communist era of central planning. Using democratic principles, he presented effective alternatives that included the creation of small dams, decentralization of water management authority and restoration of agricultural lands. Kravcik helped reinvigorate the local economy by introducing sustainable development projects and has successfully encouraged increased voter participation in the country.

During the past ten years, the recipients of the Prize have opened our eyes to the obstacles and risks faced by individuals pursuing environmental interests worldwide," said Richard N. Goldman, President of the Goldman Environmental Foundation. "We believe that bringing attention to their issues raises the credibility of these individuals and offers them personal protection."


At the heart of Kakadu, Australia's largest national park, lies Jabiluka, one of the world's largest uranium deposits. It is also home to the Mirrar Aboriginal people, whose ancestors have lived in the area for more than 40,000 years. The plan to mine Jabiluka, thereby altering forever this fragile landscape, has found vocal opposition in the Mirrar. Leading this passionate campaign are two aboriginal women, Jacqui Katona, 33, and Yvonne Margarula, 41.

Katona, a member of the Djok Aboriginal clan, is executive officer of the Gundjehmi Aboriginal Corporation, a Mirrar-run nonprofit organization. Margarula is the Senior Traditional Owner of the Mirrar people and chairperson of the Gundjehmi Aboriginal Corporation. Katona and Margarula are blood relatives.

Kakadu is a World Heritage site, one of only 20 in the world based on both cultural and natural significance. The park contains 196 aboriginal art sites, reflecting the age-old cultural history of the area. Unique in its landscapes, biodiversity and rich ecosystems, Kakadu draws hundreds of thousands of tourists a year. Though within its borders, Jabiluka is excised from the park. The mineral lease for Jabiluka is held by the mining company Energy Resources of Australia (ERA), which operates the nearby Ranger Uranium Mine. Approval for mining Jabiluka was made by the Australian government despite the fact that mining within Kakadu is prohibited and in the face of opposition from the traditional owners.

As well as destroying lands of great spiritual significance to the Mirrar and damaging the fragile ecosystem, the mine will unavoidably release tailings into the park that will remain radioactive for some 300,000 years. Jabiluka is one of several new uranium mines planned for Australia. The uranium is intended primarily for export, thus contributing to the international nuclear fuel cycle. Moreover, it has been estimated that the current world supply for uranium will outpace demand for the next two decades.

The Mirrar people, led by Katona and Margarula, have mounted a massive opposition campaign against Jabiluka, employing forms of protest ranging from legal action, education, and mobilization of national and international support, to traveling across Australia to garner support. A recent opinion poll found that 67 percent of Australians opposed the Jabiluka uranium mine. In March 1998, the Mirrar banded with environmental organizations to create a massive on-site civil disobedience, one of the biggest blockades in Australia's history. Over a period of several months, approximately 5,000 people from across the country and overseas traveled to the remote camp to protest in solidarity with the Mirrar people. In July the land was cleared by ERA and construction on Jabiluka began; however, protesters intervened and approximately 550 were arrested, including Margarula and Katona for trespassing on their own land. Katona recently served a prison sentence as punishment for this violation.

Thanks to lobbying efforts on the part of Katona and Margarula, the World Heritage Committee sent an inspection team to the mine site in October 1998 to assess threats to the area, with the intention of declaring Kakadu a World Heritage site "in danger." This designation, while still pending, would be the first instance of a World Heritage site being declared "endangered" against the will of its host country.

"It is a very large number of people who see this mine as a bad thing," says Yvonne Margarula. "The agreement was arranged by pushing people and does not accurately reflect the wishes of Aboriginal people who own that country. We all stand together on that. Stop Jabiluka!"


