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Your Support Needed: UUSC Partner Facing Backlash in Fiji

A Pacific partner is confronting retaliatory lawsuits for their advocacy against a mining company.

May 21, 2024

UUSC’s partners at the Banaban Human Rights Defenders Network (BHRDN) won a historic victory for their community in 2023, when their advocacy helped block an Australian mining corporation from opening a new extractive project in their ancestral homeland. But their work to protect their homes and secure justice for the Banaban people is far from finished. 

Now, they are facing three defamation lawsuits in connection with their history-making work to halt the mining project. These retaliatory suits are a blatant attempt to silence BHRDN’s advocacy and punish them for their courageous efforts to protect their communities from resource extraction and environmental degradation. 

That is why BHRDN’s team is asking for direct contributions to their GoFundMe page to help finance their legal defense. Learn more and take action below. 

Background: A History of Displacement, and a Journey Toward Healing

The Banaban people have a remarkable history of resilience and community spirit in the face of colonial injustice. 

In the early twentieth century, a New Zealand prospector found thick deposits of guano on Banaban island—now part of the Pacific Island nation of Kiribati—that could be mined for phosphates used in agriculture. Shortly thereafter, powerful European colonial interests moved in to exploit these resources. 

During World War II, the Japanese military occupied Banaban and inflicted horrific atrocities on the civilian population. After the war, British colonial authorities resettled many Banaban people on Rabi island, in Fiji, where much of the community remains to this day.

Some Banaban islanders have since relocated back to their original homeland in Kiribati. But European and Asian firms’ century-long exploitation and depletion of resources on the island has made a complete return to their former way of life impossible. 

Today, the Banaban people are courageously working to hold their community together, educate their children to preserve their community’s identity, and seek justice for the cultural loss and damage they have suffered from colonial oppression. BHRDN is a key part of these efforts.

It was to prevent this long history of colonial exploitation from repeating itself that BHRDN helped to block the return of mineral prospecting to Banaban in 2023. The Banaban people have faced too many decades of loss and damage to submit quietly to yet another threat to their homeland’s environmental integrity. 

But now that they have spoken up, they are facing a flagrant effort to silence their voices. The lawsuits against our partners in Fiji seek to recast their advocacy for justice as “defamation” of powerful figures. BHRDN will not accept this latest attempt to dampen their advocacy; but they need the help of international partners to sustain their legal defense in court. 

Right now, they are seeking around $17,000 Fijian dollars to help finance their legal team and fend off these suits. A contribution to BHRDN’s GoFundMe page goes directly to support our partner and fund their defense. We encourage you to make a contribution today. No community should face legal retaliation just for protecting their rights.

Image credit: Banaban Human Rights Defenders Network

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