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Dangerous Work: A Study of Reprisals against Environmental Defenders in the former Soviet Union and the United States 

Summary of the Problem:

Environmental defenders are under increasing attack throughout the world, including in the United States and in the former Soviet Union. Administrative and criminal legal charges, bureaucratic obstacles, and physical threats are just some of the risks environmental defenders face on a regular basis, and with increasing frequency and intensity.

The Project:

Crude Accountability, in partnership with the EcoForum of NGOs of Kazakhstan and Fractracker (based in Pittsburgh, PA), is publishing a report on reprisals against environmental defenders in the US and in countries of Eurasia. The report will be published in October 2019, and is an updated version of the original report, Dangerous Work, which was produced in September 2017.  Dangerous Work is a compilation of stories of reprisals against environmental defenders, describing the multitude of ways that governments and corporations and their watchdogs retaliate against activists, particularly those working in the extractive sector. It also describes the disturbing trends of increasing threats to environmental defenders in each of the countries highlighted in the report.

A public launch of the report will take place at Duke University on October 15 in partnership with the Duke University Human Rights Center at the Franklin Humanities Institute. At this event, Crude Accountability and environmental defenders from the former Soviet space will speak about their work protecting the environment and reprisals they have faced. Speakers include Gubad Ibadoghlu, an economist and anti-corruption activist holding oil companies and the government accountable in his home country of Azerbaijan; Vadim Ni, director of EcoForum of NGOs and environmental lawyer from Kazakhstan; Elena Sorokina, Crude Accountability’s communications manager; Sergey Solyanik, environmental defender and consultant to Crude Accountability in Kazakhstan; and Kate Watters, executive director of Crude Accountability and environmental defender.


Dr. Gubad Ibadoghlu, is a 2019/2020 postdoctoral visiting scholar at the Center for European Studies at Rutgers University and a world-renowned political economist from Azerbaijan. He is a senior policy analyst for social and economic studies at Azerbaijan’s Economic Research Center, a Baku-based NGO that promotes economic development and good governance, where he has been since 1999. His research focuses on the politics on natural resources and revenue management.

Dr. Ibadoghlu has been a member of the Steering Committee of the EU Eastern Partnership Program’s Civil Society Forum (CSF), and served as a Eurasia civil society representative to the international board of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) for 2013–2019.

In addition to the Economic Research Center, Dr Ibadoghlu has been affiliated variously with the Higher Economic School, Warsaw (1999/2000); with the Central European University, Budapest (2004/2005); with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (2008/2009); with Duke University (2015/2016); and with the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton (2017/2018). In 2018/19, he was visiting professor in the Department of Economics at Rutgers University.




Elena Sorokina is Crude Accountability’s communications manager, and is the lead writer on the Russia section of the Dangerous Work report, as well as the report’s editor. Elena holds an M.A. in Media Studies from Syracuse University where she received a scholarship for contributions to free speech and The First Amendment program. At Syracuse University, Elena specialized in studying press and government relations, online activism, and non-profit communications. She also served at The Tully Center for Free Speech at the Newhouse School for Public Communications. She holds a degree in Journalism from Moscow State University where she studied Business Journalism and Media Management. In Russia, Elena worked as a journalist for various Russian and international news outlets and volunteered for election monitoring campaigns. She also reported on Russia’s environmental movement. Her reporting was recognized by The Paul Khlebnikov Fund that supports young democracy-oriented Russian journalists. Prior to journalism and communications work, Elena participated in the Future Leaders Exchange program in Oregon, which sparked her interest in non-profits and environmental organizations.





Sergey Solyanik 
is a consultant to Crude Accountability since 2009, and is responsible for the organization’s activities in Kazakhstan. He has been an active participant in Kazakhstan’s environmental movement since 1990. For nearly twenty years he worked at the Ecological Society Green Salvation, one of the oldest and most respected public environmental organizations in the country. Sergey has a degree in electrical engineering and a Masters in Environmental Politics from Keele University in the UK, which he studied under a Chevening Scholarship granted by the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office.  In 2001, Sergey participated in the US government sponsored “Contemporary Issues Program,” through which he conducted research on the interactions between American non-governmental organizations and transnational corporations. Sergey’s interests include protecting the human right to a healthy environment, and monitoring and influencing the activities of transnational corporations and international financial institutions operating in Kazakhstan and throughout Central Asia.  Sergey speaks Russian and English.






Kate Watters is co-founder and executive director of Crude Accountability, an environmental and human rights nonprofit organization working with natural resource impacted communities in the Caspian and Black Sea regions since 2003.  Kate oversees the management and development of the organization and works closely with the board of directors and staff to build sustainable and effective programs and campaigns. She also works closely with activists in affected communities to develop strategies and campaigns to protect environmental and human rights on the local, national, and international levels. She has worked with human rights and environmental defenders in Central Asia, the Caucasus, and Russia since the early 1990s, has lived in and traveled extensively throughout the region, and speaks fluent Russian. She is the author of numerous reports and articles on civil society in Central Asia and the Caspian region and has been interviewed for print media, radio, and television about environment, oil and gas, and human rights in Central Asia, the Caucasus, and Russia. Kate holds an MA in Russian Area Studies from Georgetown University and a BA in Russian literature from UMASS-Amherst.





Vadim Ni is the Chair of Ecoforum of NGOs of Kazakhstan, a national network of environmental nongovernmental organizations. He has held this position since 2014, when he was elected by the members of the Ecoforum. He is one of Kazakhstan’s leading experts on environmental law, and, in particular, the Aarhus Convention, for which he served as a member of the Compliance Committee from October 2002 till June 2011. Vadim is currently a member of the Compliance Committee of the UNECE Water and Health Protocol, having been nominated by the Swiss Government.

Vadim’s professional experience includes more than 20 years of work in the area of environmental protection. He began working as an environmental legal expert in 1997, while still carrying out legal studies. He worked as a freelance legal consultant for UNECE, UNDP, UNESCO, USAID, OSCE, World Bank, EBRD, OECD, Ministry of Environmental Protection of Kazakhstan. He also worked as an international consultant in Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. His main areas of professional experience are environmental, climate change and water law.

In close cooperation with Kazakhstan’s public administration, Vadim has drafted legislation, including chapters on river basin management of the Water Code and the chapters of Environmental Code on emission trading scheme, climate adaptation and public participation in Kazakhstan and many secondary regulations. Vadim participated as co-author in preparation of numerous guidance documents on the Aarhus Convention, national environmental law, basin water management, ecotourism, including Russian proofreading of the second edition of the Aarhus Convention Implementation Guide (UNECE, 2015) and preparation of the Aarhus Centres Guidelines (Office of the Co-ordinator of OSCE Economic and Environmental Activities, OSCE Secretariat, 2009). Vadim has written many articles on environmental, water and climate law, including for the European Journal of Environmental Planning Law, Georgetown International Environmental Law Review, and the Library of the Supreme Court of Kazakhstan.

Vadim holds a law degree and another in chemistry. He is fluent in English and is a native Russian speaker.


Sponsored by the Duke Human Rights Center at the Franklin Humanities Institute and the Duke Center for International and Global Studies.



October 15, 2019
4:30 pm - 6:00 pm


Smith Warehouse, Bay 4, Ahmadieh Family Lecture Hall (C105)
114 S. Buchanan Blvd.
Durham, NC 27708 United States
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919 668 1911