Ka Hsaw Wa, 28, was born a member of the Karen, one of Burma's many ethnic minorities that has long been discriminated against by the ruling military regime in Burma. In 1988, when he was just eighteen years old, Ka Hsaw Wa joined a massive student demonstration, demanding human rights, democracy and an end to military rule. He was arrested and tortured for three days. The nation-wide, peaceful protests ended in violence when the military dictatorship killed an estimated ten thousand people in one of the most ruthless and bloody crackdowns in recent history. Ka Hsaw Wa was forced to flee his home and go into hiding in the deep forests near the Thai border, where he discovered that human rights abuses in the regions inhabited by Burmese ethnic people were extensive. Soon he realized how intimately these abuses were connected to the exploitation of natural resources.

In order to acquire the foreign currency needed to maintain its illegitimate hold on power, the military junta sold huge logging, fishing and gem concessions, as well as a major natural gas concession with its related overland pipeline. In pursuing these projects, the military has committed a variety of severe and pervasive human rights violations. Ka Hsaw Wa traveled to militarized areas, often at great risk to his life, in order to document the destruction and abuse. In 1995 he co-founded EarthRights International (ERI) with the express purpose of exposing and raising awareness of the inextricable links between human rights and environmentalism in Burma and beyond.

Since the early 1990s Ka Hsaw Wa has interviewed more than a thousand victims and witnesses of human rights and environmental abuses, and delivered this information to the international community. He has provided one of the only sources of information about how the Burmese army arbitrarily detains, tortures, rapes, intimidates and summarily executes indigenous villagers in the name of development. He has also documented how the army forcibly relocates villages and made villagers work as laborers. Ka Hsaw Wa trained a team of monitors who have been documenting these abuses, as well as the increased logging, hunting of elephants and tigers, and illegal wildlife trade.

Much of his work has focused on documenting human rights and environmental abuses associated with the Yadana Gas Pipeline Project - the largest foreign investment in Burma. The pipeline project involves a consortium including transnational corporations Unocal (US) and Total (France) who have contracted with the Burmese army to provide security for the project. It traverses the Tenasserim rainforest, inhabited by diverse ethnic peoples and home to the tiger, the Asian elephant, the rhinoceros and many other rare and endangered species.

The information that Ka Hsaw Wa has collected has been one of the only sources of documentation from the pipeline region of Burma, and has formed the basis for numerous reports, testimonies and a groundbreaking lawsuit in US federal court. This lawsuit made legal history by being the first case in which a US judge granted jurisdiction over a private company for human rights abuses abroad. In 1998 his efforts helped block a World Bank guarantee for a multi-million dollar loan intended to build a Thai power plant that would process Yadana gas. Because of opposition to the pipeline, the Yadana gas pipeline missed its start date of July 1, 1998 and is still not functional.

According to Ka Hsaw Wa, "By destroying our forests, our trees, our wild animals, and our rivers, the Burmese dictatorship and its partners in crime also destroy who we are. Even though they have the money, guns and power, we have truth and justice on our side to defend human rights and the environment."


The collapse of the great fisheries of the Atlantic off the coasts of the eastern United States and Canada ranks as one of the most devastating environmental catastrophes of the 20th century. The closing to fishing of the Grand Banks off Newfoundland in 1992 and the Georges Banks off the coast of Massachusetts in 1995, followed by a huge section of the Gulf of Maine in January 1999, signaled a crisis of epic proportions in these once-abundant cod, haddock and flounder grounds.

Bernard Martin, 45, was raised in the small fishing community of Petty Harbour, Newfoundland. Like his father, grandfather and great-grandfather before him, Martin has chosen the life of an inshore fisher. Petty Harbour's history as a fishing community dates back to the early 1600s. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, European factory trawlers began to indiscriminately ravage the Grand Banks cod fishery. Meanwhile, the Canadian government promoted the modernization of the inshore fishery by introducing monofilament bottom gillnets. Alarmed, the village of Petty Harbour petitioned the Canadian government and created the ten-mile Petty Harbour/Maddox Cove protected fishing area. In 1983 the Petty Harbour Fishermen's Cooperative was formed, giving fishers control over production and marketing of their own fish for the first time. By resisting destructive fishing techniques in favor of more traditional methods, the reserve remained effective for 30 years, but with continual assault outside its perimeter and compromises within its interior, by the early nineties it too was threatened. In July 1992, while Martin and others traveled across Newfoundland speaking out about the devastation, the once unthinkable came to pass; there were simply not enough cod in the ocean to support the fishing industry. Almost overnight 40,000 people in Newfoundland and Labrador, including Martin, were thrown out of work, the biggest layoff in Canada's history.

