We are thrilled to announce that OAEC partner Lottie Cunningham Wren, Miskito women and human rights lawyer for indigenous Nicaraguans, has won the 2020 Right Livelihood Award, often referred to as the “Alternative Nobel Prize”, “for her ceaseless dedication to the protection of indigenous lands and communities from exploitation and plunder.” Lottie joins three other 2020 Laureates: imprisoned human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh from Iran, U.S. civil rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson, and human rights activist Ales Bialiatski and the non-governmental organization Human Rights Centre “Viasna” in Belarus. (See the Prize Announcement describing Lottie’s landmark legal work below.)
OAEC’s Kendall Dunnigan who contributed significantly to process of nominating her to the Right Livelihood Foundation says “Lottie is the most driven, focused, and committed person I have ever met. She is undeterred in fighting for the rights of her people and will never stop until that has been secured.” Lottie is the President of partner organization CEJUDHCAN in Nicaragua, ally of the Five Forests Alliance which supports and defends the rights of the indigenous Miskito community as self-determined guardians of one of the most biologically important and truly intact forests on earth from violent land grab, community dislocation and resource exploitation.
We encourage people to share this news for two reasons: 1) Globally, the struggle of indigenous forest peoples in Nicaragua is a little known and under-addressed issue and 2) Nicaragua has one of the highest rates of murder and kidnappings of human rights workers and journalists in the world. Lottie and her team at CEJUDHCAN are hopeful that this global recognition will increase their safety and security and will help them take back control of the narrative about the struggle which has been silenced by the state regime.
“Lottie Cunningham Wren is a lawyer from the Miskito indigenous group defending the rights of indigenous peoples in Nicaragua to their land and resources. She has been instrumental in ensuring legal protections, including initiating the process of demarcation and titling of indigenous lands in Nicaragua. Cunningham has also fought to uphold the human rights of indigenous peoples and Afro-descendants, protecting them and their livelihoods from armed settlers.
Indigenous communities around the world – but especially in Latin America – face a multitude of threats, from land grabs and exploitation of their natural resources to violence, endangering their very existence. In Nicaragua, the majority of indigenous and Afro-descendant communities are harassed by armed settlers, who use the land to ranch cattle and harvest wood while pushing indigenous communities off their farmlands and out of their villages. Because of the state’s promotion of extractive industries, vital natural resources, such as clean water sources, are often destroyed.
Through the use of international and domestic law, Cunningham has secured indigenous land rights in Nicaragua, pioneering legal strategies that have been successfully used by indigenous communities around the world to demarcate their lands. Cunningham has also shown that the protection of indigenous land is instrumental to the protection of local ecosystems. She has played an important role in supporting the mobilisation against the planned Nicaragua Interoceanic Grand Canal, a Chinese-financed government project to connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The construction of the canal would cut through indigenous territories, lead to their forced displacement and destroy ecosystems needed for their survival.
A fierce advocate for her people, Cunningham has also advanced the rights of indigenous women, including establishing programmes to reduce domestic violence and pushing to create space for them in decision-making bodies. She also works to educate youth on how to formally demand respect for their human rights and report violations.
Despite threats and intimidation, Cunningham remains unwavering in her commitment to empower and protect indigenous communities from external forces engaged in the exploitation of their lands.”