2022: Anabela Lemos
Learn about Anabela Lemos, recipient of the 2022 Per Anger prize to human rights defenders.
Anabela Lemos. Photo: Edson Artur
Meet Anabela Lemos
About Anabela Lemos
As an environmental defender in Mozambique, Anabela Lemos is playing a high-stakes game. She and her colleagues have been subjected to burglary, threats, beatings and other abuse. But she’s not giving up. Her highest priority is fighting for the environment and human rights.
– Today the rights of people and the state of the environment have deteriorated. But they would have deteriorated even more and faster if organisations like ours were not constantly fighting back.
Anabela Lemos heads the environmental group Justiça Ambiental (Friends of the Earth Mozambique) – an organization that actively opposes the extraction of gas and other natural resources in Mozambique by foreign companies. Often the violations occur in areas where most of the population lives in extreme poverty.
– To protest and tell the world what is going on is the only way to put an end to the injustice, she says. I know changes like these do not happen in the blink of an eye, but I know that I’m on the right path.
Interview with Anabela Lemos
When did you realize that you wanted to work for the rights of the poor and for the environment in Mozambique?
Growing up I saw what human beings were doing to the environment and that there was no way the environment could fight back. So I started to educate myself. Then around 1998 we found out that they were going to build an incinerator burning toxic pesticides in our community. I believe that was the trigger when I said enough, and from then on I have never stopped being an activist.
From where do you get your strength and commitment?
It is very difficult seeing the complete disrespect for the environment, the illegal logging supported by our elites in the government, pollution of our air, land, sea and rivers, without any concerns. It is revolting to see foreign investment in our country, giving people false promises of a better life.
How would you describe your driving force?
Rural people in my country lack influence and are oppressed. Their right to land and sea has been taken away from them and their water sources are polluted, destroying their conditions for a good life. All the while they are expected to stay silent for the good of the country. But where are their rights, their livelihoods, their futures, their dreams and their lives? Are these people part of our country or not?
What are you working on right now?
Most of our work deals with ongoing campaigns against gas exploitation, coal, land grabbing, etc. We support communities when they face human rights violations. We also have other projects, such as agro-ecology training, follow-ups, studies and research.
You have been threatened several times, with the goal of making you quit your engagement. Have the police been informed and acted?
No way. Why would we inform the police? There is nobody here to protect us. When we had a break-in, it took nearly a year for them to just send a paper confirming the incident. And their first question when they saw our ransacked office was “Whose toes did you step on this time?”
Other frightening things have happened, too, like beatings and someone sabotaging the brakes of our car.
Have you ever feared for your life?
Sometimes, yes. But I am more worried for my family and my team. And of course for my son, Daniel. These last few years he has been very outspoken and worked with sensitive issues like the exploitation of natural gas in northern Mozambique.
What are the biggest challenges to your work?
Apathy is really an issue in Mozambique. Sometimes people don’t raise their voices because they are worried about authority. So injustices keep happening and we have to oppose this. Corruption exists at all levels and it’s almost impossible to get support or even work with local government representatives if they don’t receive any direct benefits from the initiatives.
How will the Per Anger Prize affect your efforts?
I am so honored to receive this prize. I think getting this award is so important for the work of me and my team, our friends and partners. But also, we don’t do this work for the recognition. We do it because we believe in climate justice and we are convinced that what we are doing is right.
Have you ever thought about giving up? Maybe doing something completely different?
No, I haven’t. It’s not just a job to me. In fact, I have never received any salary for all my activist work. I have had my work and this is me, my life. This is what I am.
Facts about Anabela Lemos
For over 20 years, Anabela Lemos has worked to protect the environment and help people affected by climate change and multi-national companies’ exploitation of Mozambique’s natural resources.
Throughout the years, her work has meant increased legal protection for people who have been exposed to exploitation of their land. Her activism has also raised global awareness around several other climate-destroying projects. This has slowed down many processes and contributed to holding the responsible companies accountable.
The Jury´s motivation
“For more than 20 years, Anabela Lemos has fought for climate justice in Mozambique. Despite receiving threats, she pursues her fight against multinational companies that destroy and exploit the land of small-scale farmers and force them from their homes. The efforts of Anabela Lemos clearly show that human rights and climate justice are tightly linked.”
Anabela Lemos was nominated for the Per Anger Prize by the organization We Effect.