Posts Tagged ‘environmental defenders’

Ecuador: unique case of mass amnesty for environmental defenders

March 31, 2022

On 30 March 2022 CIVICUS reported on a very interesting case: On 11th March 2022, the National Assembly of Ecuador approved a bill granting amnesty to 268 people who faced prosecution for their defence of land, indigenous and environmental rights, and for their involvement in 2019 protests. The bill was approved by the plenary of the National Assembly with 99 favourable votes out of the 125 parliamentarians in attendance.

Among those benefitted by the amnesty, 153 are land defenders, 43 are environmental activists, 12 are Indigenous leaders criminalised for administering Indigenous justice and 60 others were more generally facing charges related to their involvement in the October 2019 demonstrations. Several defenders, such as Gabriela Fraga, Nancy Simba, Ángel Punina, Javier Ramírez and Jovita Curipoma, were cleared of charges related to resistance against extractive industries. Civil society groups also highlighted the case of Víctor Guaillas, a water defender who had been detained on charges of ‘sabotage’ in 2019, for whom amnesty came too late. Guaillas was one of the 62 people murdered in November 2021 amid a riot in a Guayaquil prison.

Ecuador’s Human Rights Alliance (DDHH) called the move a “historical precedent against the criminalisation and prosecution of rights defenders.” In a statement, the coalition said that this amnesty “means vindicating the right to truth and justice for those who exercise the right to defend human rights” in a context of recurrent criminalisation of these actors.

In a separate but related development, in December 2021 President Guillermo Lasso had made stigmatising statements about social movements and Leonidas Iza, the president of the Indigenous confederation Confederación de Nacionalidades Indígenas (CONAIE). Iza and former CONAIE president Jaime Vargas were among those facing prosecution related to October 2019 protests, and were both granted amnesty in March 2022.

On 21st December 2021, during a weekly broadcast programme in which he discusses government initiatives, Lasso called Iza “an anarchist” and “a violent man,” and claimed that the Indigenous leader “hates democracy.” The President accused the CONAIE leader of incentivising violence during the October 2019 protests. Lasso also said his government would use all the power of the state to jail “those who want to anarchise this country, disrupt public services, and deepen an economic crisis that has already been affected by the pandemic.”

On 22nd December 2021, the DDHH issued a statement expressing solidarity with the Indigenous movement and Leonidas Iza. The coalition said that Guillermo Lasso’s “violent and contemptuous discourse stigmatises the work carried out by social and political leaders, social and Indigenous movements, and makes unfounded and reckless attacks against Leonidas Iza.”

Lasso repeated his statements in a programme aired on 4th January 2022, calling Iza “an enemy of Ecuadorean democracy.”

On 27th January 2022, Ecuador’s Constitutional Court confirmed the violation “of the rights to prior consultation, to nature, water, a healthy environment, culture and territory, as well as comprehensive reparation measures”, regarding the A’i Cofán Indigenous people of the Sinangoe community in relation to mining concessions that affected their ancestral territory without their free, prior and informed consent. In their ruling, the country’s highest court reaffirmed the state’s obligations in consultation processes on plans and projects that affect Indigenous peoples’ rights and interests.

Indigenous communities and organisations have led the international campaign “Who Should Decide?”. Just days before this court ruling, they delivered more than 365,000 signatures to the Constitutional Court asking the Court to protect the right of Indigenous peoples to decide on the future of their ancestral territories.

International group Amazon Frontlines said that the Constitutional Court ruling recognises “for the first time, the right of Indigenous communities to have the final decision over oil, mining and other extractive projects that affect their lands.” The organisation also evaluated that Ecuador “now has one of the most powerful legal precedents in the world on the internationally recognised right of Indigenous peoples to Free, Prior and Informed Consent.”

See also my earlier: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/02/27/alarming-criminalisation-of-human-rights-defenders-in-latin-america/

https://monitor.civicus.org/updates/2022/03/30/ecuador-amnesty-granted-268-rights-defenders-and-protesters/

100 NGOs join Amnesty International’s call for Biden to pardon Steven Donziger

March 16, 2022
Amnesty International Logotype

For more than two years, human rights lawyer Steven Donziger – currently serving the remainder of a six month sentence on house arrest – has been arbitrarily detained in apparent retaliation for his work to hold Chevron accountable for its deliberate dumping of more than 16 billion gallons of toxic oil waste into the Amazon rainforest. Despite repeated calls from human rights advocates and governmental authorities for Donziger’s release, the Department of Justice has refused to respond or take any action to remedy this human rights violation. Today, over 100 human rights and environmental organizations from around the world joined Amnesty International, Greenpeace USA, Amazon Watch, Global Witness, Rainforest Action Network, HEDA Resource Center, ReCommon, and the Pachamama Alliance to call on President Biden to exercise his clemency powers to pardon Steven Donziger as a way to ensure his immediate release.

