The Access Initiative

Conservation and Management of Protected Areas in Madagascar

In Madagascar, the Protected Areas Law (COAP) mandates the manager of national parks (MNP) to manage and run conservation activities within and outside the park. Two decades ago, the manager enacted an internal decision by the Board of the Directors, that local communities can benefit 50% of the park entrance fees and can use the funds to development or agricultural activities. 20 years later, the MNP changed its mind and stopped allocating the 50% to the local communities stating that the funds need to be used to support the creation and extension of other protected areas. This change has had negative impacts on the development of local communities. The object of our Campaign is to ensure that the benefit of 50% from the park entrance fees would be recognized by the Protected Areas Law (COAP) and its implementing decrees as a right and not as a favor to assure an equitable sharing of the benefits from the conservation of protected areas. When the local communities utilize their rights, they contribute positively to the conservation of the protected areas.


Empowering indigenous communities of Villarrica and Licanray

A Mapuche settlement in the Cautin Province, IX Region of Chile, has been affected by the emission of pollutants into the river channel, the management of the disposal of solid construction waste and the use of medication for the fish. This community is unprotected and uninformed about how can enforce their rights. Therefore, FIMA developed a campaign to advise the indigenous communities in the area of Villarica and Licanray on the drafting and presenting of an injunction before the Environmental Agency (SMA). As a result, every verified infraction was reported to the SMA and an extensive investigation is carried out. In addition, during November 2014, FIMA developed a two-day training workshop in environmental education and empowerment for the community, which was very successful.

The objectives were:

  • To ensure the awareness of the legal instruments available for the community.
  • To guarantee the protection and the safeguarding of their environmental and indigenous rights.
  • To include the community in the process and encourage the participation.

At the end of the course a forum was held to discuss all the topics, make questions and reflect about further directions. In addition, regulation and indigenous consultation were covered.

This campaign will continue with the aim to inform all the communities, and it is expected another session will be organized dedicated to the knowledge of water rights and how to protect them, and the paths available for environmental justice.

Protect Our Elephants and Save the Pangolin

Protect Our Elephants

The Uganda Wildlife Authority is mandated to ensure sustainable management of wildlife resources and supervise wildlife activities in Uganda both within and outside the protected areas. Yet during an audit at the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), it was found that some of the ivory that had been seized from poachers and wildlife traffickers since 1990 and stored in UWA strong rooms was missing. A total of 1,335kg of ivory which was estimated to be worth $1.1m (sh3b) was stolen.

President Yoweri Museveni upon receiving reports of the eminent ivory thefts asked the Inspector General of Government (IGG) to investigate the disappearance of the ivory. “We support the President’s decision for the IGG to takeover investigations of the 1,335kg of ivory that was stolen from the Uganda Wildlife Authority’s strong room. The report of the stolen ivory that has been in UWA’s possession for years is a sign that the governing body meant to regulate wildlife conservation in Uganda has not been spared by the corruption scandals that have marred many government institutions.” Investigations revealed that there were loopholes within UWA and some of the staff was involved in the ivory scam leading to the suspension of the Executive Director Mr. Andrew Seguya.

This action was supported by Greenwatch. It illustrates why implemention of the UWA is essential to the protection of Ugandan elephants.

The investigations are still ongoing and Greenwatch has created an online campaign to generate pressue to ensure the UWA does a better job in fulfilling its mandate.

Save the pangolin

Unfortunately it is not just elephants that are facing danger. A few weeks after the ivory scandal, New Vision carried a feature showing that UWA and the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities was issuing, export licenses to one Smith Ewa Maku and Smico Skin Craft industries to export seven tonnes of pangolin scales worth $4.2m (shs11b). The export of seven tonnes of pangolin scales came at a time when concerns are rising that the pangolins, which are regarded as rare animals (under Appendix2 of CITES) are being pushed into extinction.

The willingness of UWA to issue a license for export of pangolin scales of such magnitude showed the institution’s reluctance in fulfilling its mandate of preserving, protecting and conserving wildlife in trust for the people of Uganda. For one to acquire pangolin scales, they have to have killed the animal; therefore UWA licensing the export of these scales would tantamount to licensing the killing of the pangolins which contravenes the provisions of Articles 39 and 237(b) of the constitution of Uganda. It is absurd that instead of UWA fighting such people, it was working with them.

Greenwatch sued UWA in order for court to issue a permanent injunction stopping UWA or its agents from issuing licenses for export of pangolin scales. Uganda Wildlife Authority should have desisted from participating in matters that encourage depletion of our wildlife resources. Licenses should only be issued to preserve, protect and conserve wildlife and not the reverse.

Part of the suit read that, “Upon carrying out further investigation, we found that a licence to purchase game trophy had been issued to Smith Ewa Maku,” “The Convention on International Trade, to which Uganda is a signatory, prohibits trade in pangolin scales. The Game Act lists pangolin as endangered species and as such the entity has no power or authority to issue licences or export of their scales. A kilogramme of pangolin scales which can only be obtained from one adult or two young ones is worth Shs1,704,000 and has a very attractive market in China and other Asian countries.”

The matter is still in court.  However, due to the advocacy work around the issue by concerned citizens and environmentalists like Greenwatch and media the license was canceled.

