Posts Tagged ‘environmental defenders’

Karen activist Porlajee ‘Billy’ Rakchongcharoen’s murder: finally an indictment

August 22, 2022

The Thai authorities should fully and fairly prosecute all those responsible for the murder of a prominent ethnic Karen environmental activist, Porlajee ‘Billy’ Rakchongcharoen, in 2014, Human Rights Watch said on 16 August 2022. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/05/06/un-high-commissioner-condemns-disappearance-of-billy-in-context-of-retaliation-against-environmentalist-in-south-east-asia/

Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen
Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen, a prominent ethnic Karen community and environmental activist, was allegedly murdered in the custody of the Kaeng Krachan National Park officials in Phetchaburi province, Thailand, in April 2014. © 2014 Private

On August 15, 2022, the Attorney General’s Office formally notified the Justice Ministry’s Department of Special Investigation (DSI) of its decision to indict four park officials accused of abducting and murdering Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen in April 2014. The charges include illegal confinement, premeditated murder, and concealing the victim’s body.

“Thai officials have long hindered justice for Billy through cover-ups and exploitation of legal loopholes,” said Elaine Pearson, acting Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities can right this wrong by ensuring that the attorney general’s decision to indict four officials moves promptly to an effective and fair prosecution.”

Billy was last seen on April 17, 2014, in the custody of Chaiwat Limlikitaksorn, then-head of Kaeng Krachan National Park in Phetchaburi province, and his staff. The park officials said they released him after questioning him briefly and had no information regarding his whereabouts. On September 3, 2019, DSI officials announced that his remains had been found in Kaeng Krachan National Park. Chaiwit was among the four indicted.

Pinnapa Prueksapan, Billy’s wife, told Human Rights Watch that she hoped there would be answers to basic questions, such as who had abducted and killed her husband, and who had obstructed justice.

Thailand is obligated under international human rights treaties to which it is a party to investigate and appropriately prosecute enforced disappearance, torture, custodial deaths, and other alleged human rights violations. In addition, in September 2019, Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha ordered the Department of Special Investigation to ensure that the case was watertight so the culprits could be brought to justice, regardless of their rank or position.

However, the investigation has suffered from a cover-up, Human Rights Watch said. Despite a long list of allegations against Chaiwat for serious abuses and misconduct during his tenure as head of Kaeng Krachan National Park, he has never been held to account.

In addition, Thai law does yet not recognize enforced disappearances as a crime. Human Rights Watch has repeatedly urged Prime Minister Prayut and his government to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which Thailand signed in 2012, and make enforced disappearance a criminal offense.

Chaiwat and his staff arrested Billy on April 17, 2014, for alleged illegal possession of a wild bee honeycomb and six bottles of honey.

At the time of his enforced disappearance, he was traveling to meet with ethnic Karen villagers and activists in preparation for an upcoming court hearing in the villagers’ lawsuit against Chaiwat and the National Park, Wildlife, and Plant Conservation Department of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment.

The villagers alleged in the lawsuit that, in July 2011, park authorities had burned and destroyed the houses and property of more than 20 Karen families in the Bangkloy Bon village. Billy was also preparing to submit a petition about this case to Thailand’s monarch. When he was arrested, he was carrying case files and related documents with him. Those files have never been recovered.

In September 2014, Police Region 7 officers filed malfeasance charges under article 157 of the penal code against Chaiwat and three other park officials for unlawfully detaining him. The other suspects named in the case are Boontaen Bussarakham, Thanaseth or Pitoon Chaemthes, and Krissanapong Jitthes. The DSI found traces of human blood in a vehicle belonging to the park office, but was not able to verify if the blood belonged to Billy because the vehicle was cleaned before forensic experts could examine it.

On September 3, 2019, the DSI announced that his remains had been found in Kaeng Krachan National Park, where he was last seen in custody of the park officials. The investigation team found an oil barrel, its lid, two steel rods, a burned wooden piece, and two bones at the bottom of the reservoir on April 26, 2019.

The Central Institute of Forensic Science subsequently confirmed the genetic trace of one of the bones found inside the barrel matched Billy’s mother. The investigation team then concluded it was part of his remains. The condition of this piece of human skull, which was burned, cracked, and shrunk due to exposure to heat of 200 to 300 degrees Celsius, suggests the killers burned his body to conceal the crime.