In a letter to President Biden, the organizations state: “More than four months since a discerning opinion by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention that found Steven Donziger’s detention to be arbitrary, U.S. judicial authorities have thus far failed to take any action to remedy the situation and implement the Working Group’s call to ensure Mr. Donziger’s  immediate release.”  See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/08/17/steven-donziger-speaks-out-himself-about-being-targetted-by-chevron

In a statement in October 2021, President Biden promised the U.S. would “stand in solidarity with, and continue to work tirelessly in support of, the activists, human rights defenders, and peaceful protestors on the front lines of the struggle between freedom and tyranny.”All the while, the administration has failed to side with the brave human rights defenders within the United States and respond to the demand of the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Congress, and the international community to free Steven Donziger. 

Steven Donziger is a human rights defender that bravely stood up against one of the most powerful corporations in the world,” said Daniel Joloy of Amnesty International. “In response, he has endured years of harassment, intimidation, smear campaigns and more than two years in arbitrary detention. President Biden must now listen to the over 100 human rights and environmental organizations calling to pardon Steven Donziger and ensure he is released immediately and unconditionally. Allowing this ordeal to continue only sends a chilling message that corporations around the world can continue attacking human rights defenders without consequences.”

Paul Paz y Miño of Amazon Watch said “Instead of supporting the people of Ecuador who were poisoned by Chevron’s admitted deliberate dumping of billions of gallons of toxic waste, Biden has turned a blind eye to the persecution of a key lawyer who worked to win a historic judgment against Chevron. The U.S. government’s responsibility should be to make Chevron clean up its waste and support efforts to hold the fossil fuel company accountable, not allow the appointment of a private prosecutor with ties to the very same oil company to imprison human rights lawyer Steven Donziger. This travesty has gone on for over two years, and Biden has ignored members of the E.U. parliament, members of the House and Senate, and even the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Well over 100 organizations are now demanding action, and Biden’s lack of action continues to be a dark stain on his alleged claims to respect human rights. Oil companies do not prosecute and imprison people in the U.S. This must end now.”

Chevron’s legal attack on Donziger is not the first, nor will it be the last case of its kind. Right now, the right to dissent is being repressed by both our government and corporations

Annie Leonard, co-Executive Director Greenpeace USA

Simon Taylor, Co-Founder & Director, Global Witness said “I have spent much of the past 25 years seeking accountability of the fossil fuel industry for its gross human rights abuses and other crimes. Amongst the judicial authorities we have liaised with during this time, the Southern District of New York has stood as a beacon in this fight against criminality. Shockingly, just as Biden gears up this struggle, New York’s judicial authorities seem instead intent on destroying their reputation, thanks to their apparent complicity in the unprecedented corporate prosecution and judicial harassment of Steven Donziger. These acts, in my experience, are more what I would expect from one of the ‘Banana Republics’ we have investigated around the world. These are shameful acts. If Biden is serious about tackling the climate crisis, he cannot allow the fossil fuel industry to weaponise the US judicial system to go after its detractors – Biden must act now and release Steven Donziger.”

https://www.commondreams.org/news/2022/03/15/100-groups-urge-biden-pardon-human-rights-lawyer-steven-donziger

Human Rights High Commissioner Bachelet urges support for environmental defenders

March 2, 2022
United Nations
Protect the defenders of the planet, UN rights chief urges
Poyowari Piyãko, a young activist, poses in his home in the Apiwtxa village, which belongs to the Ashaninka indigenous people, in northern Brazil.

Poyowari Piyãko, a young activist, poses in his home in the Apiwtxa village, which belongs to the Ashaninka indigenous people, in northern Brazil. © UNICEF/Alécio Cézar

The world must be made a safer place for people working to protect the planet, who sometimes pay with their own lives for their activism, UN Human Rights High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet said on Tuesday 1 March 2022.  Protecting the environment goes hand-in-hand with protecting the rights of those who defend it, she told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, which is holding its annual month-long session. 

Ms. Bachelet revealed how speaking out and standing up for environmental rights can come at enormous cost as activists have been killed or subjected to abuse, threats and harassment.   

At particular risk are people who speak out against deforestation, extractives, loss of cultural heritage or identity, or large scale-agribusinesses and development projects – including those intended to produce clean energy, such as mega dams,she said.  Many environmental human rights defenders are also indigenous peoples, or members of local communities or minority groups – or those representing them.   Berta Caceres, an environmental activist from Honduras, was assassinated in March 2016.  She was recognized posthumously as a UN Champion of the Earth laureate for her tireless campaign for the rights of indigenous people.

Berta Caceres, an environmental activist from Honduras, was assassinated in March 2016. She was recognized posthumously as a UN Champion of the Earth laureate for her tireless campaign for the rights of indigenous people. © UNEP

She said entire communities may face threats and intimidation when someone speaks out on their behalf.  Ms. Bachelet underlined that States have an obligation to respect and protect the rights of environmental human rights defenders, and the communities they represent.  Authorities must also prevent and ensure accountability for attacks.  These actions are in line with a Council resolution adopted last year which upholds the right to a healthy environment, she said.  See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/10/26/aarhus-convention-gets-new-mechanism-to-protect-environmental-defenders/ and

“In addition, it is critical that States effectively regulate businesses and hold them accountable for human rights violations,” she said, while corporations also have a similar duty, as outlined in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights

Ms. Bachelet advised that prior to undertaking any climate project, both governments and businesses must carry out human rights risk assessments.  

