Last week, the Biodiversity meeting of members of the Friends of the Earth Europe, organized by Center for Environment and colleagues from FoE Europe, took place in Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Part of the meeting was devoted to the issue of the harmful impact that the construction of hydroelectric power plants has on rivers and water, not only in the Balkans but also in the world, and the participants were addressed by Sunčica Kovačević and Sara Tuševljak, who are part of the informal citizens’ initiative “Stop the construction of small hydroelectric power plants on Kasindolska river” and the Coalition for the Protection of the Rivers of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which are exposed to pressure and lawsuits from investors due to their fight against the construction of a small hydroelectric power plant.
These are so-called SLAPP lawsuits (strategic lawsuits against public participation), which are a particularly dangerous social phenomenon and their main goal is to intimidate and demonstrate financial power.
On this occasion, activists from many Friends of the Earth groups around the globe, including FoE Malta’s Director Martin Galea De Giovanni, gathered to show their support to Sunčica and Sara. Hemantha Withanage, Chairperson of Friends of the Earth International who comes from Sri Lanka, said that it is the duty of the whole world to save these activists who are fighting for the rights of nature and future generations.
“The SLAPP lawsuit is one way for investors to harass, censor, and ultimately silence local activists. This is an unacceptable process of filing a lawsuit against environmental activists. When Sara and Sunčica acted against this project, they were protecting nature, protecting the rights of other living organisms, and the rights of other people. Our duty and responsibility is to protect them, because they acted not for their personal benefit, but for the rights of nature and for intergenerational equality. Younger and older generations must support them,” said Hemantha Withanage and noted that the future of this planet depends on activists like Sara and Sunčica.
Sunčica Kovačević, the president of the informal group of citizens “Stop the construction of MHE on Kasindolska rijeka”, pointed out that their struggle is unimaginable, and that the proceedings against her and Sara by the Belgian investor put a great challenge in front of them, but that the support they receive from Bosnia and Herzegovina and the whole world facilitate the whole process.
“A total of three lawsuits were brought against me and Sara, two against Sara, one against me, and last year we also received two warnings against new lawsuits after the organization of the photo exhibition “Two Years of Struggle for the Kasindol River”. The preliminary hearings in our court proceedings were completed this week and we do not expect the main hearing before September. We believe that the aim of these lawsuits is not to protect the legal interests of investors, but rather to intimidate, silence and deter us from further action. In our struggle, the support we had from networks of organizations, the Coalition for the Protection of the Rivers of BiH, Eco BiH, and now from Friends of the Earth meant the most. In a society like this, where there are pronounced and unequal power relations and where we try to replace the lack of democracy and the rule of law with pressure, and where we see that decisions and even laws are made not in the general interest but in the interest of small groups, the only way to fight against such injustices and for our rights is to act together and in solidarity. I am grateful that through this challenging and difficult period for Sara and I, we can witness togetherness and solidarity, and I am really glad that I am here today,” said Sunčica.
“When activists stand up and protect ecosystems, you have to stand with them, especially when they try to silence them. If we remain silent, then we are also accomplices in crime. That’s why we need to raise our voice and support the people who are fighting for the truth, for these ecosystems and for life. This is very important and I hope that more people will start raising their voices”, said Daniel Ribiero, a Mozambican activist and member of Justiça Ambiental/Friends of the Earth Mozambique.