After witnessing the warning signs firsthand, Martin had participated in a fishery linkage between Newfoundland and Nicaragua sponsored by Oxfam-Canada between 1986 and 1990 and began speaking out against European and Canadian factory trawlers, which indiscriminately "strip mine" the ocean floor. Determined that the Grand Banks disaster not be repeated, in 1993 Martin and others founded Fishers Organized for the Revitalization of Communities and Ecosystems (FORCE). He spoke on behalf of sustainable fishing methods at a UN Conference. In 1993 Martin joined the "Clayoquot Express," a trainload of environmentalists which traveled across Canada to publicize the decimation of fisheries on Canada's East Coast, and the parallel destruction of the magnificent old-growth forests of the country's west. Martin served nine days in prison in 1994 for blockading logging roads in Clayoquot Sound.

Recognizing the alarming patterns of decline among fisheries worldwide, Martin traveled to New Zealand and Eritrea to meet with fishers and assess the problems facing their fisheries. Since 1995 he has been involved in the Sentinel Survey, a five-year program to monitor cod stocks on traditional fishing grounds under the community sponsorship of the Petty Harbour Fishers Coop. Martin and others concluded that such vigilance could have prevented the collapse of the northern cod stocks. In 1995 and 1996 he crisscrossed Newfoundland and Labrador, working with the Protected Areas Association to discuss ideas such as no-entry zones, no-take at certain times of the year and various gear restrictions, and traveled to Alaska to speak about the consequences of collapsed fisheries. Martin spent one year as coordinator of the Newfoundland and Labrador Oceans Caucus, and has helped document the history of the protected fishing area of Petty Harbour. He also works to draw attention to the presence of "ghost nets" - lost gill nets that continue to trap marine creatures indiscriminately and indefinitely.

"When I speak to people in other parts of the world about the collapse of Canada's East Coast fisheries, I like to say, 'if we have nothing else to offer at least take some lessons from us in how not to manage your fisheries,'" says Martin. "Ultimately, that may be our most valuable fisheries export."


In coastal communities around the world, a groundswell of discontent has developed regarding the adverse effects of industrial shrimp aquaculture. Worldwide, shrimp farms have destroyed thousands of miles of critical coastal wetlands, displaced traditional fishing communities and contaminated fresh water supplies. Meanwhile, the industrial shrimp farms have been plagued by disease, due to overcrowding and poor water quality. Scientists have raised concerns that these viruses might spread to wild stocks. Jorge Varela, 51, a Honduran conservationist, is recognized internationally as an important figure in the global struggle to contain this unsustainable model of development.

In Honduras, the feverish proliferation of industrial shrimp aquaculture since 1986 has led to extensive clearing of coastal mangroves (which serve as vital nurseries for young fish), irresponsible fisheries management and the destruction of estuaries. This has resulted in tremendous pressure on the once rich fisheries of the Gulf of Fonseca. Located on the Pacific coast, the Gulf of Fonseca is shared by Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua. The shrimp raised are primarily for export and local fishermen have been increasingly restricted from common fishing grounds as the coast is privatized.

