Even as the struggle for a peaceful, just and sustainable world continues, it is important to take a moment and appreciate the gains made in the past year. Below, in no particular order, are 12 movement victories that inspired us in 2018.
What were your favourite moments in the struggle for social and environmental justice in 2018? Let us know your suggestions on our Facebook page or tweet them to @TNinstitute.
In May, the Republic of Ireland voted overwhelmingly to remove a ban on abortion, by 66.4% to 33.6%. The Eighth Amendment, which grants an equal right to life to a mother and her unborn child, effectively made abortion unconstitutional. The vote to repeal it paved the way for the Dáil (the Irish Parliament) to legislate for change, which would see the introduction of a much more liberal regime. The result showed the Irish public "trust and respect women to make their own decisions and choices." This decision follows another moment in 2015, when the country voted to legalise same-sex marriage in a historic referendum.
In September, the Supreme Court in India unanimously ruled to decriminalize homosexual sex, in a landmark judgment for gay rights. A five-judge bench voted to repeal a 160-year old colonial law, that banned sex "against the order of nature." They argued that the legislation amounted to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and was unconstitutional. The judgment, which came after 24 years of legal challenges, triggered celebration among LBGT Indians and their allies across the country.
In November, the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) of the UN General Assembly voted in favour of the UN Declaration on the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas. The resolution was approved by 119 votes in favour, 7 votes against and 49 abstentions. It is a significant leap forward in a campaign led by La Via Campesina, the world's largest peasant movement supported by many organizations across the world, including FIAN and CETIM. The UN Declaration aims to better protect the rights of all rural populations including peasants, fisherfolks, nomads, agricultural workers and indigenous peoples and to improve living conditions, as well as to strengthen food sovereignty, the fight against climate change and the conservation of biodiversity. The endorsement of the UN Declaration also constitutes an important contribution to the international community's effort to promote family farming and peasant agriculture.
In November, the South African high court ordered that the Minister of mineral resources will have to obtain full and formal consent from the Xolobeni community prior to granting mining rights. This followed a previous ruling by the Supreme Court, that unanimously found that mining companies cannot simply remove land owners or lawful land occupiers from their land, even if the company has been awarded mining rights to mine the land in question. Even while under appeal the rulings set powerful precedents, and communities affected by mining have been considerably empowered by the judgments.
In January, the French government abandoned plans for a new €580m (US$659m) airport in western France. The government's decision was a great capitulation, and a massive victory for the around 300 "resistants" who were living on the land earmarked for the airport, having declared it a ZAD – Zone à Defendre – and vowed not to go quietly. An attempt to dislodge the occupiers – also known as zadists – in 2012, named Opération César, resulted in clashes between them and 2,000 gendarmes, and the government backing down in the face of public opposition to the scenes of violence. The land in question will now revert to agricultural use.
In October, going against the prevailing orthodoxy, Canada joined Uruguay as one of the two countries that have regulated cannabis use for non-medical purposes. Medical cannabis has been legal in the country since 2001. Canada's decision is part of an ongoing international trend of legal regulation. Norway decriminalized all drugs, and more states in the US adopted liberal drug regimes with regards to cannabis. In 2018, 21 states considered bills that would legalize adult-use cannabis, while European countries like Luxembourg have moved closer to ending cannabis prohibition.
In April, The New Zealand government announced that it will grant no new offshore oil exploration permits, a move hailed by conservation and environmental groups as a historic victory in the battle against climate change. The ban will apply to new permits and will not affect the existing 22, some of which have decades left on their exploration rights and cover an area of 100,000 sq km. The prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, said her government "has a plan to transition towards a carbon-neutral future, one that looks 30 years in advance".
