World Environment Day cannot do without Human Rights Defenders

June 6, 2013

In the Huffington Post of 6 June 2013 there is an excellent post by Jane Cohen, researcher at Human Rights Watch about the link between the protection of the environment and that of human rights defenders. The whole piece is worth reading but here is the essential message:

It starts chillingly with: “For Abigail Chombo in Zimbabwe, World Environment Day will pass like any other; a day with no safe water to drink, a day where the bush substitutes for a toilet. It’s as unlikely that Su Xia, a father of two in China, will notice that it’s World Environment Day. He’s too busy caring for his children who have lead poisoning, sickened by industrial pollution that plagues the country. Children working in artisanal gold mines around the world won’t celebrate either, as they burn and inhale toxic mercury while processing gold.”

Jane Cohen calls World Environment Day, organised by the United Nations Environment Program, an important message of optimism, she rightly point out that it misses a critical factor. Around the world, real impact on environmental degradation cannot be achieved without protecting human rights and thus human rights defenders. The issues are inseparable.

When Phyllis in Kenya spoke out about the impact a smelter was having on her community, she was repeatedly threatened, harassed and beaten by thugs allegedly linked to the smelter. Phyllis has not obtained any legal redress and she lives in fear of retaliation for her actions. Phyllis’s rights under the Kenyan constitution and international human rights law go unrealized and unprotected. And Phyllis is not alone. In 2011 a reported 109 environmental human rights defenders were killed.

The deaths of environmental defenders, and the causes they are fighting for, are often overlooked amidst other global health threats and human rights crises.

She gives other concrete examples from China and Bangladesh and finishes by stating that the millions of victims will really have something to celebrate on World Environment Day 2014, if governments, international agencies, non-governmental organizations and citizens promote human rights along with the protection of the environment. There can’t be one without the other, and now is the time to act.

via Jane_Cohen: World Environment Day and the Rights Connection.

One Response to “World Environment Day cannot do without Human Rights Defenders”

  1. Lauri Tanner Says:

    On the subject of environmental defenders:

    I invite all of you to read my article from the Journal of Human Rights Practice on the precedent-setting landmark environmental defenders Kawas v. Honduras case, especially the Epilogue addressing the controversial Cabrera/Montiel v. Mexico case, including suggestions for environmentalists deriving from that problematic judgment. 

    In the precedent-setting Kawas case, the court’s holding requires at-risk environmental activists to be protected by all governments.
    I welcome your comments. Thank you.

    Free PDF download:

    Online Full Text:

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