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Alum who saved Liberian rainforests is 1st guest scholar at Tulane Center for Environmental Law

March 03, 2020 3:00 PM
Alina Hernandez

Brownell (LLM' 02) on the day he received the Goldman Environmental Prize.


Tulane Law alumnus and Goldman Environmental Prize winner Alfred Brownell (LLM’02) has been named the first Distinguished Visitor in Residence of the Tulane Center for Environmental Law.

Brownell will be visiting Tulane in early March through March 13, attending and speaking at the 25th annual Tulane Environmental Law and Policy Summit and working with students and faculty in environmental studies. 

While in residence, Brownell will be speaking to environmental law classes, conducting “mini-salons” with students to address issues of interest and meeting with faculty members.

"While Alfred’s work and experience may seem far removed from that of our students, it really isn’t," said Mark Davis, Director of the Tulane Center for Environmental Law (TCEL). "When you boil it down, it is all about the rule of law and access to justice.  Lawyers matter and Alfred proves it.  That is what Tulane Law is really all about."

Brownell, a Liberian environmental activist and lawyer,  in 2019 received the Goldman Environmental Prize for his fight to save more than a half-million acres in Liberia’s rainforests and the lands of indigenous people being decimated by a Singapore-based palm oil company.

He faced harassment and death threats for his work, forcing him to flee his country; he is now  the Tom and Andi Bernstein Human Rights Fellow at Yale University, after serving  as a Distinguished Scholar in Residence at Northeastern University School of Law Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy.

The Summit is fully student-led and organized, and in the past has featured such notable names as Jean-Michel Cousteau, son of the late Jacques Cousteau, and Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia clothing company. It annually brings together speakers from around the globe representing voices from business, legal, and scientific backgrounds to discuss the environmental issues of the day and how they should best be addressed.

Brownell is widely recognized as one of the leading defenders of environmental and human rights in Africa. As a litigator, he has served as lead counsel not only to Green Advocates, an organization he helped found, but also to its community partners, which together represent thousands of indigenous peoples in West Africa. He has championed the recognition of the customary land and property rights of local communities and indigenous groups against logging, the palm oil industry, and big agro.

“I have witnessed firsthand the stigmatization, threats, violence and criminalization of indigenous peoples, local communities and defenders in my native Liberia,” Brownell wrote in a recent Tulane Center for Environmental Law newsletter.

The TCEL launched in March of 2019 as an organizing hub to what is already one of the nation’s most comprehensive curricula in the concentration of environmental law. Tulane boasts the largest faculty-supervised environmental legal clinic in the country and an influential think-tank on water law and policy.

Brownell’s visit is part of ongoing efforts to bring scholars from around the world to collaborate with law faculty and others across the university as well as mentor environmental law students.