Executive Director of the Centre for Environmental Justice in Sri Lanka, Hemantha Withanage, has been elected as the chair of Friends of the Earth International (FoEI). Hemantha succeeds Karin Nansen of Uruguay, whose two terms as chair ended in June 2021.
Nigeria’s Chima Williams, Acting Executive Director of Environmental Rights Action, was also elected as one of the two Friends of the Earth Africa representatives at the Friends of the Earth International Executive Committee.
The elections were the high points of the 2021 Biannual General Meeting (BGM) of FoEI hosted by BUND/Friends of the Earth Germany and attended virtually by members from 73 countries of the world.
Withanage is a science graduate from the University of Kelaniya in Sri Lanka. He joined the environmental justice movement in 1990 as an environmental officer for the Environmental Foundation Ltd. In 2004, he co-founded the Centre for Environmental Justice – the most visible environmental organisation in Sri Lanka today.
From 2005 to 2008, Withanage was Executive Director of the Philippines-based NGO Forum on ADB, a network of civil society organisations monitoring the Asian Development Bank – for which he has also been the elected International Convenor a number of times.
Withanage has held leadership positions in several other regional and international networks and is a leading environmental activist in the Asia Pacific region. He was an elected member of Friends of the Earth International’s Executive Committee from 2010 to 2018.
In his acceptance speech, Withanage said: “I am honoured to be elected as chair of the world’s largest grassroots environmental justice organisation which, for 50 years, has been leading the fight against polluters and natural resource exploiters for a just and equitable future.
“My priority for the next two years is to strengthen the member groups and Friends of the Earth International’s work with communities around the world fighting for a just society in line with our vision and mission.”