Brownell and Speaker Nancy Pelosi
Alfred Brownell is congratulated by Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives
Photo credit: The Office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi

04.29.19 — Alfred Brownell, Distinguished Scholar in Residence in the School of Law's Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy (PHRGE), has been awarded the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize for his extraordinary work protecting land rights. The Goldman Environmental Prize honors grassroots environmental heroes from the world’s six inhabited continental regions: Africa, Asia, Europe, Islands & Island Nations, North America, and South and Central America. The Prize recognizes individuals for sustained and significant efforts to protect and enhance the natural environment, often at great personal risk. The Goldman Prize views “grassroots” leaders as those involved in local efforts, where positive change is created through community or citizen participation in the issues that affect them. Through recognizing these individual leaders, the Goldman Prize seeks to inspire other ordinary people to take extraordinary actions to protect the natural world.

One of Africa’s leading environmental and human rights defenders, Brownell has been in residence at Northeastern since in 2016 — he and his family were forced to flee his native Liberia after an attempt on his life in response to his leadership in protecting community land rights.

As a founder, CEO and lead campaigner at Green Advocates, Liberia’s first public-interest environmental law and human rights organization, Brownell has worked for 20 years as researcher, legal counsel and advocate for impoverished rural communities to ensure them a voice in decisions affecting their natural resources. In his field of research, Brownell has established the serious human rights impacts of large agribusiness activities, including the destruction of sacred sites, burial grounds, farmlands, forests and wetlands that serve as a primary source of food for local communities. He has also documented the deleterious impact on food security and on traditional subsistence farming practices prompted by the introduction of monocrop agriculture.

His most recent victory followed his seven-year struggle to stop the destruction of the tropical forest lands of poor communities and indigenous people in Liberia. The Appeal Panel of the Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) denied Golden Agric Resources appeal against complaints Brownell and his colleagues filed against this company in 2012 on behalf of communities and indigenous peoples in Liberia. “We have scored another big victory against the massive multi-billion-dollar oil palm giant, Golden Agric Resources,” said Brownell. “This is a massive victory for our communities, indigenous peoples and the Upper Guinean forests — the lungs of West and North Africa. Even though they threatened us, plotted assassination attempts against us and masterminded our exile from Liberia, we have shown them we can still fight and win,” said Brownell.

In July 2018, Brownell was invited by The Carter Center to attend its Human Rights Defenders Forum, “Restoring Faith in Freedom.”  The Carter Center participates in hosting Human Rights Defenders Policy Forums, which bring together human rights activists from a number of countries. President and Mrs. Carter, the UN high commissioner for human rights and the special representative on human rights defenders have keynoted these conferences. 

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