Why first-hand experience can create the development we want

by Jocelyn Medallo, Policy and Advocacy Director, IAP

Jocelyn Soto Medallo, IAP’s Advocacy and Policy Director

Looking back, it was my late grandfather, Felipe, who first taught me about social justice.

My grandfather immigrated to the United States at the age of 16, joining what would later be known as the manong generation — the Filipino pioneers who traveled up and down the West Coast of the United States as seasonal workers in canneries and agriculture. Though I was too young to comprehend the weight of his words, he impressed upon me his experiences as an immigrant and migrant farm worker. He spoke of being on the periphery, of rights and unions, and the power of people to effect change — values that I carried with me throughout law school and in my first few years as a lawyer.

I do this work because I am passionate about human rights, the protection of the environment and access to justice.

However, working in Cambodia galvanized my beliefs about development and human rights. There, I saw human rights violated in the name of development.

One of my most poignant memories is a research trip to the Thailand-Cambodia border, where our team met with communities impacted by an Asian Development Bank project that would resettle thousands of people across the country. We spent our days talking to community members who graciously shared their homes and lives with us. Articulated again and again in those discussions were the profound impacts of resettlement — compensation was insufficient to rebuild their homes; their livelihoods would suffer at the resettlement site; and complaints to the local grievance mechanism were often met with intimidation or dismissal by local officials.

Late into the evenings, our team held a makeshift legal clinic in our hotel rooms, because security concerns prevented us from doing so in the villages. In those moments, my interests in international law, environmental justice and human rights came together.

Jocelyn Medallo (extreme left) with members of the Coalition for Human Rights In Development in Johannesburg, South Africa

Before joining IAP, I was a Senior Attorney with the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), where I led their policy advocacy to ensure that development banks respect human rights and there is accountability for harms suffered by communities. We worked to strengthen the environmental and social policies of development banks and their independent accountability mechanisms. We provided legal support to those seeking to file complaints. With IAP, CIEL, ESCR-Net and Human Rights Watch, we built the foundation for the Coalition for Human Rights in Development, a global coalition of social movements, civil society organizations, and grassroots groups working to ensure that all development finance institutions respect, protect, and fulfill human rights. Notably, it was through my time at CIEL that I came to work on the Early Warning System with IAP.

Previously, I worked on land and housing rights with Equitable Cambodia, where we used evidence-based advocacy to counter development-induced displacement and forced evictions. We also conducted legal trainings to support land activists to defend their rights. While in Cambodia, I also conducted research on transparency, governance, and accountability issues related to Cambodia’s growing extractives industry.

These and other experiences taught me that those with first-hand experience about development impacts are critical to shaping solutions. I feel privileged to work with IAP, which is led by the ethos of “community-led development.”

I am motivated by the promise of a world where human rights are respected, where those harmed are able to obtain the justice they deserve, and where those often marginalized have the power to direct change. I dream of this world for my daughter, for myself, and for the countless activists, who, with their courage and tenacity, continue to push the envelope.

Jocelyn Medallo, a Filipino-American environment and human rights lawyer, is the Policy and Advocacy Director at IAP and heads the Early Warning System initiative. Jocelyn was a Senior Attorney for the Center for International Environmental Law, in Washington, DC, where she led their policy advocacy work to ensure that development finance is rights-respecting, protects the environment, and provides recourse for communities harmed by development projects.

Jocelyn advised “urban refugees” in Thailand to navigate the refugee determination process before the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. In Cambodia, Jocelyn worked with a local organization, Equitable Cambodia, on human rights advocacy related to displacement by development and supported its Community Empowerment and Legal Awareness team to provide legal trainings to land rights activists.

As a private practitioner in the United States, Jocelyn worked as a Cooperating Attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon on civil rights cases. Jocelyn holds a Juris Doctorate in environmental law from Lewis and Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon. Jocelyn is based in Malaysia.

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