Permanent Peoples' Tribunal

fracking on sacred land

Permanent Peoples' Tribunal on Human Rights, Fracking and Climate Change | 2018

The Spring Creek Project was honored to co-organize and host the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal on Human Rights, Fracking and Climate Change, a historic, international tribunal that took place virtually from May 14 to 18, 2018. The Tribunal convened to clarify the human-rights impacts of fracking and to affirm international standards of human rights obligations.

During the Tribunal, attorneys with expertise in human rights law presented a panel of selected judges with evidence and testimony from expert witnesses. The judges also heard testimony from those who have felt the effects of fracking first-hand.

The proceedings were organized in partnership with the Environmental and Human Rights Advisory and with Oregon State University's Environmental Arts and Humanities Initiative.

Climate Change, Fracking and Human Rights

The pockmarks of fracking pads are spread around the world — from redrock canyons to rainforests, from farmsteads to suburbs. The effects are becoming clearer and more fully documented: poisoned water, bulldozed landscapes, sickened children, displaced families, lost livelihoods, greenhouse gas pollution, earthquakes. But as the scientific understanding of fracking’s effects increases, the essential question that remains is a moral and legal one: To what extent does the harm caused by hydraulic fracturing constitute a breach of human rights?

This is the central question around which the Tribunal participants came together.

frackoff for art and sounds of resistance

About the Tribunal and Trial Process

The Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal (PPT) is an influential, international human-rights forum that evolved from the Russell-Sartre Tribunal created to determine whether breaches of human rights norms occurred during the Vietnam War. Since 1979, it has conducted 42 high-profile hearings, including on Bhopal, Chernobyl and other sites around the world, to determine whether human-rights standards were abridged. The tribunals have demonstrated that the dictates of public conscience can become a recognized source of law to clarify the human-rights obligations of States and non-state actors.

Because the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal functions independently of any State authority, its rulings alone do not automatically carry the weight of law and cannot compel behavior of corporations who practice fracking or the States that allow it. What, then, is the point of the Tribunal? Kathleen Dean Moore, author and Spring Creek Project Senior Fellow, writes, “The point is that it matters to tell the truth in a public space.”

The Tribunal will organize evidence and testimony that amplifies the voices of otherwise silenced victims. In addition, the ruling may also be used as a precedent in legal proceedings later taken against corporations or State actors that undermine human rights norms through fracking or other climate-change-inducing actions. Framing the abuses of the fracking industry as a human-rights issue has the potential to be a transformative and powerful new tool in the struggle to impose legal and moral constraints.

A Keynote Event with Sandra Steingraber

The Spring Creek Project welcomed acclaimed biologist, author, anti-fracking advocate and cancer survivor Sandra Steingraber to deliver the keynote address on the opening day of the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal on Human Rights, Fracking and Climate Change at The Whiteside Theatre in Corvallis, Oregon, on May 14, 2018.

Her talk was titled "Fighting with Your Whole Heart: Human Rights and the New Science on Fracking." Steingraber’s address was preceded by a performance of an original song composed for this event by acclaimed musicians Jan Michael Looking Wolf and Dana Reason.

Before or after the keynote lecture, attendees were invited to visit "Unsilenced: Art and Sounds of Resistance," a listening room and an exhibit featuring local and national visual and sonic artists.

sandra steingraber headshot

The Tribunal Proceedings

The week-long Tribunal brought people together virtually from around the world. All sessions were recorded and are available for viewing online.

In the opening ceremony of the Tribunal, we heard from Tom Kerns, Director of the Environment and Human Rights Advisory; Carly Lettero, Director of the Spring Creek Project; Gianni Tognoni, Permanent Peoples' Tribunal; Robin Wall Kimmerer, MacArthur Fellow and Director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment; John Knox, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment; and Mary Heather Noble, author and scientist.

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The Advisory Opinion Rules Fracking Violates Human Rights

The proceedings included courageous stories from those on the front lines of fracking as well as expert opinions on fracking's profound damages to our environment and communities around the world.

After careful deliberation and reviewing all evidence and witness testimony, the international Permanent Peoples' Tribunal issued its final Advisory Opinion in 2019 unequivocally confirming that fracking violates human rights.

The rights violated include the rights to life, to water, to health and to full information and participation. The court ruled, through affirmative policies and failure to regulate, governments are complicit in the rights-violations, creating what the court calls a global "axis of betrayal."

To protect human rights, the court ruled that the practice of fracking should be banned worldwide.

You can learn more about the Advisory Opinion in these resources:

Related Projects

The Spring Creek Project has produced several programs to highlight the findings of this Tribunal and further investigate the human rights violations of fracking and climate change.

Learn more:

Spring Creek Project Senior Fellow Kathleen Dean Moore also published a four-part series in "Orion" called “Bedrock Rights” to bring further attention to the human rights case against climate change.

bearing witness book cover

Media Resources