David Hunter

"I was once asked, "What difference does it make if I pay you $5000 to write a brilliant policy brief or if I spend $5000 creating street puppets, if I get the same result?" It hurts as a lawyer to be compared to a street puppet but the sentiment is worth remembering. In the long-term campaign for social justice , street puppets and lawyers are both best thought of as tools in an overarching campaign."

David Hunter is Professor of Law at American University's Washington College of Law, where he teaches and researches international and comparative environmental law and the relationship of human rights and environmental law. He currently serves on the Boards of Directors of the Center for International Environmental Law, the Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide-US, Friends of Green Advocates, and the Project on Government Oversight, and formerly served on the Boards of the Bank Information Center, Greenpeace-US, and EarthRights International, as well as the Steering Committee of the World Commission on Environmental Law. He is a Member Scholar of the Center for Progressive Reform and a Strategic Advisor to the International Finance Corporation’s Compliance Advisor/Ombudsman’s Office. He is a co-author of leading textbooks on international environmental law and climate change law. He has been a leading advocate and architect of non-judicial grievance mechanisms in international development finance and has advised local communities around the world in using international law strategies to seek justice.

David Hunter



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David Hunter has worked for four decades to “bridge the power gap that separates all rural communities from global institutions like the World Bank.” In this rich and wise essay, he relates the experience of bringing people from all over the world to Washington DC so they can relate their experiences of injustice and human rights abuse: to American courts and lawmakers, to World Bank officials, and to the public through the media. When, in 2019, he was part of a case involving Indian fishermen that was successful in overturning the World Bank’s immunity from prosecution in the US, he was “certain”, he writes, that “the connection between the abstract legal principles and the flesh-and-blood people these principles affected was partly responsible” for victory. David introduces us to these “flesh-and-blood people”, villagers from Paraguay and India and Tibet: their encounters with Bank grandees such as James Wolfensohn and their effect in American courts. He also interrogates, with a gimlet eye, the limitations of his work, and its ability to make a real difference the lives of the people whose cases establish legal or policy precedents in Washington.