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Conscientious protectors are individuals from all walks of life who believe that to allow serious harm - such as ecocide arising from dangerous industrial activity - to be inflicted on their community is fundamentally incompatible with their informed conscience. Conscientious protection against serious harm (or the threat of such harm) is based on well-founded beliefs and is driven by a collective duty of care. The adverse effects of serious harm can be felt not only locally but also nationally and globally. This is the case with fracking, for example (more detail below).
Your right to freedom of conscience is already enshrined in law, and you don’t have to be on the frontline of ecocide to exercise that right. Simply by signing a petition, writing to your elected representatives, or indeed signing up to be an Earth Protector in law, you are doing exactly this.
Furthermore, if you are facing or likely to face legal action as a result of acting from your conscience to prevent ecocide, signing up as a legal Earth Protector will give you a straightforward way to present this in court. If you are in this position, please read on for more detail. We can also directly support you with assistance and document preparation for your court case - if you are in the UK please see our Ecological Justice Programme. If you are outside the UK we may still be able to assist, so do contact us.
Quakers were once criminalised for asserting their conscientious objections to war. Many were sent to prison for their beliefs. Likewise throughout history whenever there has been an injustice, individuals and communities have acted on their conscience to either object or prevent: the abolitionists who stood up against slavery, all who stood with Ghandi, the anti-apartheid movement, women’s suffrage, the American civil rights movement and many more throughout the world.
In World War II, the UK granted conscientious-objection status not just to complete pacifists, but to those who objected to fighting in WWII. Now the freedom to assert your conscience has been enshrined in law as a universal right. After WWII, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights codified the Freedom of Religion, Conscience or Belief (Article 18). No longer is a conscientious objector imprisoned for refusing to fight at war.
THE LAW: YOUR RIGHT TO FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE
You have the right to assert your freedom of conscience under Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights (or if outside Europe you can rely on Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) which says:
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching practice and observance.
Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
Acting from one’s conscience to prevent an ecocide could be described as a double reinforcement of point 2 - not only are you not interfering with public safety, but you are actually acting on behalf of that public safety.
The challenge we face today is a 21st Century challenge; the injustice of inflicting ecocide is global in nature; corporations and nation states are neglecting their duty to protect the public from the serious harm arising from dangerous industrial activity. Where objections have been raised and unmet, commitment by conscientious protectors to protect communities often comes at significant personal cost or sacrifice. Today, conscientious protectors are often at the front-line of where the most serious harm is occurring - and because it is lawful for companies to cause harm, it is the conscientious protectors who end up on trial. Historically, however, this is precisely what has driven progressive change, through actions based in conscience and examined through the courts of justice. We believe, and history shows, that our laws change when more people stand up to be counted. Conscientious protectors stand on the shoulders of earlier generations of reformers and grassroots movements who challenged the status quo of their day, and as conscientious protectors of the 21st century collectively stand up, the course of history shall be changed.
CASE EXAMPLE - FRACKING
The risks arising from fracking and other similar gas extraction industries has led to a number of countries that have set in place bans, moratoria or restrictions. They are:
Europe: France, Bulgaria, Netherlands, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Germany, Ireland.
Australia: parts of Western Australia, the Northern Territories and Tasmania have moratoriums in place and Victoria state has banned fracking.
USA: New York, Vermont and Maryland states have banned fracking.
Brazilian states: Alagoas, Piaui, São Paulo, Acre, Parana have banned fracking.
In countries where fracking is not yet banned, many steps have been taken to bring the serious risks of harm to the attention of successive governments at national, regional and local levels. This harm can be immediate or take some months (or more) to become apparent. Ecological harm includes the release of methane gas (a potent climate change gas), damage to water tables and the dumping or leaking of toxic chemicals. Harm can also include damage to the economy by inflating an unsustainable economic bubble. One of the most comprehensive summaries of the public harm arising from fracking can be found here:
Compendium of Scientific Medical and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks & Harms of Fracking, Concerned Health Professionals of New York (CHPNY), (2016)
The Compendium sets out findings from scientific and medical investigations, presenting facts and evidence of the significant threat that fracking poses to air, water, health, public safety, climate stability, seismic stability, community cohesion, and long-term economic vitality.
IF YOU HAVE BEEN ARRESTED AS A CONSCIENTIOUS PROTECTOR AGAINST FRACKING
If you are facing criminal court proceedings for non-violent direct action taken to protect against fracking industrial activity, you can use our Fracking Dossier of Harms and Submissions in court. Please send us your court details to receive your copy.
This will help you for a number of reasons:
it sets out your evidence of the risk of imminent and immediate harm
it corroborates your belief and conscientious stance
it gives credence to your assertion that as soon as exploratory drilling starts it presents an imminent and immediate risk of serious harm.
If you are facing criminal court proceedings for non-violent direct action with regards to other dangerous industrial activities, you can use the template Dossier to build your own Dossier of Harm and Submissions to present in court.
You can use your Earth Protectors Trust Fund (EPTF) document in your court hearing as corroborative evidence of your conscience and belief that the Earth must be protected and that there is missing law. You have acted in the knowledge that the serious harm, although lawful, breaches a community's fundamental belief in justice. Your EPTF document forms part of your Dossier of Harm and Submissions which you can present to the court as part of your defence of your actions.
Our activist toolkit page provides a detailed explanation of how to compile and use your Dossier of Harm and Submissions. If you are in the UK we can also directly support you with assistance and document preparation for your court case - please see our Ecological Justice Programme.