Activism through legal means
Who are we?
“Menschenrecht vor Bergrecht” is a group of people directly affected by the immediate threat of expropriation at the Garzweiler II coal mine in Germany and people from nearby villages.
We are not willing to accept that our houses, our gardens, our fertile fields, our cultural monuments, and our whole history, should be erased in a second – all for climate-damaging coal.
After many conversations together, we decided to form a solidarity group, in order to support each other. As just one person, it’s practically impossible to go up against the pressure exerted by the German electric utilities company RWE and most people do not have the financial means to engage in legal proceedings. But together, we are finding a way to bring expropriations for coal to an end by taking legal action.
What are we fighting for?
Despite the advancing climate crisis, the German government is banking on burning climate-damaging coal until 2038 – that’s what its new coal law says. Five villages will still be demolished to make the already massive Garzweiler mine in North Rhine-Westphalia even bigger.
We don’t want to leave our homes – and we won’t – because we love them. These villages, set to be destroyed for coal, are where we come from and where we’ll stay. We are fighting for our homes and our villages and we’re ready to go to court to defend them.
What legal action are we taking?
There are two legal routes in our plan. Firstly, we need to challenge the idea that eviction for coal is still justifiable in today’s world. We will be using a piece of land at the Garzweiler mine in a test case, to ask the courts about the legal questions of expropriation. We will not negotiate the sale of this piece of land with RWE. We have notified the company, and the Arnsberg local authority of this, in a formal communication. The next steps would be for RWE to ask for formal permission to force us to sell our homes. At this point, we’ll take action. Then it’s up to the court to decide whether the expropriation would be justifiable and legally permissible.
However, we have a new problem. We’re also going to challenge the government’s new coal phase-out law, because we think it goes against our constitutional rights. The law contains a provision (§ 48) that will have a significant impact on people like us who live at the Garzweiler II opencast mine. The law says that expanding the Garzweiler II opencast mine is a “necessity” for energy policy and economics. It contravenes our right to property, to human dignity and to legal protection.
We will therefore lodge a constitutional complaint against the Coal Act.
The representative from this project will be Ellen Baker from Client Earth.