Atossa Soltani

Amazon Watch, Oil and the Rights of Nature

Date:January 2014

Atossa Soltani, founder and director of Amazon Watch, a US-based organization that works to protect the Amazon rainforest and support its indigenous peoples. Media strategist, photographer and filmmaker, she leads campaigns to force international corporations to raise their environmental and social standards.

In this exclusive Green Interview, Atossa Soltani discusses Amazon Watch, the organization she founded in 1996 that works to protect the rainforest and advance the rights of indigenous peoples in the Amazon Basin. She also discusses the ongoing legal battles in support of indigenous people who are either resisting oil exploration in their territories or fighting for compensation as a result of pollution. Soltani also discusses her recent involvement with a global movement calling for rights of nature.

Amazon Watch

In 1996, while Atossa Soltani was working as a campaign director for Rainforest Action Network, she confronted Brazilian President Cardoso, who was addressing the United Nations, about deforestation in the Amazon. As Cardoso was leaving she managed to stop him for about 20 seconds and protest his plans to build roads through the Amazon. In this Green Interview, Soltani recalls the pivotal moment after Cardoso got into his limousine, leaving her with an audience of 20-30 journalists doing an “impromptu press conference.” When they asked her who she was she says she “took a deep breath and said Amazon Watch! I just made up the name at the time and the next day it was all over the newspapers: “Amazon Watch Confronts the Brazilian President.”

Resisting Oil Exploration

In Ecuador, Amazon Watch supports a court case to hold the U.S oil company Chevron accountable for the dumping of 18 billion US gallons of toxic waste water into a region of Ecuador’s Amazon rainforest inhabited by more than 30,000 people – purported to be one of the largest oil related contaminations ever. Amazon Watch is also involved in Peru, where it’s a plaintiff in a case against U.S oil company Occidental for its damage to the rainforest and where it also supports the indigenous Achuar people in resisting oil exploration on their lands by Talisman, a Canadian oil company as well as the Argentinian company Pluspetrol. It is also active in struggles against oil companies in Colombia and Brazil.  Amazon Watch also supports a school that trains indigenous leaders how to defend their rights against oil and mining companies.

Rights of Nature

Atossa Soltani is also involved in the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature, where in 2014 she was one of 8 “judges” in the world’s first ethics Tribunal on Rights of Nature in Quito, Ecuador, the first country to recognize the rights of nature in its constitution. The Tribunal is planned to be a permanent platform for hearing and judging cases from around the world. Seven specific cases were presented to the Tribunal including the B.P Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, over which Soltani presided.

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