An initiative designed to protect environmental defenders around the world from threats, intimidation, harassment and murder was launched Tuesday by the United Nations Environment Program.
The UN Environmental Rights Initiative was introduced in Geneva with guests on hand including John Knox, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment; Patrick Alley, the co-founder of Global Witness, and Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, the UN’s leading expert on environmental law.
“Those who struggle to protect planet and people should be celebrated as heroes, but the sad fact is that many are paying a heavy price with their safety and sometimes their lives,” said Erik Solheim, head of UNEP. “It’s our duty to stand on the side of those who are on the right side of history. It means standing for the most fundamental and universal of human rights.”
The policy to promote greater protections for environmental defenders, linked here, includes assisting business, government and media in implementing and communicating stronger environmental rights protections.
Environmental rights are enshrined in over 100 constitutions, but in January 2018 Global Witness documented that almost four environmental defenders are being killed per week, with the total likely far higher. Between 40 and 50 percent of the 197 environmental defenders killed in 2017 came from indigenous and local communities.
The July 2017 “Defenders of the Earth” report highlighted risks to Africans who died in Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe while defending wildlife in protected reserves or standing up to mining, logging and other interests. For example, at Virunga National Park, the world’s most deadly, each star seen in the image represents a ranger who died defending endangered wildlife from poachers.
“Violations of environmental rights have a profound impact on a wide variety of human rights, including the rights to life, self-determination, food, water, health, sanitation, housing, cultural, civil and political rights,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said.
Image: Virunga National Park file