If indigenous peoples’ rights are at risk of being adversely affected by such projects, it is crucial that their free, prior and informed consent is obtained,” she said. 

The UN rights chief also reported on some of the global work of her staff.  “All around the world, my Office is committed to supporting States, businesses and environmental human rights defenders in all of their efforts to protect our planet,” she said. 

For example, over 200 human rights defenders in the Pacific region have been trained to help boost sustainable development, business and human rights in the context of climate change.  

In Southeast Asia, OHCHR is monitoring cases of harassment, arrest, killings and disappearances of environmental human rights defenders, while

https://yubanet.com/world/protect-the-defenders-of-the-planet-un-rights-chief-urges/working with governments towards ending punitive measures levelled against activists. 

https://news.un.org/en/story/2022/03/1113022

Human Rights Defenders and the EU’s mandatory due diligence initiative

February 21, 2022

Since Mary Lawlor took up her mandate of Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders, she has been paying close attention to the EU’s legislative initiative on sustainable corporate governance, and in particular to the proposed creation of binding obligations for companies to carry out due diligence to identify and address human rights and environmental risks linked to their activities. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/09/07/un-experts-urge-eu-to-take-the-lead-on-protecting-human-rights-defenders-in-context-of-business/

The reason is that defenders who draw attention to the human rights and environmental risks associated with business projects, including of EU companies, and who seek accountability where violations and harms actually occur, are often at high risk of retaliation for their actions, in particular where they themselves are from the communities directly affected.

With this in mind, in September 2021, she issued the public statement referred to above calling on the EU Commission to seize the moment and craft a powerful, progressive proposal which would include safeguards for Human Rights Defenders highlighting corporate harms. She followed this up in November with a series of meetings with key EU Commissioners and their teams in Brussels, during which she outlined what she believes to be the key provisions to include in their proposal on due diligence for it to empower human rights defenders. This position has now become public through the paper below:

Conservation deaths in 2021 – you can help

January 19, 2022

Mongabay.com on 30 December 2021 made a tentative list of deaths of environmental human rights defenders

  • Between the pandemic, natural disasters worsened by human activities, and violence against environmental defenders, 2021 was another year of significant losses in conservation.
  • The following is a list of some of the deaths that occurred in 2021 that were notable to the conservation sector.

On 10 January 2022, the following shocking addition can already be made: 14-year old Breiner David Cucuame – who was part of Cauca Self-Defense Groups, a territory contested by drug traffickers and other illegal groups – was murdered on Friday 14 January. The killer El Indio is a defector from the former guerrilla FARC [https://hardwoodparoxysm.com/brenner-david-kokonami-indigenous-activist-murdered-at-age-14-in-colombia-corriere-it/]

This list acknowledges some of the deaths in 2021 that are significant to the broader conservation community. In case Mongabay missed a death that occurred in 2021 that’s notable in conservation, it asks to reach out via this form.