East Kalimantan Community’s Struggles Underscore the Need for Proactive Transparency in Indonesia

By Carole Excell and Cait O’Donnell (Posted October 28, 2013) 

A special thanks to: Ariana Alisjahbana (WRI) for translating the many steps of JATAM’s right to information (RTI) request.

The Indonesian province of East Kalimantan has experienced a mining boom in the last decade. This boom has been decidedly pronounced in Samarinda, its capital, where more than 70% of the area has been allocated to mining concessions. Mining pits have been excavated near residential communities and then abandoned without reclamation and without proper environmental and safety control. As a result, two children were found dead in a mining pit in the outskirts of Samarinda, East Kalimantan in 2011.

JATAM (the Mining Advocacy Network), responded to these fatalities by using Indonesia Public Disclosure Act or Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) as an advocacy tool. JATAM is a network of non-governmental organizations and community-based organizations working on a number of interconnected issues including human rights, gender, the environment, indigenous peoples, and social justice in relation to the mining, oil, and gas industries. JATAM requested environmental impact assessments (EIA), also referred to as the AMDAL process in Indonesia, for all of the coal mining companies operating throughout East Kalimantan (approximately sixty).The organization hoped that obtaining these assessments—which they are legally guaranteed access to through FOIA —could shed light on local coal mines’ contaminants, the mitigation of impacts from mining activities, the monitoring of mining concessions, and other health and safety concerns.

JATAM embarked on their mission to obtain EIAs for every coal mining operation in January 2012. To date, they continue to work on fulfilling this mission. JATAM’s struggle makes it clear that while Indonesia may have a freedom of information law, actually obtaining the government-held information that directly impacts them is exceedingly difficult for the country’s citizens. Kahar Al Bahri, JATAM East Kalimantan’s Coordinator, describes the process of requesting environmental information under the Indonesia’s Freedom of Information law in an interview on YouTube.

1. JATAM initiated this process on January 12, 2012 by sending a letter to the Provincial Environment Agency in Samarinda, East Kalimantan, Indonesia. JATAM received no response. They sent and re-sent letters to the Provincial Environment Agency in Samarinda, the Environment Agency of East Kalimantan, and the Information Commission of East Kalimantan. Still, JATAM received no response. They filed a formal complaint with the mayor of Samarinda, who claimed that the information is private.

2. JATAM sent a formal complaint to the Information Commission of East Kalimantan, which agreed to mediate a meeting between JATAM and the Environment Agency of East Kalimantan. The Environment Agency, however, did not attend the first meeting. At the second meeting, the Environment Agency’s head denied the legitimacy of JATAM as an organization that could file a FOI request. Through the Information Commission’s mediation, the Environment Agency agreed to give JATAM the EIAs in one month.

3. Less than a month later, the Environment Agency claimed that the meeting did not follow the correct legal procedures and refused to comply with the decision. JATAM involved the local court system and, after several months, the court ruled that the Environment Agency had 8 days to comply with JATAM’s EIA request.

4. As of the date of the interview, The Environmental Agency is delaying the request and only issuing one EIA per week. The attached infographic outlines the timeline and the specifics of each step of JATAM’s EIA request.

The Need for Proactive Disclosure

As the process outlined above indicates, JATAM’s success in acquiring EIAs in East Kalimantan was hard-earned. The battle clearly provides justification for the call by advocates around the world that environmental information needs to be proactively available to members of the public without a request. Proactive Disclosure is the purposeful and anticipatory release of information to the public by government. Proactive Disclosure includes making information available to many potential requestors at once in a timely and efficient manner. In 2010, the International community adopted some specific guidelines in Bali, Indonesia, called the UNEP Bali Guidelines, on access to information, public participation and access to justice in the case of the environment, which recognize that: “Environmental information in the public domain should include, among other things, information about environmental quality, environmental impacts on health and factors that influence them, in addition to information about legislation and policy, and advice about how to obtain information.” Environmental Impact Assessments fall into the category of information in the “public domain” which should be made available without a request for information. This is because they facilitate an understanding of environmental impacts and monitoring of industry performance. However, in practice, as can be seen from the case of JATAM, these essential documents are not online, downloadable, or onsite in accessible forms.

Strengthening the Right to Information for People and the Environment

The Access Initiative (TAI) has been working in Indonesia with our partners Indonesian Center for Environmental Law (ICEL) and Wahana Lingkungan Hidup Indonesia (WAHLI) to promote proactive transparency and appropriate implementation of Indonesia’s Public Disclosure or FOIA Law. In a two year initiative called ”Strengthening Right to Information for People and the Environment” (STRIPE), we sought to empower communities in Indonesia to improve their environmental health through improved access to information on air and water quality in Serang and Jepara, Indonesia. The STRIPE project also pointed to the deficiencies in the FOI law and to the importance of increasing the capacity of government agencies to proactively release information. Obviously, there is still much work to be done, but it’s encouraging that a handful of dedicated groups are now endeavoring to bring to light the need for access to information. Through perseverance, groups like JATAM, ICEL, and WAHLI will continue to promote the proper implementation of FOI as an advocacy tool. But perhaps more importantly, they’ll push for the recognition that proactive transparency of environmental information is paramount. Proactive transparency will be discussed at the Open Government Partnership Summit in London this week on Civil Society Day. It is timely for the Indonesian government to consider this approach as it takes on the Presidency of the Open Government Partnership. Timely access to environmental information is what open government is about. More information: Read more about STRIPE here Read an article about STRIPE from