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Season’s greetings from the Centre for Environmental Rights

14 December 2010 at 1:06 pm

Dear CER partners and supporters,

2010 has been an eventful first year for the Centre for Environmental Rights. Below is a quick overview of what has been achieved since we opened our office in Observatory in April 2010.

Cases From April to December 2010, the Centre has formally taken on four substantial cases as attorneys of record, and given advice and support in 23 other cases, to NGOs, communities and individuals. The Centre has also started work on a format for reporting non-compliance with environmental laws to the appropriate authorities.

Mining and Environment In partnership with a number of other NGOs and academic institutions, the Centre has coordinated the implementation of a Civil Society Legal Strategy to Promote Environmental Compliance, Transparency and Accountability in Mining. This Strategy comprises a series of interventions, including a case inventory, legal advocacy and litigation, and is being implemented jointly by partner organisations. One of the key outputs in this strategy is the submission of an application to the Minister of Mineral Resources to declare areas of particular environmental and heritage value as prohibited from mining, and to establish procedural restrictions in respect of mining in other sensitive areas.

Access to Information The Centre has submitted and is tracking 11 separate applications for access to environmental information under the Promotion of Access to Information Act in particular cases. From 2011, the Centre will continue this work funded by the Open Society Foundation of SA, which will culminate in a report on our experience of access to information intended to improve the current access to information regime.

Legal advocacy and media The Centre has submitted comments on three pieces of draft legislation, and has engaged with the Ministries of Water and Environmental Affairs and Mineral Resources through correspondence on a number of occasions. The Centre has also commented widely in the print and broadcast media on recent court cases, proposed environmental legislation, and implementation issues.

Information Hub Our website at www.cer.org.za now has 25 pages and 100 posts, and our Virtual Library has 65 items, primarily legislation and court judgements. To make our work easier, please go to the site and subscribe for email updates so that we no longer have to mail separate mailing lists. This is the most reliable way of keeping up to date with the Centre and environmental legal developments.

Staff As at December 2010, the Centre is staffed by an executive director, Melissa Fourie, and a staff attorney, Dina Townsend. From 2011, Melissa and Dina will be joined by a third attorney who will work primarily with NGOs groundWork, the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance and the Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance on pollution, waste and land-use matters.

During 2010 the Centre hosted volunteer legal interns Claire le Roux and Olivia Rumble, and environmental management interns Unathi Sobekwa and Sibongile Kotela. We thank them for their hard work and wish them the best in their future careers.

The Centre will shortly advertise two paid internship positions for 2011: a intern to work on our Promoting Participation programme, and a legal intern who will work primarily on access to environmental information issues. Watch our website for details.

Governance The Centre has had five Board meetings since November 2009, and has also been joined by a new director, Tsheko Ratsheko. We thank our Board members for their time, energy and support this year.

The Centre’s first annual report, with audited financial statements, will be completed after February 2011. The Centre’s Board will host an annual general meeting for members and other stakeholders early in 2011.

Fundraising Having been established with a single funder, the Centre now has five funders: Table Mountain Fund, Global Greengrants Fund, Ford Foundation, Open Society Foundation and the International Association of Impact Assessment of South Africa. In 2011, the Centre will also host a project sponsored by WESSA/WWF in support of our Promoting Participation Programme.

Environmental Defence Fund The EDF has had five Board meetings since April 2010. During the course of the year, Susie Brownlie resigned due to other commitments while Tsheko Ratsheko and Saliem Fakir joined the Board. The Board has succeeded in raising some seed funding for the EDF. More details will be provided at the EDF’s first annual general meeting to be held in early 2011.

Our heroes for 2010 would have to be Helen Duigan, Lise Essberger, Arthur Barnes and Mervyn Gaylard of the Rhenosterspruit Conservancy who successfully resisted the country’s first SLAPP (strategic litigation against public participation) suit of R170 million. We salute your courage and perseverance. You can read about SLAPP suits and the Wraypex case at www.cer.org.za.

Apology Due to limited capacity and many, many queries and requests for support, the Centre’s turnaround and response time has not always been as quick and reliable as we would like. To those of you whose emails or messages went unanswered this year, we humbly apologise and hope that you will continue to approach the Centre for advice.

Centre closed over holidays The Centre will be closed between 17 December 2010 and 9 January 2011. The Centre for Environmental Rights would like to thank all its partners, funders and stakeholders for their support this year, as well as our own partners and family for their support. We wish you all a peaceful festive season and a productive 2011!

Image: blog.builddirect.com

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