  • 6 Congolese rangers: Six Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation (ICCN) rangers working at Virunga National Park in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo were killed in an ambush by a local militia group in January. They were: SuruMwe Burhani Abdou, 30; Alexis Kamate Mundunaenda, 25; Reagan Maneno Kataghalirwa, 27; Eric Kibanja Bashekere, 28; Innocent Paluku Budoyi, 28; and Prince Nzabonimpa Ntamakiriro, 27. More.
  • Ann Croissant, 81 (United States): An environmental activist, educator, and botanist who worked to protect native plants like Brodiaea filifolia in California’s San Gabriel Mountains via the Glendora Community Conservancy, which she founded in 1991. More.
  • Aruká Juma, 88 (Brazil). Aruká Juma, the last of the Juma people in Brazil, died of Covid-19. More.
  • Bob Scholes, 63 (South Africa). A professor of systems ecology at Wits who served as the Director of the Global Change Institute (GCI) and was one of the world’s leading scientists on climate change. More
  • Cornelia Hahn Oberlander, 99 (Canada): The landscape architect sometimes known as the ‘Queen of Green’, Oberlander embraced sustainable design before it was fashionable and was an advocate for rewilding. More.
  • Dave Courchene Jr., 71 (Canada): A Manitoba elder also known by his spirit names Nitamabit and Nii Gaani Aki Inini, Courchene Jr. founded the Turtle Lodge Centre of Excellence in Indigenous Education and Wellness to “exchange intergenerational knowledge, revitalize language, train youth leaders and find environmental solutions to climate change.”. More.
  • David Wake, 84 (United States). An authority on salamanders who grew alarmed by the disappearance of many amphibians. Wake founded AmphibiaWeb. More.
  • Deb Abrahamson, 66 (United States): An Indigenous environmental activist who campaigned against mining pollution and uranium contamination on Indigenous lands. Abrahamson was active in the Standing Rock protests and the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women coalition.. More.
  • Debra Ann Jacobson, 69 (United States): A lawyer and environmentalist who helped cofound the Women’s Council on Energy and the Environment and served in leadership roles in the local and state Sierra Club groups. Jacobson spent nearly 20 years working on clean energy and other issues at the U.S. Department of Energy. More.
  • Dongria Kondh or Penny Eastwood, 65 (United Kingdom): A founding member of Treesponsibility and founder of The Source Partnership, Kondh spent 30 years working to slow climate change through tree planting and other initiatives. More.
  • Edward O. Wilson, 92 (United States). A prominent biologist and prolific author who help raise global awareness and understanding about biodiversity and conservation. Lovejoy is credited with coining the term “biological diversity”, developing the concept of “debt-for-nature” swap programs, and being one of the earliest to sound the alarm about the global extinction crisis. While Wilson’s research on ants was highly influential in scientific circles and won numerous recognitions, he was mostly widely known for his accessible writing, including articles and best-selling books which introduced concepts like biodiversity to the masses. More.
  • Elsie Herring, 73 (United States): An environmental activist who sued a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods in 2014 for pollution from their industrial hog farms eventually winning a $550 million judgement in 2018 (which was later reduced to $98 million). More.
  • Estela Casanto Mauricio, 55 (Peru). A human rights defender who founded the Asháninka community of Shankivironi in the Perené valley of Junín in Peru. Mauricio was murdered in March 2021. More.
  • Francisco “Paco” Javier Valverde Esparza, 48 (Mexico). A conservationist who dedicated his life to protect the vaquita, the world’s smallest porpoise and most threatened marine mammal. He died of COVID-19. More.
  • Gonzalo “Gonza” Cardona Molina, 55 (Colombia): A conservation biologist who worked to protect the yellow-eared parrot and other critically parrots in the Colombian Andes. Cardona was murdered in January while doing a bird count. More.
  • Greg Lasley, 71 (United States). Wildlife photographer and naturalist who served in leadership role in several ornithology organizations and published dozens of articles on birds. More.
  • Guillermo Guerra, 60 (Peru). A logistics specialist at Project Amazonas and Margarita Tours. He died of COVID-19. More.
  • Ian Lemaiyan, 31 (Kenya). A rhino conservationist and anti-poaching patrol pilot who died in a plane crash in February 2021.More.
  • Javiera Rojas, 43 (Chile): A Chilean environmental activist who opposed dams was foundered murdered in Calama city. More.
  • Jene McCovey, 69 (United States): A Yurok elder who was a fierce advocate for Indigenous rights, environmental rights, and social justice. McCovey played an important role in taking down the Klamath Dams and protecting the Headwaters Forest from logging. More.
  • Jesús Choc Yat, 57 (Guatemala). A Mayan spiritual guide who was found dead with signs of torture. More.
  • Karapiru AWA, 70s (Brazil). After a violent ambush that killed most of his family in the Brazilian Amazon, Karapiru wandered the forests of eastern Brazil for a decade alone. Karapiru later became a holder of traditional knowledge and an activist for Indigenous rights in Brazil. He died of COVID-19. More.
  • LaFanette Soles-Woods, 63 (United States): An environmental justice activist who fought pollution from landfills near her community in Florida. More.
  • Paul J. Crutzen, 87 (Germany). A meteorologist and atmospheric chemist who won the Nobel Prize in 1995 for his work the formation and decomposition of atmospheric ozone, including the effects of chlorofluorocarbon chemicals (CFCs). Crutzen popularized the term Anthropocene to describe the our current epoch where humanity has a substantial impact on the planet. More.
  • Pentti Linkola, 87 (Finland). Founder of the Finnish Nature Heritage Foundation which works to preserve the few ancient forests still left in southern Finland. More.
  • Peter Gorrie, 71 (Canada): An environmental journalist who reported on Canadian tar sands and other issues for multiple newspapers in Canada. More.
  • Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, 99 (United Kingdom). The husband of Queen Elizabeth II who was the royal consort from 1952 until his death in 2021. Philip was an avid conservationist, helping found the Australian Conservation Foundation in 1963 and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in 1961. He went on to serve as President of WWF-UK from 1961 to 1982 and President of WWF International from 1981 to 1996. More.
  • Rafael “Rafa” Gallo (Costa Rica). A prominent figure in the world’s river rafting community, Gallo founded Rios Tropicales in 1985 and became defender of the free-flowing Pacuare River against efforts to dam the popular whitewater river. Gallo also established the International Rafting Federation and was Board Chair at the International Whitewater Hall Of Fame. More.
  • Rizki Wahyudi, 25 (Indonesia). A forest ranger at Mount Palung National Park in West Kalimantan on the island of Borneo, Wahyudi was killed in the Sriwijaya plane crash off Java in January 2021. More.
  • Rory Young (Zambia). The co-founder and CEO of Chengeta Wildlife was killed in an ambush on patrol in Burkina Faso in April 2021. More.
  • Sharon Begley, 64 (United States). Science journalist for the Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, and Reuters. More.
  • Sharon Matola, 66 (Belize): The biologist, environmentalist, and zookeeper who founded the Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Center. Matola was sometimes known as the “Jane Goodall of jaguars” and the “Jane Goodall of Belize. More.
  • Shirley McGreal, 87 (United States): Founder of the International Primate Protection League who campaigned to prevent wildlife trafficking. More.
  • Solomon Chidunuka (Zambia). Senior Wildlife Warden who oversaw the North Luangwa Area Management Unit, Zambia’s only area protecting black rhino. Solomon was a Tusk Conservation Award winner. More.
  • Sunderlal Bahuguna, 94 (India). An environmentalist best known for leading Chipko movement in the 1970s and the anti-Tehri dam Movement in the 1990s. Bahuguna inspired a generation of environmentalists. He died of COVID-19. More.
  • Tom Lovejoy, 80 (United States). A prominent and influential conservation biologist who helped catalyze a global movement to save life on Earth as we know it. Lovejoy is credited with coining the term “biological diversity”, developing the concept of “debt-for-nature” swap programs, and being one of the earliest to sound the alarm about the global extinction crisis. More.

