Human Rights

Shell to withdraw back into its...

The pristine lands of the Sacred Headwaters will remain untouched for a little longer: after eight years of campaigning by communities as well as Overbrook grantee ForestEthics, Shell formally withdrew its bid to drill for coal bed methane in this area of British Columbia.

Eight years ago, Shell corporation expressed interest in drilling in the methane-rich region of northwest Canada, where there was enough gas to estimate the drilling of 4,000 wells. A remote region, it was not expected to be a difficult task to get approval from the government of British Columbia. They were wrong. The first explorations were met by members Tahltan First Nation, who stood at the crossroads and blocked Shell’s access into the Sacred Headwaters – a sacred land for the Tahltan. News of the protest grew, and over the years communities rose up and hundreds of residents took to the streets in protest.

With the help of ForestEthics, the communities were able to mount effective and united resistance to Shell. They developed a strategic “inside-outside” game plan, focusing on key discussions with B.C. government decision-makers and meetings with Shell Canada President, Lorraine Mitchelmore, while also maintaining substantial public opposition to Shell’s plans. In 2012, 100,000 people all said “No” to dirty energy and fractured landscapes.

The result: after discussions with the B.C. government, Shell decided to withdraw its bid. Further, the government announced it would not issue any future petroleum or natural-gas leases in the region - safeguarding the drilling moratorium in the Sacred Headwaters.

The victory underscores what is possible, even in the face of great wealth and influence. It was not just one organization that spoke out but whole communities that united, voices amplified through tools of technology and grassroots communication. It is a lesson that can be applied to future battles to be fought - and won.



Human Rights Grants Awarded at December Board Meeting!

At the December Board Meeting, The Overbrook’s Foundation Board of Directors approved 19 grants totaling $687,500 through its Human Rights Program. Of these grants, three were to new organizations, while the rest were renewals of grants awarded in 2011. All supported groups advance one or more of the Foundation’s program areas: Domestic Human Rights, Marriage Equality, Reproductive Justice, Media, Human Rights Defenders, and International Gender Rights.

Through its domestic human rights initiative, the Foundation awarded grants to National Economic and Social Rights Initiative (NESRI) and the Leadership Conference Education Fund. NESRI received a grant of $50,000 for its leadership in the Human Rights at Home Campaign, and Leadership Conference Education Fund will continue its excellent work in its Human Rights Education Program with this $45,000 grant from the Foundation.

Supporting their efforts to expand reproductive justice, the Foundation awarded a grant of $20,000 to the Brown Boi Project for its convening for Black Reproductive Justice Leaders. It also granted $50,000 to the Groundswell Fund for the Catalyst Fund, $40,000 to the Third Wave Foundation for its Reproductive Health and Justice Initiative, and $30,000 to Western States Center for its Gender Justice Initiative. Grants for general operating support were awarded to National Advocates for Pregnant Women and National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum for $35,000 and $30,000 respectively. As one of the new projects supported by the Foundation, CoreAlign received $40,000 for its programs to win resources, rights, and respect for all people’s sexual and reproductive decision-making. In all, the Foundation awarded $245,000 to promote Reproductive Justice.

GLAD will continue its push for the elimination of federal discrimination in marriage supported by a Foundation grant of $25,000. This grant is awarded as a part of the Foundation’s strategy to support marriage equality.

In response to the billions of dollars spent to influence the American political system and elections since the 2010 Citizens United decision, The Brennan Center for Justice has been awarded $50,000 in support to its Money in Politics Program to reform this system.

Breakthrough received a grant of $40,000 for its US program and The New Press was awarded $35,000 for general operating support. Both of these grants are funded through the Foundation’s portfolio to promote non-profit media strategies to grow public conversation of human rights issues and to champion media reform.

Supporting organizations that defend Human Rights Defenders in Latin America has also been a Foundation priority over the past several years. As a part of this commitment, American Jewish World Service received a grant of $35,000 for promoting Human Rights for Marginalized Communities in Guatemala, Mexico and El Salvador. A grant of $50,000 was awarded to Front Line Defenders to protect Latin American Human Rights Defenders. For its work defending press freedom in Latin America, Reporters Without Borders received $30,000. Also, in December, the Board approved a three-year grant to Amazon Conservation Team for $35,000 to be paid jointly by the Foundation’s Environment Program and Human Rights Program.

