Environmental Hero: Anne Kajir

Image credit: Courtesy of Goldman Environmental Prize

Environmental Hero: Anne Kajir

Each week One Earth is proud to feature an environmental activist and hero from around the globe who is working to create a world where humanity and nature can coexist in harmony.

In Papua New Guinea, the legal landowners of the forest and its rights are tightly held by Indigenous people. However, since the 1980s, Malaysian companies have dominated the region with illegal logging practices that have damaged and depleted the tropical forests. One such company is Rimbunan Hijau, a multinational timber conglomerate with operations all over the world known for its irresponsible logging practices. Besides controlling 80% of logging in the country, Rimbunan Hijau also owns one of the two national newspapers, allowing them to control how they are perceived. The current executive and legislative branches of the government fully support the logging industry, and particularly Rimbunan Hijau.

Governmental corruption isn’t new in Papua New Guinea, and with the government supporting the illegal logging industry, the effects have been disastrous for the rightful owners of the land. Not only has it caused environmental damage, but also social dislocation of the forests’ inhabitants. Timber has a history of causing corruption where illegal practices are done in the name of ‘development,’ where land is plundered, and the profit goes to a very few while many more suffer. 

Anne Kajir served as Chief Executive Officer of the Environmental Law Centre and was the lead attorney in a Supreme Court case aimed at stopping foreign timber companies’ large-scale, illegal deforestation practices. She found evidence of government corruption across the board allowing logging companies to ignore government-issued permits and freely develop the land in which they saw fit. They also bullied the Indigenous communities—sometimes at gunpoint—into signing over their land rights. In her first year of practicing law, Kajir was the exemplar in defending an appeal in the Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea, which forced the logging industry to pay damages to Indigenous landowners.

Her work has not come without personal risk. Kajir has been attacked physically multiple times and thieves even tried to steal her computer containing legal files in order to sabotage her case. Despite these attempts, Kajir believes the true custodians of the land are those that live off of it justly. In recognition of her work and her bravery, Kajir won the Goldman Environmental Prize, the world's largest prize for grassroots environmentalists, in 2006. 

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