Tom & Andi Bernstein Visiting Human Rights Fellow
Alfred Brownell is an internationally recognized environmental rights activist and lawyer from Liberia. Brownell has advocated for more than two decades to protect the environment and human rights in West Africa and to empower Liberians and West Africans victimized by resource exploitation. He co-founded and headed the public interest law nongovernmental environmental rights organization Green Advocates International.
To support and empower communities and indigenous peoples in Liberia and West Africa, Brownell also coestablished the Alliance for Rural Democracy, the largest solidarity movement in Liberia consisting of local communities, women dependendent on land and natural resources, informal sector entrepreneurs (pro-poor businesses) and informal and emerging labor unions.
After he observed women in rural communities, slums, and squatter communities being denied a voice in the decision-making process as it related to the management of their land and natural resources, he helped co-establish the Natural Resources Women Platform to empower and support women, land, and natural resources, as well as economic, social, and cultural rights in Liberia.
At the regional level, he collaborated with activists in several West African countries and co-founded one of West Africa’s largest solidarity movements - the Mano River Union Civil Society Natural Resources Rights and Governance Platform consisting of activists, communities, and indigenous peoples in eight of the fifteen West African countries affected by the operations of transnational corporations. Given the critical need for legal aid, as well as ensuring corporate accountability and the obligations and duties of governments in West Africa to protect, respect and fulfill rights, Brownell co-organized the Public Interest Lawyers Initiative for West Africa. Through his leadership, these networks, coalitions and institutions are currently working to combat land grabs, deforestation, the climate crisis, destructive investment, pollution, unjust labor practices, and the commodification and exploitation of indigenous land.
With Green Advocates, Brownell pioneered a framework for environmental law within Liberia’s legal system. His efforts have led to significant successes, including the temporary protection of six million acres of forest from development by palm oil companies. Brownell’s advocacy has also led to backlash targeting him and his family; in 2016, following repeated death threats, Brownell was forced to flee Liberia and is living with his family in the United States in temporary exile. In 2019, Brownell won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize, considered the “green Nobel,” which honors the achievements and leadership of grassroots environmental activists. Brownell was Associate Research Professor and Distinguished Scholar in Residence at Northeastern University School of Law from 2017–2019.