In the Peruvian town of La Oroya, near a smelter that has been spewing heavy metals for over 80 years, 99% of the children have toxic lead blood levels (according to a 1999 study). Listening to a Peruvian scientist describe the situation to an unfamiliar audience in Oregon, I saw transfixed faces around the room—particularly as she displayed charts illustrating levels of various heavy metals far exceeding the World Health Organization’s safe limits. Beyond the sheer disregard for the health and safety of the kids and the communities in Peru, I was outraged to learn that the company operating there was a U.S.-based multi-national mining company. At the same time, I was grateful that this team of scientists and lawyers had taken it upon themselves to work to end these abuses.
I was in my first year of law school at the time, attending a public interest environmental law conference with my law school’s Environmental Law Society. The La Oroya case assured me that at least some lawyers do the kind of work I went to law school to do—international, environmental and human rights law. Years later, I am privileged to be working with the lawyers and scientists at the very organization that brought a case on behalf of the people of that Peruvian mining town.
People often wonder what exactly international law is and how it works, and find that at times it can be challenging to attain accountability for international law violations. Yes, it can be difficult, and it may require innovative thinking and perseverance, but that doesn’t stop us from stepping up to the challenge. From climate change to oil dependency, we face global-scale issues with serious implications on people and the environment both now and in the future. I’m excited to be working on issues like these, helping to influence the course of that large and lasting impact on ourselves and the generations to come.
Abby Rubinson is an Associate Attorney with Earthjustice’s International Program, located in San Francisco, CA. Abby received her law degree from the University of Michigan and B.A. from Duke University. Before coming to Earthjustice in 2010, Abby worked as one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs in Bowoto v. Chevron and Wiwa v. Shell, both international human rights cases related to oil operations in Nigeria, and in a case related to apartheid-era abuses in South Africa. Abby also researched human rights in Brazil with Human Rights Watch on a post-graduate fellowship and published a student note on human rights impacts of dams in Brazil.