Groups like the The Thin Green Line Foundation, The International Ranger Federation and The Game Rangers’ Association of Africa keep tallies on conservation and wildlife rangers who have died, including the Ranger Roll of Honor.

Aarhus Convention gets new mechanism to protect environmental defenders

October 26, 2021

The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters was adopted on 25 June 1998 in the Danish city of Aarhus. The Aarhus Convention establishes a number of rights of the public (individuals and their associations) with regard to the environment. The Parties to the Convention are required to make the necessary provisions so that public authorities (at national, regional or local level) will contribute to these rights to become effective. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/10/11/new-right-to-healthy-environment-ngos-urge-action/

Now (on Thursday 21 October 2021) the 46-strong group of countries across the wider European region has agreed to establish a new legally binding mechanism that would protect environmental defenders.

It takes the form of Special Rapporteur – or independent rights expert – who will quickly respond to alleged violations and take measures to protect those experiencing or under imminent threat of penalization, persecution, or harassment for seeking to exercise their rights under the Convention. As time is of the essence to buttress the safety of environmental defenders, any member of the public, secretariat or Party to the Aarhus Convention, will be able to submit a confidential complaint to the Special Rapporteur, even before other legal remedies have been exhausted. The agreement delegates setting up the new mechanism to the United Nations, or another international body. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/11/28/cop25-climate-defenders-also-needed-to-be-shielded/

I remain deeply concerned by the targeting of environmental activists”, said Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, welcoming the rapid response mechanism as “an important contribution to help advance my Call to Action for Human Rights”. 

This landmark decision is a clear signal to environmental defenders that they will not be left unprotected”, said UNECE chief Olga Algayerova. “It demonstrates a new level of commitment to upholding the public’s rights under the Aarhus Convention, as well as Parties’ willingness to respond effectively to grave and real-time challenges seen in the Convention’s implementation on the ground”.   

A report to the Human Rights Council by Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, found that one-in-two human rights defenders who were killed in 2019 had been working with communities around issues of land, environment, impacts of business activities, poverty and rights of indigenous peoples, Afrodescendants and other minorities. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/09/13/global-witness-2020-the-worst-year-on-record-for-environmental-human-rights-defenders/  

Since January 2017, among the Parties to the Aarhus Convention, incidents of persecution, penalization and harassment of environmental defenders have been reported in 16 countries

New Right to Healthy Environment: NGOs urge action

October 11, 2021

On 11 October 2021 ReliefWeb published the open letter signed by 166 civil society organizations and individuals calling upon world leaders to put human rights at the centre of environmental policy (for signatories see link below).

“Respecting and protecting human rights and protecting the environment are inextricably linked. Yet while Heads of State from 88 countries have called to end siloed thinking in the Leaders Pledge for Nature, environmental policy-making still too often excludes or sidelines human rights.

Today we, the undersigned — a broad range of indigenous peoples’ organisations, civil society groups — including human rights, land and environmental defender organisations — academics and [UN] experts from the Global South and North — call on the world’s leaders to bring together human rights, environmental and climate in policy-making in order to secure a just, equitable and ecologically healthy world for all.

The reciprocal relationship between nature and people has existed since time immemorial, but it is now unbalanced. There are countless examples in all parts of the world of how forests, savannas, fresh water sources, oceans, and even the air itself, are being privatised, polluted and destroyed by industries such as agriculture, timber, pulp and paper, mining and oil and gas extraction. These and many other industries not only wreak destruction on Mother Earth, but they also have direct and devastating impacts on human rights. Indigenous peoples and local communities living in close proximity to the production, extraction and processing of raw materials suffer dispossession of their lands, impoverishment, deterioration of their health, and destructive impacts on their culture, among many other abuses. In turn, human rights, land and environmental defenders who seek to prevent these violations suffer threats, criminalisation and violent attacks, and increasingly, killings.

The costs of both environmental destruction and measures to address this often fall disproportionately on those already in precarious positions — such as indigenous peoples, afro-descendants, local communities, women, children and youths, and poorly-paid workers, particularly in the Global South but also in the Global North — while the profits of the largest and most environmentally-damaging industries, and the wealth of their owners and financers, continues to grow. It is unforgivable that polluting industries profit at the expense of the health and human rights of marginalised communities. And, ultimately, this environmental destruction has indirect human rights impacts on us all.