Finally, in its Latin American gender rights portfolio, the Foundation awarded a grant of $45,000 to Disability Rights International for its women’s rights initiative advocating for the rights of women with disabilities in Mexico and Guatemala. And, $20,000 will be granted to Ipas for its advocacy on abortion policy in Latin America.

Congratulations to all our new and returning grantees! The Foundation’s Board of Directors and its staff are so pleased to award these grants in recognition of the fantastic projects to promote equality and human rights taken on by all of these groups.

Human Rights Grants Awarded

At the Foundation's September Board Meeting, The Overbrook Foundation's Board of Directors approved three grants under the Human Rights program. The total amount awarded in September will be $125,000. All three organizations are new to the Foundation.

First, the Board approved a $50,000 grant to the Museum of Jewish Heritage for its upcoming exhibit Brothers’ Keepers. Stay tuned for this exhibit on the role of prominent Jewish American families in helping European Jews to immigrate to the US from Europe under the Nazi regime. In fact, Overbrook’s founders Frank and Helen Altschul and their relatives figure among those who used their influence to save Jews from the Holocaust. It should be a great exhibit opening in Spring 2013.

A grant of $25,000 will be awarded to the Human Rights Project for Girls for general operating support. At the intersection of the Foundation’s human rights and reproductive justice portfolios, this new organization strives to advance and defend the human rights of girls in the US. Using this frame, it will advocate for the end of the practice of shackling, examine the pathway for many from being sexually abused to entering the juvenile justice system and it will advocate for anti-trafficking measures.

United Republic Education Fund will receive $50,000 for general support as a part of the Foundation’s new interest in supporting organizations striving to reform the role of money in politics. The Foundation believes that our grantees' advocacy can only be fairly heard if the role of big money, big lobbyists, and big donors in the American political system is curtailed. This new organization is building a grassroots, non-partisan movement to fight for a political system that works for Americans and their concerns rather than wealthy interests.

Congratulations to these new grantees! Each project is very different but they do all share the Foundation’s commitment to advancing and recognizing fair democracy and human rights. We look forward to seeing their important work over the next year.

YouTube's New Face-Blurring Tool: An Important Step for User Privacy and Safety

Last week YouTube announced the release of a new tool that will allow users to obscure people’s faces in the videos they have uploaded to the video-sharing platform.  By simply pushing a button in your settings to upload and post videos, you can now opt to protect the anonymity of individuals or crowds by blurring their faces from outside recognition.
YouTube has blogged about the new feature and how use it for those interested in the how to use the tool.
The use of technology in the form of cell phones, video, social media and more have been such important tools for growing human rights work.  However, these advances come with associated safety costs. When individuals choose to post videos that expose and document protests, human rights abuses or interviews with advocates, they are often putting themselves at risk.  We have seen governments and non-state actors targeting human rights advocates who appear in videos that may challenge the powerful in a given society.  Monitoring video and other forms of technology has provided governments and others with data on protesters or human rights advocates giving them the capacity to arrest or target human rights defenders.  As a result, YouTube’s new tool has enormous potential to protect human rights defenders and citizen activists, while still allowing them to take advantage of the valuable opportunity to share important footage across the world.   


Through its Cameras Everywhere Report’s recommendations and its advocacy work, WITNESS has used its role as a leading human rights video advocacy to urge tech companies, including YouTube, to provide better policies and technologies to ensure privacy for those using their platforms.  The report highlighted the fact that no video-sharing platforms provided anonymity features to users.  Now after hard work by groups like WITNESS to achieve this shift and the leadership of groups like YouTube, this reality is beginning to change. This advocacy strategy presents an interesting approach to defending human rights defenders because the role of tech companies in impacting individuals’ rights to information and privacy continues to grow.  We believe these victories and partnerships are extremely important to the future of human rights activism and the safety of those advocating for human rights accountability. 

Some related articles sent to us by WITNESS are found in The Los Angeles Times, The Atlantic, Mashable, Fast Company, Ars Technica, Global Voices Advocacy and The New York Times. And, here is WITNESS's blog poston the subject if you are interested in this tool and WITNESS’s complimentary work.