The Committee for the Defense and Development of Flora and Fauna of the Gulf of Fonseca (CODDEFFAGOLF) was co-founded by Varela in 1988 as part of an emerging grassroots movement challenging the appropriation of natural resources. Representing ten thousand subsistence fishermen, farmers, salt extractors, grade school children as well as local men and women, CODDEFFAGOLF is today one of the most effective and most respected NGOs in all Central America. As the organization's executive director, Varela has contributed significantly to containing the expansion of shrimp farming in the Gulf of Fonseca's coastal wetlands. He successfully pressured the Honduran government to establish protected wildlife and fishing refuges in the Gulf's coastal lagoons and since has been working patiently with the government to implement an on-the-ground strategy for enforcing protection of these sanctuaries. In 1996 CODDEFFAGOLF members persuaded the government of Honduras to enact a precedent-setting moratorium on the construction of new shrimp farms. After the organization's members exposed 60 instances where shrimp farmers violated the moratorium and marched on the capital city, the government increased enforcement measures and extended the licensing moratorium for a second year. These accomplishments have not come easily. Varela and CODDEFFAGOLF are challenging powerful interests and several years ago two of the organization's members were killed. Meanwhile, Varela has had his life threatened repeatedly.

In May 1995 CODDEFFAGOLF together with groups from El Salvador and Nicaragua formed the Trinational Civil Association for the Conservation of the Gulf of Fonseca. Varela served as the commission's first head. Varela and CODDEFFAGOLF are also founding members of the Industrial Shrimp Action Network (ISA Net), an international effort to support the efforts of coastal communities that are resisting the introduction or expansion of industrial shrimp farming. In November of 1998 Varela participated in a successful public education tour across Canada to alert North Americans to the high costs associated with eating industrially raised shrimp.

Last fall Hurricane Mitch left a devastating wake of destruction in Honduras. CODEFFAGOLF mobilized their extensive network and became a de facto relief agency in the western region of the country. Siltation from erosions and flash floods continues to pose serious problems for fishers in the Gulf of Fonseca.

Varela states that, "When destroying nature in the present, the expectation of a better quality of life in the future and indeed of survival are decreased."


The tropical rainforest of Central Africa is second only to the Amazon in size. One of the world's great storehouses of biodiversity, it is home to the great apes, elephants and forest-dwelling people. The spiritual and cultural identity of these inhabitants who include the Baka and the Bagueli people, often referred to as Pygmies, is intricately tied to the forest. Cameroon, the nation that lies at the frontier of this vast basin, is the continent's largest exporter of raw timber. To its north, the forests of West Africa have been largely depleted. As the gatekeeper to the Congo Basin, Cameroon is an important indicator for the future of the entire region.

Samuel Nguiffo, 33, directs the Center for Environment and Development (CED) in Cameroon's capital, YaoundJ. A lawyer by training, Nguiffo has devoted himself to the Herculean task of stopping the liquidation of the region's forests for short-term profit.

Cameroonian citizens rarely benefit from this industrial scale logging as profits go primarily to foreign companies. Moreover, a network of logging roads has made the forests vulnerable to commercial hunters who are slaughtering chimpanzees and gorillas for their meat on an unprecedented scale. Ironically, the so-called "Bushmeat" trade is driving primates and other species to extinction at the very time that scientists have pinpointed the origin of the HIV virus to chimpanzees in the region. Scientists believe that the agent for treatment and cures may be found by studying this endangered species. This ecosystem is also home to the prunus africanus tree, the bark of which contains a compound used to treat prostate cancer. This compound cannot currently be synthesized and industry practice encourages locals and other collectors to harvest the bark in such a way that the trees often die.

Nguiffo's and his team at CED have been working tirelessly to inform forest-dwelling peoples about a little known provision in Cameroon's forestry law. This progressive new law allows for the establishment of community forests, in theory allowing local inhabitants to legally manage their traditional lands. CED also assists forest communities with income-generating activities such as bee-keeping and sustainable use of non-timber forest products.

Concerned about immediate and longer-term threats to the region, Nguiffo is at the forefront of an international effort to ensure that the proposed 1050-kilometer (880 of which are in Cameroon) Chad/Cameroon oil pipeline project will not bring about large-scale social dislocation, habitat destruction and marine pollution. He has also participated in CEO's Process - a World Bank initiative to bring the CEOs of logging companies, conservation organizations and representatives from developing countries together. The sole representative from Africa, Nguiffo speaks out for the rights of communities in tropical rainforest regions. Nguiffo is also a member of the Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide (E-LAW), a network of environmental lawyers from 50 countries.

