Opening statement by UN High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet focuses very much on climate change

September 11, 2019

The Opening statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, at the 42nd Session of the UN human Rights Council in Geneva on 9 September 2019 was widely reported in the media as having an exceptionally strong focus on climate change and human rights.

The crucial paragraph on environmental human rights defenders is quoted below:

……

point three: We must better protect those who defend the environment.

Environmental defenders – including those who defend indigenous peoples’ right to land – engage in great service to their countries, and indeed humanity. The Office and Special Rapporteurs have noted attacks on environmental human rights defenders in virtually every region, particularly in Latin America. I am disheartened by this violence, and also by the verbal attacks on young activists such as Greta Thunberg and others, who galvanise support for prevention of the harm their generation may bear. The demands made by environmental defenders and activists are compelling, and we should respect, protect and fulfil their rights. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/08/06/environmental-human-rights-defenders-more-deadly-than-being-a-soldier-in-a-war-zone/]

Last month, the Office signed a strengthened partnership with the UN Environment Programme. This will include stepping up our cooperation to protect environmental human rights defenders at headquarters and in specific country and regional presences. It will ensure that we work within the UN system to ensure consistency and coherence across environmental and human rights actions. It will increase our support for national implementation of human rights-based environmental policies, including through the work of national human rights institutions. [see e.g.: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/08/19/new-agreement-unep-ohchr-aims-to-better-protect-environmental-human-rights-defenders/]

The Latin American Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Justice in Environmental Matters – known as the Escazu Agreement – also offers hope for change. The Agreement aims to guarantee the rights of every person to a healthy environment and sustainable development. It includes specific, binding provisions for the protection3 of those who defend the environment, and also guarantees rights to environmental information, public participation in environmental decision-making, and access to justice in environmental matters. I urge all States in the region – including the 15 that have so far signed the agreement – to proceed swiftly to ratify and implement it. I also call for other regions and States to consider developing similar commitments.

We are also partnering with the University of the South Pacific, which has 14 campuses across the South Pacific islands, to promote better support to environmental human rights defenders who challenge businesses and governments to better prioritise environmental issues. We have assisted defenders across the region to establish a network for coordination and mutual support. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/07/pacific-human-rights-defenders-can-do-more-to-deal-with-extractive-industries/]……

The High Commissioner touched briefly on other urgent human rights situations (some of which are on the agenda) [View Original] and concluded by saying: “Today we have many hard-won achievements to defend, and other, newer struggles that we must lead. But although these tasks will be difficult, I am convinced we can achieve them. We can end fossil fuel consumption, and take other steps to curtail climate change. We can undo structural discrimination, and uphold justice. We can help realise the right to development, by standing up for everyone’s right to participate in decisions. With sufficient determination, acting in partnership, we can take steps to advance human rights and fundamental freedoms – and in doing so, we will strengthen our societies, and build a better future for us all.”

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