Just this month the Human Rights Council adopted a resolution recognising the Right to a Healthy Environment. Yet while there is evidence that the protection of human rights can lead to better environmental outcomes, calls for recognition of the holistic and indivisible nature of human rights and the environment often go unheeded in global, regional and national environmental and climate policy forums.

This must change. As a global community we face multiple, intersecting crises: increasing human rights abuses and environmental harms by companies, land grabs, the loss of food and water sovereignty, increasing poverty and inequality, increased attacks and killings of defenders, climate change-induced disasters and migration, the diminishing health of the oceans and critical biodiversity loss. Resolving these crises demands a holistic approach to environmental policy that embeds human rights and tackles systemic problems, including historically rooted social injustice, ecological destruction, state capture by corporations, corruption and impunity, as well as and social and economic inequality.

We urge world leaders to ensure that all policymaking related to the environment — including the climate and biodiversity crises, ownership and use of land, water and resources, ecosystem degradation, corporate accountability and trade, among others — address human rights and the environment in an integrated manner. This would help to catalyse the transformative action that is urgently required.

Respect for, protection, promotion and fulfilment of human rights, and the protection of those who defend them, must be an essential and non-negotiable part of measures adopted in upcoming negotiations at the UN Convention of Biological Diversity, COP15, and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, COP26. Human rights must also be central to regional and national level climate and environmental policies, such as proposed deforestation legislation in the UK, the EU and the USA, which must be further strengthened.

The time to act is now: we call on you to unite human rights, climate and the environment once and for all. In doing so, you can help us and our future generations to thrive by living in harmony with nature. And in doing so, you can affirm that both nature and people have intrinsic worth and that governments are serious in living up to their duty both to protect Mother Earth and to respect, protect and fulfil human rights.”

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/09/13/global-witness-2020-the-worst-year-on-record-for-environmental-human-rights-defenders/

https://reliefweb.int/report/world/open-letter-civil-society-world-leaders-put-human-rights-centre-environmental-policy

https://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/WO2110/S00102/civil-society-calls-on-world-leaders-to-put-human-rights-at-the-centre-of-environmental-policy.htm

2021 Laureates of the Right Livelihood Award

October 4, 2021

The 2021 Laureates of the Right Livelihood Award were announced in Stockholm on Wednesday, 29 September at Kulturhuset, Stockholm. For more in this award and its laureates, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/97238E26-A05A-4A7C-8A98-0D267FDDAD59

Marthe Wandou, Cameroon

“For building a model of community-based child protection in the face of terrorist insurgency and gender-based violence in the Lake Chad region of Cameroon.”

Read more

Vladimir Slivyak, Russia

“For his defence of the environment and for helping to ignite grassroots opposition to the coal and nuclear industries in Russia.”

Read more

Freda Huson of the Wet’suwet’en people, Canada

“For her fearless dedication to reclaiming her people’s culture and defending their land against disastrous pipeline projects.”

Read more

Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment, India

“For their innovative legal work empowering communities to protect their resources in the pursuit of environmental democracy in India.”

Read more

For last year’s winners, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/10/01/four-well-known-human-rights-defenders-are-the-2020-right-livelihood-laureates/

https://rightlivelihood.org/2021-announcement/

Global Witness: 2020 the worst year on record for environmental human rights defenders

September 13, 2021

Since 2012, Global Witness has been gathering data on killings of land and environmental defenders. In that time, a grim picture has come into focus – with the evidence suggesting that as the climate crisis intensifies, violence against those protecting their land and our planet also increases. It has become clear that the unaccountable exploitation and greed driving the climate crisis is also driving violence against land and environmental defenders.

In 2020, we recorded 227 lethal attacks – an average of more than four people a week – making it once again the most dangerous year on record for people defending their homes, land and livelihoods, and ecosystems vital for biodiversity and the climate. [CF: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/07/29/global-witness-2019-worst-year-ever-for-land-rights-and-environmental-defenders/]

As ever, these lethal attacks are taking place in the context of a wider range of threats against defenders including intimidation, surveillance, sexual violence, and criminalisation. Our figures are almost certainly an underestimate, with many attacks against defenders going unreported. You can find more information on our verification criteria and methodology in the full report. Downloads

In 2020, over half of attacks took place in just three countries: Colombia, Mexico and the Philippines.

For the second year in a row, Colombia saw the highest number of killings in 2020, with 65 land and environmental defenders murdered. These took place in the context of widespread attacks on human rights defenders and community leaders across the country, despite the hopes of the 2016 peace agreement. Indigenous peoples were particularly impacted, and the COVID pandemic only served to worsen the situation. Official lockdowns led to defenders being targeted in their homes, and government protection measures were cut.

In Mexico, we documented 30 lethal attacks against land and environmental defenders in 2020, a 67% increase from 2019. Logging was linked to almost a third of these attacks, and half of all the attacks in the country were directed against Indigenous communities. Impunity for crimes against defenders remains shockingly high – up to 95% of murders do not result in prosecution.

In the Philippines, the deteriorating human rights situation has received increasing international condemnation. Opposition to damaging industries is often met with violent crackdowns from the police and military. In our data, over half of the lethal attacks were directly linked to defenders’ opposition to mining, logging, and dam projects.