“The indictment of Chaiwat and other park officials is an important step for justice for Billy and all those whom Thai government officials have forcibly disappeared and killed,” Pearson said. “Thai authorities should recognize that they can’t escape being held accountable for the most heinous crimes.”

https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/08/16/thailand-officials-indicted-karen-activists-murder

Stop Reprisals Against Mongolian Human Rights Defender Sukhgerel Dugersuren

August 22, 2022

An astonishing 128 organisations joined Forum Asia on 18 August 2022 in signing the joint letter in support of the Mongolian human rights defender Sukhgerel Dugersuren which strongly condemns the criminalization and smear campaigns against her,

They call on all the international institutions and actors active in the country – including development banks, UN bodies and experts, EU member states and institutions, international embassies, international investors or private companies – to publicly speak out in support of Sukhgerel, use their leverage to strongly condemn reprisals, and take any action they can to ensure Sukhgerel can continue to safely carry out her work.

Who is Sukhgerel Dugersuren?

Sukhgerel Dugersuren is an internationally renowned human rights defender and the Executive Director of the Mongolian organizations Oyu Tolgoi Watch and Rivers without Boundaries Mongolia. She has a long trajectory of exposing human rights abuses and defending the rights of herder and rural communities in Mongolia. Her courageous and inspirational work is admired by scores of international and local civil society organizations, as well as UN Special Rapporteurs and experts, who have closely worked with her.

In the past decades, Sukhgerel has supported dozens of communities negatively affected by large-scale projects, such as mines and hydropower dams. She has helped these communities in denouncing the harmful impacts of these activities and bringing their grievances to the attention of the Mongolian government, development banks, and international organizations. For example, she supported complaints to the independent accountability mechanisms of the World Bank, International Finance Corporation, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the Asian Development Bank.

What happened and why is she being criminalized?

According to Front Line Defenders, on 2 August 2022, Mongolia’s General Intelligence Agency informed Sukhgerel that she is under investigation for committing crimes under the Mongolian Criminal Code Article 19.4, which prohibits the “illegal cooperation with foreign intelligence agency, agent.” Although no other details around the investigations have been shared, we fear Sukhgerel might be at risk of imminent arrest and we are deeply concerned for her safety.

Sukhgerel is being subject to a clear criminalisation process, where the law is used to limit civic freedoms and punish human rights defenders. The undersigned human rights organizations consider these accusations false and baseless, as they appear to be related to Sukhgerel’s support to the communities impacted by the Erdeneburen hydropower plant, funded by China’s EXIM Bank, and her legitimate requests for access to environmental information, public participation in environmental decision-making and transparency.

On 3 August 2022, during a government briefing, Mongolia’s Minister of Justice and Internal Affairs, H. Nyambaatar, stated that the construction of the Erdeneburen hydro plant had been suspended for two years, as a result of a letter from the local communities to the Chinese authorities. He also said that when development projects are interrupted by a civil society organization or person, then a task force should be established to investigate these cases as ‘sabotage’ under Criminal Code Article 19.6 and that the government could claim compensation for the lost economic opportunity. This concerning statement was shared just a few days before the visit by China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, to Ulan Bator on 7 and 8 August to discuss economic cooperation between the two countries and who specifically mentioned the Erdeneburen hydropower plant in his remarks.

The Mongolian Minister’s statement could be construed as a direct threat of reprisal against human rights defenders like Sukhgerel. It also sends a very chilling message to all individuals and communities peacefully raising concerns or opposing harmful projects, especially in a context where several environmental activists have already been threatened and criminalized.

Sukhgerel is also facing a worrying and orchestrated smear campaign in online media and social media. We are deeply worried about the criminalization and smear campaign against Sukhgerel, which puts her at additional risk and constitutes a threat to all human rights defenders and civil society groups in the country.