In October, the Peruvian Supreme Court accepted Walter Aduviri's appeal and overturned the sentence against him. Aduviri was a spokesperson for the Aymara indigenous communities during the 2011 Aymarazo protests in Peru against a proposed mining project owned by a Canadian Mining Corporation. The Supreme Court ruled that Aduviri's appeal was well founded and ordered that the case should begin again from zero in the regional courts. Both local and international civil society groups have been following the case closely because of two dangerous legal precedents in the case that risked weakening the broader movement in Peru for indigenous rights and in defense water, land and territory. With the overturning of Aduviri's sentence, those precedents have been blocked. The case of Walter Aduviri and the Aymara people is emblematic of the attacks and threats faced by communities that stand up to defend their basic resources throughout Latin America and other regions.
In October, an Italian rescue left for waters off Libya, in a direct challenge to Italy's far-right interior minister, Matteo Salvini. It was the first non-military, Italian-flagged boat to operate in the Mediterranean since the migration crisis began. In contrast to rescue ships operated by humanitarian NGOs, which had been blocked in recent months by the Italian government, the Mare Jonio flies an Italian flag and is mainly operated by an Italian crew. It can thus not legally be refused entry to an Italian port, though the interior Minister could still move to prevent people from disembarking. The boat was bought and equipped by a coalition of leftwing politicians, anti-racist associations, intellectuals and figures in the arts, under the supervision of two NGOs. Its mission, called Mediterranea is "not only about providing humanitarian aid but protesting against the toxic politics of Italy, Europe and the US."
In August, Baltimore City Council made history by unanimously voting to amend its City Charter to declare the sewer system and water supply system as "inalienable." The amendment also prohibits the sale and lease of its water and sewer system. For several years, water privatization has been a highly contentious issue in Baltimore City, as multiple water corporations have expressed interest in the city's water system. The vote will keep the city's water and sewer firmly in public hands. In November, Voters in Monterey County, California, also jump-started a public takeover of their water system from California-American Water (Cal Am), a subsidiary of the nation's largest private water corporation. Measure J, which passed by 56 percent to 44 percent, authorizes the local water district to study the feasibility of public ownership, and if practical, to purchase the water system from Cal Am. Voters gave the water district a clear mandate to pursue public ownership of their water system. These two communities the US made a strong case for water as a common resource that is "far too important to be controlled by a private corporation for profit.
In October, Spain's Supreme Court confirmed that former International Monetary Fund chief Rodrigo Rato will have to serve a four-and-a-half year jail sentence for misusing company credit cards when he worked at state-owned lender Bankia. Spanish activists made it their task to take Rato, one of Spain's most eminent bankers and other guilty bankers to jail, through the criminal courts for fraud, money laundering, and embezzlement. Rato also presided over a massive fraudulent sale of the bank's shares. Another 64 former bank execs and board members received varying sentences from the Audiencia Nacional, Spain's High Court, after it emerged that the group had spent a collective €12.5 million (US $14.2 million) between 2003 and 2012 on personal expenses ranging from vacations and jewelry, to meals in expensive restaurants. The case demonstrates that bankers can be brought to justice when ordinary people unite and force prosecutors to do their jobs.
In October, the new Mexican president Andrés López Obrador took the bold step of canceling an enormous new airport project opposed by activists. The decision was put to a referendum.
In 2001, then President Vincente Fox announced plans to build what was originally planned as a US $2.3 billion new airport for Mexico City. It would support a massive increase in airline emissions, and it was being built over an ancient lake, which doubles as a water reserve for the already water-stressed region. It is land of immense ecological and social importance.
The communities of Lake Texcoco rose up and said no. In October, they won overwhelming support–70% in a public referendum set up by the incoming administration of president-elect Andreas Obrador.
The proposed airport construction was cancelled.
"Some activists are afraid that if we acknowledge victory, people will give up the struggle. I’ve long been more afraid that people will give up and go home or never get started in the first place if they think no victory is possible or fail to recognize the victories already achieved. Marriage equality is not the end of homophobia, but it’s something to celebrate. A victory is a milestone on the road, evidence that sometimes we win, and encouragement to keep going, not to stop."