How do you decide what problems are ones that you want to investigate and try to stop?
Global Witness focuses on areas where environmental exploitation has or is funding conflict, resulting in human
rights abuses. We focus on exposing the links between the environmental abuse, and the conflict--a very unique niche. When deciding what problems we want to investigate, it is taken into account whether the people in the country where the abuse is occurring are able to help themselves. Quite often they are not able to because of the fear of intimidation, or worse (as in the case of Cambodia, the government and the rebels were involved). This helps to be a deciding factor.
How successful have you been in promoting change? Does any major accomplishment stand out?
We have been very successful in promoting change, the most measurable being our Cambodia campaign. The Cambodia campaign to investigate the timber trade launched in 1995 is the catalyst that made forestry reform an issue in Cambodia and focused international attention on it. Global Witness' unrelenting campaign and investigations to
document illegal logging throughout 1997 and 1998, when the situation seemed hopeless, began to pay off in January this year. Following the formation of a new government in Cambodia in late 1998, forestry and three other key issues rose to the top of the international agenda for the February 1999 International Funders Meeting (the Consultative Group) meeting in Tokyo. Hun Sen knew that forestry would be high on the CG agenda and, on January 6, 1999, announced a countrywide logging crackdown.
For the first time this pronouncement was more than words. The government's own figures boasted of 784 sawmills closed down. This is directly due to Global Witness' direct lobbying of these key funders, and their influence on policy.
What do you do when governments are not willing to listen to you? Do you ever try to go directly to the citizens of a country so that they can demand change?
The governments in the
countries we investigate are not (at first!) willing to listen to us, because they are part of the problem! We compile the findings from our investigations into hard-hitting and authoritative reports, which are widely distributed and publicized through the world's media. We participate in conferences and meetings. We don't just catalogue a long list of abuses. The reports always highlight considered and practical recommendations for the future. Global Witness briefs and lobbies governments,
donors and other policy makers to achieve positive and legislative change. By focusing on bodies with the power to effect real changes, we have made a significant difference in the fights for environmental and social justice.
As far as going directly to the citizens for a grassroots movement, it is difficult to do so when the threat of intimidation from your government hangs over your head. The reason we are investigating the problem in the first place is because the local people would
put themselves in too much danger if they were to investigate the abuse. For this reason, we have not done direct grassroots movements.