They call on the government and other relevant authorities in Mongolia to:

  1. Immediately investigate and unconditionally cease all attempts to target and criminalize Sukhgerel Dugersuren, as well as other human rights defenders and individuals expressing their opinion or raising concerns about development projects in the country;
  2. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Mongolia are able to carry out their human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions, in line with Mongolia’s international human rights obligations and commitments, including its recently approved law on human rights defenders;
  3. ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Publicly recognise the importance of freedom of expression, meaningful participation, unimpeded access to information on development projects and environmental impacts, and a safe environment for human rights defenders, to help ensure development projects are truly sustainable for Mongolia.

https://www.forum-asia.org/

Aarhus Convention on environmental information gets especially experienced rapporteur

July 22, 2022

Michelle Langrand wrote in Geneva Solutions of 20 July 2022 that the “Michel Forst was elected special rapporteur for environmental defenders in June by the Aarhus Convention on environmental information.”

The newly appointed special rapporteur on environmental defenders Michel Forst will be able to intervene when environmentalists in the pan-European region are at risk of being attacked or penalised.

Defending the planet’s health can be a dangerous line of work – at times deadly. Two thirds of defenders murdered worldwide are environmental advocates, with 227 killings reported in 2020. While attacks in Europe and Central Asia are not as frequent as in other parts of the world, industries and governments publicly exposed for polluting or turning a blind eye to environmental crimes have been known to retaliate with harassment, legal action and even violence.

Environmental defenders in Ukraine documenting the impacts of the war or campaigners in Switzerland practising civil disobedience to alert the public about the climate threat can now turn to a UN expert to rapidly intervene on their behalf.

Elected at the end of June by parties to the Aarhus convention on the right to information about environmental issues, Michel Forst is the world’s first UN special rapporteur on environmental defenders. The nomination follows a 2021 decision by European and central Asian countries to create a rapid response mechanism amid a rise in attacks against defenders. [see https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/10/26/aarhus-convention-gets-new-mechanism-to-protect-environmental-defenders/]

The French 71-year-old was UN special rapporteur on human rights defenders from 2014 to 2020.

Forst’s plans for the next four years are still being concocted. “It’s a very new mandate,” he told Geneva Solutions. To develop the tools and mechanisms he’ll be using throughout his term, he won’t have to look very far.

“I’ll be looking at how the working methods developed by the Office of High Commissioner of Human Rights could be implemented in this mandate, for instance, receiving complaints, sending communications to states when we know that rights have been violated and issuing public statements as well,” he said.

The complaints system will be one of Forst’s flagship measures and a chance to take it one step further. When UN experts under the Human Rights Council receive a complaint and write to a state asking for an explanation, the government has 60 days to reply, rendering it ineffective when a person’s life or security is at risk, he noted.

“We need to understand how it could be made effective because rapid response means that the special rapporteur has the possibility to intervene immediately by different means.”

The expert will also resort to what he calls “quiet diplomacy”, meeting with ambassadors both in Geneva and abroad, where there might be “systemic attacks against defenders”.s

Forst was elected by consensus by the parties to the Aarhus convention – an encouraging start for the expert. But not all governments will be easy to approach when they’re the ones in the hot seat. The most notable one is Belarus, sanctioned last year by fellow party members for closing down an anti-nuclear NGO that was collaborating with an expert body of the Convention. The country has deployed one of the most severe crackdowns in recent years in the region against civil society, and is on Forst’s to-do list. The country did not support the idea of creating a mechanism in the beginning, according to observers, although it did not oppose the proposal during the formal adoption last year. Last week, it was a no-show for the French expert’s nomination.

“​​Belarus is one of the last countries that I visited as special rapporteur on human rights defenders and on that occasion I met with a number of environmental defenders. I also had lengthy discussions with both the minister for foreign affairs and the minister of justice about the cases and to look at how my mandate at that time could help support government efforts to convict the perpetrators of attacks against defenders,” he said.

“Security forces employed by companies are the main perpetrators against environmental defenders. Part of the mandate is not only to speak to states, but also to companies and to draw attention to them, and to the countries in which they have their seat, over cases of maladministration, corruption or acts against defenders,” Forst said.

His efforts could add pressure on European countries to toughen corporate responsibility laws that could help protect defenders in countries beyond the convention’s jurisdiction. Within the country borders of the agreement, campaigners would also like to see Forst tackle legal abuses against environmental defenders that fall in a grey zone.

Yves Lador, Geneva representative for EarthJustice, told Geneva Solutions: “We see a worrying trend in democratic countries of targeting environmental activists directly through laws through different levels.

https://genevasolutions.news/climate/threatened-environmentalists-have-a-new-protector

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