President Duterte’s years in office have been marked by a dramatic increase in violence against defenders. From his election in 2016 until the end of 2020, 166 land and environment defenders have been killed – a shocking increase for a country which was already a dangerous place to stand up for the environment.

Forest defenders under threat

In instances where defenders were attacked for protecting particular ecosystems, 70% were working to defend the world’s forests from deforestation and industrial development. In Brazil and Peru, nearly three quarters of recorded attacks took place in the Amazon region of each country.

Almost 30% of the attacks were reportedly linked to resource exploitation (logging, mining and large-scale agribusiness), and hydroelectric dams and other infrastructure. Of these, logging was the sector linked to the most murders, accounting for 23 cases. Mexico saw a large rise in logging- and deforestation-related killings, with 9 in 2020.

An unequal impact

Much like the impacts of the climate crisis itself, the impacts of violence against land and environmental defenders are not felt evenly across the world. The Global South is suffering the most immediate consequences of global warming on all fronts, and in 2020 all but one of the 227 recorded killings of defenders took place in the countries of the Global South.

The disproportionate number of attacks against Indigenous peoples continued, with over a third of all fatal attacks targeting Indigenous people – even though Indigenous communities make up only 5% of the world’s population. Indigenous peoples were also the target of 5 out of the 7 mass killings recorded in 2020.

As has been the case in previous years, in 2020 almost 9 in 10 of the victims of lethal attacks were men. At the same time, women who act and speak out also face gender-specific forms of violence, including sexual violence. Women often have a twin challenge: the public struggle to protect their land, and the less-visible struggle to defend their right to speak within their communities and families.

[Defenders are] at risk because they find themselves living on or near something that some corporation is demanding. That demand – the demand for the highest possible profit, the quickest possible timeline, the cheapest possible operation – seems to translate eventually into the understanding, somewhere, that the troublemaker must go. – Bill McKibben

Business is responsible

Many companies engage in an extractive economic model that overwhelmingly prioritises profit over human rights and the environment. This unaccountable corporate power is the underlying force that has not only driven the climate crisis to the brink, but which has continued to perpetuate the killing of defenders.

In too many countries, rich in natural resources and climate critical biodiversity, corporations are operating with almost complete impunity. Because the balance of power is stacked in the favour of corporations, it’s rare that anyone is arrested or brought to court for killing defenders. When they are it’s usually the trigger-men – the ones holding the guns, not those who might be otherwise implicated, directly or indirectly, in the crime.

Governments must stop the violence

Governments have been all too willing to turn a blind eye and fail in providing their core mandate of upholding and protecting human rights. They are failing to protect land and environmental defenders, in many cases directly perpetrating violence against them, and in others complicit with business.

Even worse, states around the world – from the US to Brazil, Colombia and the Philippines – used the COVID pandemic to strengthen draconian measures to control citizens and close civic space.

There is a clear link between the availability of civic space and attacks against defenders – the most open and tolerant societies see very few attacks, whereas in restricted societies, attacks are much more frequent.

The majority of killings took place in states with limited civic freedoms

Data on civic freedoms via CIVICUS Monitor Open Narrowed Obstructed Repressed Closed 0 50 100 150 killings Killings in closed civic spaces are likely to be underreported about:blank

Recommendations

As the climate crisis intensifies, so too does its impact on people, including on land and environmental defenders. Meaningful climate action requires protecting defenders, and vice versa. Without significant change this situation is only likely to get worse – as more land is grabbed, and more forests are felled in the interest of short-term profits, both the climate crisis and attacks against defenders will continue to worsen.

Governments can turn the tide on the climate crisis and protect human rights by protecting civil society, and through passing legislation to hold corporations accountable for their actions and profits. Lawmakers have relied too much on corporate self-reporting and voluntary corporate mechanisms. As a result, companies continue to cause, contribute to, and benefit from human rights abuses and environmental harms, particularly across borders.

The United Nations, through its member states, must formally recognise the human right to a safe, healthy, and sustainable environment, ensure that commitments to meet the Paris Agreement integrate human rights protections, and implement the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders and the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights.

Statesmust ensure national policies protect land and environmental defenders and scrap legislation used to criminalise them, require companies to conduct human rights and environment due diligence in their global operations, and investigate and prosecute all actors involved in violence and other threats against defenders.

The European Commission is currently preparing to publish binding due diligence legislation, including an initiative on Sustainable Corporate Governance. They must ensure this initiative requires all companies doing business in the EU, including financial institutions, to identify and address human rights and environmental harms along their value chains. This legislation must include robust liability regimes and penalties to hold companies accountable for failing to do so.

Finally, companies and investors must publish and implement effective due diligence systems to identify and prevent human rights and environmental harms throughout their supply chains and operations, adopt and implement a zero-tolerance stance on reprisals and attacks on land and environmental defenders, and provide effective remedy when adverse human rights and environmental impacts and harms occur.

