Catastrophic oil spills and big speeches on what we should do are on the order of the day. Little action follows them. Sometimes, however, justice is done.
Just recently “federal prosecutors in Brazil have filed criminal charges against 17 Chevron and Transocean company executives over an oil leak in the Atlantic Ocean in November 2011”, Aljazeera reports. What had happend in Brazil? “At least 416,000 litres of oil seeped through cracks on the ocean floor near a Chevron appraisal well off the Rio de Janeiro coast.” As such, a huge catastrophe but the outcome my be an important one. It might allow in the future for more prosecutions for “crimes against the environment” where not only the company as such but also its managers are put on trial. “If found guilty, the executives could face up to 31 years in prison.” I believe that such a risk for the CEOs might finally make them more prudent – even if it’s only to protect their own lifes. Let us hope the Brazilian courts go through with it.
Brazilian courts are generally producing good news these times. IPS quotes Antonio Herman Benjamin, judge of the Supreme Court of Brazil: “We are really tired of declarations. Despite some progress made since the 1992 Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, most governments have failed to fulfil their obligations.” Rio +20, the believe, should not be just empty words. That is why the Brazilian Supreme Court has launched “new initiative to promote role of law in advancing sustainable development. It is known as the World Congress on Justice, Governance and Law for Environmental Stability.” This meeting will try to look at ways of making sure that decisions and multilateral environmental agreements are really being implemented. Benjamin says: “Laws do not mean anything when they are not effectively implemented,” he said. “We need to close the gap between legal scholarship, parliaments and judges, because what is written can be ignored.”
Looking at the never-ending legal battles for example in Ecuador and the non-promising outlook for Rio+20, these are good news. Hopefully judges will more and more use their power to join the people in speaking up for the environment.