We all want to breathe clean air, drink safe water, and to be able to provide sustenance and a healthy, dignified life for our families. Human survival and well-being rests on a biodiverse and healthy environment and a safe climate. Environmental human rights defenders help us to achieve that – they defend the planet and their communities from the impact of harmful resource extraction or pollution by unscrupulous companies or governments. Their work is essential to attaining the sustainable development goals and ensuring that no-one is left behind.  

The draft resolution on environmental human rights defenders has now been formally ‘tabled’ at the Human Rights Council, meaning it is scheduled for consideration and adoption by the Council on 22 and 23 March. The draft resolution is a timely and important statement on the vital role of environmental human rights defenders in safeguarding biodiversity, addressing climate change, achieving sustainable development and promoting and protecting all human rights.

However, while the resolution contains some important elements, several of the below civil society asks are still missing. In particular, the resolution should :

·       more clearly identify and name the root causes and perpetrators at the heart of the insecurity facing environmental human rights defenders;

·       increase the demands on States and businesses with regard to conducting due diligence on business and development activities; and

·       include specific calls on investors and development finance institutions to use their influence to better protect environmental human rights defenders.

As the negotiations at the Human Rights Council enter their final phase, ISHR calls on all States and civil society to continue to push for the inclusion of key civil society asks, and to use the remaining days to work towards the adoption of a strong resolution on environmental human rights defenders. The resolution, as currently drafted, is an important step but does not yet represent the unequivocal signal in support of environmental activists the Council should send.

Civil society* from across the world are calling on all UN Member States to demonstrate their support to environmental human rights defenders.

At its current 40th session, the Human Rights Council is discussing a draft resolution on environmental human rights defenders. This is a timely and important initiative as UN agencies, human rights organisations and the media have documented unprecedented killings and attacks against people defending land and the environment.

It is important for the Council to adopt a resolution that reflects the gravity and the reality of the situation defenders face every day. Our organisation therefore call on members of the UN Human Rights Council to ensure that the resolution adopted by the Council clearly:

  • Outlines the root causes of the threats against environmental human rights defenders, including development and commercial activities with adverse social and environmental impacts, or those imposed on communities without meaningful consultation and respect for their rights;
  • Recognises that environmental human rights defenders confront multiple adverse interests when challenging State and corporate activities, and highlights the collusion between different actors which hinders the work of defenders and aggravates their vulnerable position;
  • Clearly names the industries and activities most dangerous to defenders, such as the mining industry, natural resource exploitation, agribusiness and large-scale development projects;
  • Acknowledges the wide number of States that have recognised the right to a healthy environment in their internal legal order;
  • Recognises that the lack of effective access to information, access to participation and access to justice causes environmental conflicts and leads to violence against defenders;
  • Calls for the development of protection mechanisms for environmental human rights defenders in line with best practice identified by the Special Rapporteur;
  • Articulates the specific risks women and indigenous human rights defenders face and the need for an intersectional approach in assessing and designing protection measures for defenders;
  • Calls on States to ensure that all communities are meaningfully consulted and can participate genuinely in matters that affect their rights and, in particular the use, management and conservation of their land and natural resources;
  • Calls on States to guarantee the right to free, prior and informed consent for indigenous peoples;
  • Calls on States to adopt legislation that creates due diligence obligations for companies registered in their jurisdictions and those of their subsidiaries;
  • Articulates the responsibility of businesses to respect the rights of human rights defenders and highlights measures companies should take to contribute to addressing their insecurity;
  • Adequately articulates the responsibility of investors and the obligations of development finance institutions to respect human rights in the context of their investments and to develop and implement effective policies to prevent and address threats; and
  • Stresses that an open civic space, including respect for the rights to freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association and movement, as well as the right to participate in the conduct of government and public affairs, is vital to the protection of both a healthy and sustainable environment and environmental human rights defenders.

The draft being negotiated in Geneva contains some of these essential elements, which must be defended, but also offers significant potential for strengthening.

As negotiations enter the final stretch, our organisations urge States to actively support the development of a resolution which clearly recognises the vital contribution of environmental human rights defenders to sustainable development and the effective enjoyment of human rights and formulates concrete asks of the States, development finance institutions and companies with the power of safeguarding that contribution.

