Ruth Buendía, an Asháninka woman and President of the Rainforest Foundation UK’s (RFUK) indigenous partner organisation in Peru, was awarded the 2014 Goldman Environmental Prize for her work to unite the Asháninka people around a campaign against large scale dams that would have uprooted indigenous communities. Ruth has been quoted saying “This fight has not only been my own; it belongs to all my Asháninka brothers and sisters as well.” Whilst in San Francisco for the ceremony, she was also honoured by the Peruvian Ministry of the Environment, and the Ministry of Women and vulnerable Populations, as well as the National Peruvian indigenous organisation, AIDESEP.
Ruth’s work involved reaching out to Asháninka communities, raising awareness about the Pakitzapango dam and its associated threats using digital simulations of how the valley would be flooded during construction. She also organised a region-wide assembly and successfully united the Asháninka in opposition to the dam. Not only did she do this extraordinary work but also presented the case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights about the impact of Peruvian energy development on her people and made a formal legal complaint about the lack of consultation surrounding the planning of the Pakitzapango Dam to the International Labour Organization (ILO). On the 28th of April 2009, Ruth also presented the case regarding the dam and the claims of the Asháninka communities to the Commission for Andean, Amazonian and Afro-Peruvian peoples, Environment and Ecology of the Peruvian Congress.
In February 2012, CARE, the Asháninka Centre of the Ene River, filed a lawsuit against the Peruvian Congress and the Peruvian Ministry of External Relations. This legal action sought the suspension of the Peru-Brazil Energy Agreement which had been signed by the Energy Ministers of Peru and Brazil in June 2010. It called proper evaluations of the environmental and social impacts of the projects to be undertaken. It also requested that a technical assessment of Peru’s energy needs and options for achieving these requirements be undertaken prior to the implementation of the agreement.
Ruth’s international work has involved highlighting the violations of indigenous peoples’ rights related to the planned construction of Amazon mega dams and she has also presented the case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington, D.C about the impact of Peruvian energy development on her people.
Since RFUK was founded in 1989, three of our current partners have been recipients of the Goldman Environmental Prize. In 1999, Samuel Nguiffo, Director of the Centre for Environment and Development in Cameroon, and Marc Ona, in 2009, President of Brainforest in Gabon, were recognised by Goldman.
"It is not mere empty slogans that will ensure the curve of the destruction of our forest ecosystems is inverted, but the commitment and the determination of all the actors involved in the fight against the phenomenon of land grabbing by multinationals, in favour of monocultures and to the detriment of indigenous peoples,” said Marc Ona.
“In order to eradicate poverty in Africa’s forests, the first revolution to be organised is the land revolution, as it is the only process that would guarantee a vital legacy for future generations,” he added.