People sometimes ask me what I’m going to do, whether I’m going to stay here and keep my mother’s fight alive. I’m too proud of her to let it die. I know the dangers – we all know the dangers. But I’ve decided to stay. I’m going to join the fight. – Malungelo Xhakaza, daughter of murdered South African activist Fikile Ntshangase

Defenders are our last line of defence against climate breakdown. We can take heart from the fact that, even after decades of violence, people continue to stand up for their land and for our planet. In every story of defiance against corporate theft and land grabbing, against deadly pollution and against environmental disaster, is hope that we can turn the tide on this crisis and learn to live in harmony with the natural world. Until we do, the violence will continue.

Those murdered included South African Fikile Ntshangase, 65, who was involved in a legal dispute over the extension of an opencast mine operated by Tendele Coal near Somkhele in KwaZulu-Natal province. She was shot dead in her own living room. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/fikile-ntshangase/

https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-58508001

Download the full report : Last line of defence (low resolution) (2.3 MB), pdf

Download the full report : Last line of defence (high resolution) (18.1 MB), pdf

Goldman Prize laureates express concern about colleague Alberto Curamil in Chile

July 3, 2021
Alberto Curamil. (Vicente Franco/Water For Life)

In the Washington Post of 1 July 2021, Craig Williams and Alfred Brownell (winners of the Goldman Prize in 2006 and 2019 respectively) wrote: He has worked to protect the Earth. Now we must protect him.”

As environmental activists and human rights defenders, we are alarmed by a spike in violent attacks on and killings of land rights activists across the globe and, most recently, in Latin America. The latest in this disturbing trend is a violent assault on Alberto Curamil, a leader of the Indigenous Mapuche people in southern Chile and an activist working to protect his people’s land, water and other resources. As we write, we fear Alberto could become the latest casualty in a global war against Earth’s front-line protectors. [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/4f845ff0-86d2-4b12-97af-1590f6ba8602]

On April 29, Alberto was attending a protest along with his son andnephew, both teenagers. They were there to show support for Elena Paine, another Mapuche leader, and her community a day after her house and crops in Koyam Montre were burned to the ground. Alberto, Paine and members of the Machupe community believe that the threat may have come from far-right-wing groups in the area.

As Alberto and his teenage relatives were driving away from the protest, the back window of their truck was shattered by a tear-gas canister. When they got out of the vehicle, police shot Alberto at point-blank range three times with buckshot, which lodged in his back, side, arm and the back of his leg. Then, police beat the teens with batons while yelling “Pinche Mapuche” (“Lousy Mapuche”). The three were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct at a public event and breach of sanitary provisions. Alberto was taken to a hospital three hours after being brought into custody, bleeding and in excruciating pain. The teens were bruised, battered and traumatized.

This was not the first time Alberto had been a target of the Chilean government. In 2018, he was arrested and jailed for 15 months on false charges of armed robbery based entirely on hearsay evidence. He was acquitted of all charges and released in December 2019. Due to his imprisonment, he had been unable to receive the Goldman Prize — known as the “green Nobel” — at ceremonies in April and May 2019 in D.C. and San Francisco. He was previously arrested after being violently beaten by police in 2014.

Our alarm has led us, along with several dozen of our fellow Goldman Prize winners from across the globe, to demand assurances from Chilean President Sebastián Piñera that Alberto’s safety will be given the highest priority. We are also seeking support through appeals to the U.S. Congress, the European Union and the United Nations.

We believe time is of the essence, especially given the broader context of violence against those who stand up to protect the Earth. In 2016, the internationally celebrated Honduran Indigenous activist and Goldman Prize winner Berta Cáceres was murdered by operatives for the power company Desarrollos Energéticos (Desa) for her opposition to a hydroelectric project on the Rio Gualcarque. Seven men accused of plotting Cáceres’s murder were convicted and sentenced to between 30 and 50 years in prison. An eighth suspect, Roberto David Castillo Mejía, president and chief executive of Desa, is currently on trial, accused of masterminding the murder-conspiracy plot.

In its latest report, Global Witness recorded the highest number of environmental defenders killed in a single year — more than 212 people killed in 2019, a rate of four a week. More than two-thirds of the killings took place in Latin America. [see also: Global]

The killings of and assaults on Earth’s defenders worldwide have accelerated in some of the most fragile pristine landscapes and biodiverse countries, jeopardizing the fight against climate change and species extinction. In Mexico, police are investigating the suspicious killings of two employees at a butterfly reserve in 2020. That same month, six members of an Indigenous community were killed at a nature reserve in Nicaragua. And in South Africa, environmental activist Fikile Ntshangase was killed last year in an attack local activists fear was related to her opposition to disruptive local mining operations.

In Chile, Indigenous communities’ push for human rights go hand in hand with their struggle for land and water rights, as government-backed companies try to run them off their land with threats, harassment and violence.

Attacks on environmental defenders in Latin America and worldwide are not only an affront to human rights, but also a cause for deep alarm at a time when the world must fight climate change and bring about a sustainable future. We are demanding that the Chilean government take immediate steps to stop these aggressive and often deadly attacks on the Mapuche community. There should also be a thorough, independent investigation into the destruction of Paine’s home.

We must act against this brutality, or we threaten the fight for a planet in crisis.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/07/01/alberto-curamil-chile-environmental-defender-safety/