05.15.19

Statement On Alfred Brownell

Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy
On
Alfred Brownell
Congressional Record
May 14, 2019

Mr. LEAHY. Mr. President, I want to speak briefly about the courageous environmental activism of Alfred Brownell, a native of Liberia now living in exile in Boston.

Mr. Brownell is an environmental and human rights lawyer and the executive director of Green Advocates, a Liberian organization that he founded to promote environmental justice for indigenous communities.Like so many environmental activists around the world, he has been repeatedly harassed and threatened.He was forced to flee his country with his family due to fear of reprisal for his outspoken and tireless work to protect the traditional land rights of his countrymen and against the sale, without their consent, of vast areas of forest to Golden Veroleum Liberia, a Southeast Asian-based company that produces palm oil.Now a visiting scholar and teacher at Northeastern University, Mr. Brownell continues to conduct research and classes on the issues that have come to define his life.

Mr. Brownell was recently recognized by the international community for his perseverance in protecting Liberia’s forests on which thousands of Liberian families, and many endangered species of wildlife, depend.He was honored in San Francisco and Washington as one of six recipients of the prestigious 2019 Goldman Environmental Prize. It is important that we not only pay tribute to Mr. Brownell for his extraordinary contribution to his people and his country, but that we be aware that despite this international recognition he continues to fear returning to his native country.

I have long supported U.S. assistance to help Liberia overcome years of a brutal armed conflict, and I will continue to do so.But I regret that the Liberian government has sided with the palm oil company and against their own local farmers.Unable to intimidate Mr. Brownell, government officials tried to silence him by offering him government jobs in return for his cooperation.When that failed they put his house and his family under police surveillance, publicly accused him of sedition and economic sabotage, accused his organization and other environmental rights organizations of undermining Liberia’s sovereignty, and lied about him to incite an assassination attempt. Since December 2016 he has been living in exile, with no indication from Liberian officials that their hostility toward him and his cause has diminished.

Government intimidation of civil society activists and scholars is antithetical to open and accountable democratic societies. It is what we have come to expect of shortsighted or, even worse, corrupt officials and the outsized influence of corporate interests.

If the Liberian government is serious about attracting foreign investment for job creation and sustainable economic development – goals we all support – it should recognize that Mr. Brownell is a patriot of whom all Liberians can be proud.Liberian officials should encourage him and his family to return to Liberia, and point to him as an example of how one courageous and determined individual can make a positive difference for the country.

Rather than benefiting a foreign corporation producing a monocrop for export, the Liberian government should be protecting its biologically diverse forests and wildlife, not destroying them and polluting the rivers on which local inhabitants depend and displacing people who have lived there for generations.

Alfred Brownell should be a source of pride and an inspiration for all Liberians.I hope the international recognition he has received will convince the Liberian government that it is people like him who deserve our admiration and our thanks.

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