Empowering citizens to hold their governments accountable

By Oxfam
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Activists in El Salvador—led by Hector Berrios from one of Oxfam’s partner organizations—call for OceanaGold to drop its $300 million case against the Salvadoran government. Photo: James Rodríguez / Oxfam

Based on Oxfam’s fundamental belief in the power of people to overcome poverty, we support citizens’ efforts to hold their governments accountable.

Despite the fact that natural resource revenue streams in developing countries could alleviate poverty, few mechanisms exist to allow people in these nations to hold their governments accountable to disclose how national money is spent. In FY16, Oxfam continued to build on our proven ability to foster citizens’ engagement with governments to make advances in the fight against poverty.

Peru - Calling on political candidates to respect citizens’ rights

Years of booming commodity prices for oil, gold, and silver, and natural gas have boosted Peru’s GDP growth to more than 6 percent in recent years. But there’s a hidden price to Peru’s so-called economic miracle: most of the benefits have been funneled to the country’s business elites in Lima, and there has been widespread environmental damage and conflict in rural communities affected by oil, gas, and mining projects.

In February 2016, Oxfam released a report titled Agenda against Inequality: Five Critical Issues to Close the Gaps that called on candidates in the presidential election to address the pervasive poverty and inequality across the country. Oxfam’s social media and advocacy campaign resulted in broad coverage in mainstream media in Peru, and 8,000 citizens signed an electronic petition calling on the presidential candidates and Congress of Peru to respect the rights of indigenous communities to protect their land and resources from destructive oil, gas, and mining projects.

Cambodia - Training environmental defenders on the power of information 

When the elders of a remote community in northern Cambodia found a group of Chinese miners searching for gold on their communal land without their consent in 2015, they asked them to leave. When they didn’t, the elders called Ping Chamroeun, who came and took photos of the mining exploration activity and posted them on her Facebook page. “I showed them [the miners] the photos I took and I explained to them what I would do with the information, and they left the area,” she says. 

Chamroeun, 26 and the mother of an infant boy, is part of a network of indigenous young people trained by Oxfam’s partner Media One as community reporters who share information about natural resources, how to protect their land from illegal logging and mining, indigenous land rights, and other topics crucial to indigenous communities in northern Cambodia. They produce radio programs and network with others to share their experience and help communities speak out and defend their right to communal land and natural resources. “When we collect stories we meet together and share information, and the other young reporters and I talk about ways to spread what we’ve learned,” Chamroeun says. Since starting in 2015, Media One has trained more than 20 reporters from seven ethnic groups, produced nearly 30 radio programs, and reached more than 50,000 people through its Facebook pages.

El Salvador - Mining activists await crucial court decision 

In April 2015, Vidalina Morales and other activists from the northern Cabañas department of El Salvador traveled to Washington, DC. They were there to hand deliver a petition to the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) at the World Bank, urging the body to dismiss a lawsuit against the country brought by the OceanaGold Corporation of Australia. Citing numerous studies that show that mining in El Salvador will be bad for farmers and the environment, Morales says, “El Salvador could suffer dire consequences if extractive industries operate in its territory.”

Oxfam has been supporting the work of a coalition called the National Roundtable against Metallic Mining that is proposing an all-out ban on mining for metals in the country for seven years. OceanaGold is suing the government of El Salvador for $300 million because it was denied a mining permit. Critics of the company proposal say that it included neither an approved environmental impact study nor proper feasibility studies, and that it lacked title for the concession land in question. El Salvador has been waiting for the ICSID decision on the case for over a year. Salvadoran activists are hopeful; a decision (expected in September 2016) in favor of the government could help the country become one of the few to ban metal mining, and it would show that communities have the right to determine if and how their natural resources can be developed. 

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