"What is happening at this moment in the Congo Basin cannot be supported by anyone of good faith," says Samuel Nguiffo. "It is unacceptable that the basis for life of millions of individuals be destroyed in order to satisfy the greed of a few private companies, that are generally foreign."


After the "Velvet Revolution" in 1989, Slovakia's old communist regime was replaced by a democratic government. However, the task of overthrowing the government was rather simple compared to the difficulty of changing the mindset of the citizens and officials. Centralized power continued as the means of ruling the country. In 1992 the government of Slovakia revived an old plan to build a large dam at Tichy Potok on the Upper Torysa River in order to supply drinking water for East Slovakia's cities and to protect against future water shortages. The proposed dam would have destroyed the natural rural environment and forced the evacuation of four 700-year old villages. Hydrologist Michal Kravcik, 43, had long disagreed with the national water management plans and maintained that in Slovakia policies were outdated. In 1993 he proposed Water for a Third Millennium, an alternative water management concept for the nation. In response to the proposed dam at Tichy Potok, Kravcik helped establish People and Water, a local grassroots organization. He began to show that existing drinking water reservoirs had not been used to their fullest extent, the water consumption rate was decreasing in the cities, and much water was being wasted by a distribution system in great need of repair.

In 1993, a referendum in local villages revealed that 90 percent of the villagers were opposed to the proposed dam. Despite this reaction, the government persisted with its plan. Kravcik not only voiced opposition against the proposed dam, he also presented an alternative plan in 1994. The "Blue Alternative" provided means to obtain the same amount of drinking water for approximately 20 percent of the cost of the proposed dam, while minimizing the destructive impacts on the environment. One of its key components was that resources were to be managed by a local association of villages, requiring de-centralization of power, a challenge to the old style of government. The alternative included the creation of 35 microbasins in the regions and a series of small weirs and dams on the streams, as well as plans to restore agricultural lands and protect the historical villages.

The Ministry of Environment refused to consider the alternative proposal. Advocates of the government's dam worked hard to discredit Kravcik's plan, using unethical attacks in the press. In response People and Water organized summer camps in 1995 and 1996. A number of catch basins were constructed and then the media was invited to view the results. The pilot project gained more publicity when the ministry fined People and Water for undertaking work without a permit. Under Kravcik's leadership, People and Water helped organize a series of public meetings and gradually communities began to gain confidence in their ability to influence the decision making process. Slovakians had the chance to test the fledgling Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) law. Village meetings linked to the EIA were organized. For many citizens it was their first experience of democracy in action. As a result of the successful local campaigns, the government canceled plans for the dam in 1996.

Kravcik and People and Water have continued to work in the region via Villages for the Third Millennium, a sustainable development program involving 24 villages. With full community participation, the focus has been on preserving the regional cultural heritage while providing environmentally sensitive economic development. Current activities include an organic farm, agro-tourism, local handicrafts marketing, a fish farm and a reed bed water treatment plant. The program has provided much needed economic vitalization for the region. Kravcik took his ideas to the national level in 1998, by helping to organize a non-partisan national voter education campaign that resulted in unprecedented citizen participation in national elections. People and Water organ ed the Village and Democracy project in 164 villages in the Levoca mountain region to support democratic processes and build a sustainable open society. Of Slovakia's citizens, 84 percent voted and helped defeat the primeminister who had advocated the d at Tichy Potok.

Michal Kravcik said, "When people declare that something must not be done, others should not interfere with what they are trying to do."

Written by: Goldman Environmental Foundation The Goldman Environmental Prize is a project of the Goldman Environmental Foundation, established in 1989 by civic leaders Richard N. Goldman and his late wife Rhoda H. Goldman. Applications are not accepted for the Goldman Environmental Prize. Nominations from each continent are submitted anonymously by a network of 21 environmental organizations worldwide and a confidential panel of experts representing nearly 50 nations. Due in part to this unique international structure, 113 heads of state worldwide have recognized the Goldman Environmental Prize.


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