South Africa




Natural Justice: Lawyers for Communities and the Environment is an international collective of legal practitioners established in 2007 as a not-for-profit organization in South Africa with the vision of using the law to ensure the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, through the self-determination of Indigenous peoples and local communities.

Natural Justice’s mission is to facilitate the full and effective participation of communities in the development and implementation of law and policy impacting biodiversity and related cultural heritage.

Thus, Natural Justice works closely with communities while simultaneously engaging governmental and intergovernmental processes at national and international levels to ensure the effective representation of community concerns. Natural Justice currently advises and assists communities, community based organizations and governments in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Natural Justice also provides technical support to a number of inter-governmental organizations including the UNEP, UNESCO, FAO and the UNDP. Please refer to our website and our blog for further information.

63 Hout Street, Cape Town
South Africa, 8001
Telephone: +27 21 42 616 33



GALA has centered its mission around three core areas: human, consumer and environmental rights. Although expansive, GALA believes it does not have the luxury to focus on just one as all three are core components to social justice issues facing the world’s poor and ignoring even one of these three focal points would detract from the mission to help the poor reclaim their rights. The blog will focus on all three issues highlighting specific cases GALA is representing as well as the importance, or more emphatically, the necessity for an organization like GALA to exist. While many cases and country partners will confront simultaneous breaches on the rights of the poor, we hope to highlight one specific injustice and what GALA is doing to fight back.

Recently I had the privilege of speaking with Gino Cocchiaro, an Environmental Lawyer based in Capetown, South Africa working for Natural Justice, GALA’s South African partner. Natural Justice focuses on the preservation of the environment specifically through the protection of indigenous populations and their land. As their website states, “Our mission is to facilitate the full and effective participation of Indigenous peoples and local communities in the development and implementation of laws and policies that relate to the conservation and customary uses of biodiversity and the protection of associated cultural heritage.” Until my conversation with Gino, I understood that biodiversity and indigenous rights were important but I hadn’t quite grasped the intrinsic importance of their shared value in sustaining a healthy and livable planet. My conversation with Gino emphasized how human rights and environmental rights are not separate issues but completely complementary.

Gino Cocciaro, a lawyer for Natural Justice and a partner to GALA based in Capetown, South Africa.

Gino Cocchiaro, a lawyer for Natural Justice and a partner to GALA based in Capetown, South Africa.

Natural Justice works in over a dozen countries around the world and partners with institutions including the World Bank and other international financial institutions providing legal advice, interpreting laws and working with local governments to develop tools where communities can connect through law. In many of the more remote regions of the world, people who have lived on the land for centuries have valued the importance of protecting the environment and lived in harmony with nature. Minorities including the Awá in Brazil, the Native Americans in the United States, and the Maori in New Zealand have all suffered the consequences of ‘modern land development.’ In areas where Natural Justice works, communities now have an opportunity to seek legal council and voice their concerns.

One such example of the importance of Natural Justice’s work can be found in Lamu, Kenya. Lamu, an island off the coast of East Kenya, is in the center of negotiations to build a port that will be a ‘gateway to the Horn of Africa,’ a project the Kenyan government believes will bring tens of thousands of jobs to the region. However, the project will also displace thousands of locals. Initially, plans and itineraries for the project were developed without consulting any of the local leaders, a concern that brought attention to the plight of Lamu to Natural Justice. Since then, Natural Justice has worked with those living in Lamu to bring their concerns to government officials and business leaders. In addition, Natural Justice identifies local organizations and lawyers who are then fully integrated into the process. Natural Justice connects local leaders to the national and international discussions on the formation of new laws and the interpretation of existing ones.
Their ability to work locally along with a team of internationally experienced lawyers provides a platform for dialogue to take place between the government, consultants and community leaders.

Gino’s vast knowledge of biodiversity and land issues is clearly established within minutes of speaking with him. What I really wanted to delve into was how he took his expertise and applied it to the specific case he was involved in, something that always proves a challenge when assessing an organization like GALA’s impact across international boundaries. Gino’s responses were enlightening and also demonstrated the challenges that will be a constant trial for GALA in their aim to change the face of legal aid internationally. As Gino explained, establishing who are the people and communities Natural Justice is representing and how the issue (in this case the Port) will affect their livelihood, culture and traditions is not always straighforward. This is where establishing firm relationships on the ground with the community members and local business and political leaders becomes critical. From there, Natural Justice is able to use their legal expertise to set out certain principles for discussion and obligations the government must abide by. Heavy capacity training also enables the process to take on a participatory approach and bringing community leaders into the model completes the circle. In effect, natural justice.

Lamu Island, Kenya.

Lamu Island, Kenya.



A Public Interest Action: Case No. 01/2012.

1. Client Identification, location and relevant case background.

Save Lamu is a Kenyan community-based coalition of local non-government organisations that formed in response to the decision by the Kenyan government to develop a massive port in Lamu without an environmental impact assessment (EIA) or meaningful consultations with communities impacted by the development. The port is being constructed on land with contested tenure, will have a significant impact on the delicate environment, and will have a significant negative impact on the livelihoods of numerous communities in Lamu. Save Lamu has sought to make it explicit that it is not against the port in all forms, but is seeking to ensure that the port is developed according to feedback from a credible environmental, social and cultural impact assessment and the demands of affected communities. A petition to this effect has been filed at the Mombasa Constitutional Court, but the legal challenge has been stalled repeatedly and remains difficult for the community to engage with.

At the community level, Save Lamu has been very active in mobilising community engagement around the port. With Natural Justice’s support, Save Lamu is developing a Biocultural Community Protocol (BCP), an instrument where communities identify their values and practices and ground them in protections under international and national law. Through the BCP process Save Lamu has canvassed over 45 communities in Lamu East and West and is now collating the results of the meetings to develop a BCP. Parallel to these meetings Natural Justice has supported legal capacity training to increase community understanding of rights. The construction of the port began in early 2012 but it is still in early stages. Save Lamu is attempting to engage with relevant stakeholders to ensure that community concerns are addressed.

2. Legal issue (s)presented:

The primary issue presented is the development of a major port without an environmental impact assessment or community consultation and consent. While the port’s development is being challenged in court, this challenge will move slowly and even if it is successful it is unlikely that the government will acknowledge it. The challenge, therefore, is to advance a rights-based engagement with government actors parallel to the court petition to seek a productive solution with community consultations prioritised for the port’s development and a credible environmental impact assessment conducted and incorporated into the development plan.

3. Why the clients require legal aid:

Save Lamu and its members require legal aid in establishing clear rights to have their input incorporated in port development plans and using those rights to productively engage with relevant stakeholders. This legal aid will include legal empowerment trainings for community leaders, facilitation in identifying community demands, and legal support in dialoguing with port decision-makers.

4. Counsel’s advocacy strategy:

5. Assistance requested from local Counsel from lawyers in other Jurisdictions:

A) Funding for the following;

i) Legal empowerment trainings presenting the BCP to representative community meetings, detailing the legal rights that underpin the BCP and identifying clear community demands to shape the port’s development;
ii) Meetings facilitated by Natural Justice between Save Lamu leadership and community leaders to determine a clear set of demands for the port’s development;
iii) Facilitated meetings between relevant government representatives and Save Lamu leadership to clearly articulate community interests and their legal underpinnings and possible productive solutions.

6. Counsel’s certification

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