Sincerely, *signatures are collected on a rolling basis

  1. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
  2. Amnesty International
  3. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (Forum Asia)
  5. DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
  6. Earth Justice
  7. Front Line Defenders
  8. Global Witness
  9. JASS (Just Associates)
  10. IM-Defensoras
  11. Christian Development Alternative (CDA)
  12. Nigerian Women Agro Allied Farmers Association
  13. Social Justice Connection
  14. Franciscans International
  15. Unidad de Protección a Defensoras y Defensores de Derechos Humanos – Guatemala (UDEFEGUA)
  16. Geneva for Human Rights
  17. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
  18. Réseau Ouest africain des Défenseurs des Droits Humains/West African Human Rights Defenders’ Network
  19. Coordination des associations et des particuliers pour la liberté de conscience
  20. La’o Hamutuk
  21. Karapatan Philippines
  22. Human Rights House Foundation
  24. International Commission of Jurists
  25. Conectas Direitos Humanos
  26. World Movement for Democracy
  27. Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia (AHRE)
  28. Center for Civil Liberties
  29. Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights
  30. Human Rights Concern – Eritrea (HRCE)
  31. International Women’s Development Agency (IWDA)
  32. Humanitaire Plus (Togo)
  33. Coalition Burkinabé des Défenseurs des Droits Humains
  34. AMARA
  35. Gender and Development for Cambodia (GADC)
  36. Odhikar
  37. Freedom House
  38. Red Internacional Unión Latinoamericana de Mujeres – Red ULAM
  39. Freedom House
  40. Rivers without Boundaries Mongolia
  41. Asian Legal Resource Centre
  43. Ligue Burundaise des droits de l’homme Iteka
  44. International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES)
  45. AVIPA association des victimes parents et amis du 28 septembre 2009 Guinée
  46. Porgera Red Wara (River) Women’s Association Incorporated (PRWWA INC.)
  47. KRuHA – people’s coalition for the right to water
  48. Asia Pacific Network of Environment Defenders (APNED)
  50. EarthRights International
  51. Dawei Probono Lawyer Network (DPLN)
  52. Africa Network for Enivironment and Economic Justice(ANEEJ)
  53. Partnership for Justice, Nigeria
  54. Association for Progressive Communications (APC)
  55. Huridocs
  56. Steps Without Borders NGO
  57. Humanists International
  58. Coalition Togolaise des Défenseurs des Droits Humains (CTDDH)
  59. Labour,Health and Human Rights Development Centre
  60. Institute for Multi-Resource Development (IMdev)
  61. Not1More
  62. Patrons of Khuvsgul lake movement
  63. Liberia Coalition of Human Rights DefendersHuman Concern, Inc
  64. Brot für die Welt
  65. ARTICLE 19
  66. Peace Brigades International
  67. Metro Center Journalists Rights & Advocacy
  68. World Uyghur Congress
  69. 350.org
  70. International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR)
  71. Latinamerikagrupperna
  72. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)
  73. Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL)
  74. SUDIA
  75. Synergia – 36/5000 Initiatives for Human Rights
  76. Philippine Misereor Partnership Inc.
  77. Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM)
  78. Center for Women’s Global Leadership
  79. Transformative and Integrative Build Out For All
  80. Institute for Strategic & Development Studies
  81. Reseau de Femmes du mMlieu Rural Haitien
  82. East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN)
  83. FIFCJ
  84. Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)
  85. Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID)
  86. Zo Indigenous Forum
  87. MADRE
  88. FOKUS Forum for women and development
  89. Bougainville Women’s Federation
  90. Human Rights Council-Ethiopia
  91. Environment Defenders Advocacy
  92. Porgera Women’s Rights Watch
  93. Independent Human Rights Analyst and Strategy Advisor
  94. Buliisa Initiative for Rural Development Organisation (BIRUDO)
  95. Community Resource Centre Foundation
  97. Equitable Cambodia
  98. Friends with Environment in Development
  99. Corporate Human Rights Benchmark (CHRB)
  100. Association For Promotion Sustainable development
  101. WoMin Afrcan Alliance
  102. Both ENDS
  103. Child Rights Connect
  105. Enda Lead Afrique Francophone
  106. Human Rights Law Centre
  107. Business & Human Rights Resource Centre
  108. World Voices Uganda
  109. Africa Center for Policy Facilitation
  110. Estonian Forest Aid
  111. Community Transformation Foundation Network (COTFONE)
  112. Collectif Camerounais des Organisations des Droits de l’Homme et de la Démocratie (COCODHD)
  113. Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
  114. North-East Affected Area Development Society (NEADS)
  115. Sangsan Anakot Yawachon Development Project
  116. Forum Syd Sweden
  119. Asian NGO Coalition for Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (ANGOC)
  120. BankTrack
  121. CORE Coalition
  122. The Gaia Foundation
  123. Labour Behind the Label
  124. Bataris Formation Center
  125. Salva la Selva
  126. Observatoire d’etudes et d’appui a la responsabilite sociale et environnementale ( OEARSE )
  127. REd de Género y Medio Ambiente
  128. London Mining Network
  129. Abibiman Foundation
  130. Ecodesarollo
  131. The Kesho Trus
  132. Organisation mondiale contre la torture
  134. 11.11.11 – Koepel van de Vlaamse Noord-Zuidbeweging
  135. Center for Global Nonkilling
  136. Centro salvadoreño de Tecnología Apropiada
  137. Coalition Ivoirienne des Défenseurs des Droits Humains (CIDDH)
  138. Friends of the Earth NI
  139. Forest Peoples Programme
  140. Environmental Investigation Agency
  141. Fundación para el Desarrollo de Políticas Sustentables (FUNDEPS)
  142. Bank Information Center
  143. Africa development Interchange Network
  144. Voluntariados Intag
  145. Mangrove Action Project
  146. IUCN NL
  147. Community Self Reliance Centre (CSRC)
  148. Amazon Watch
  149. HRM @Bir Duino-Kyrgyzstan@
  150. Task Force Detainees of the Philippines
  151. Asociación ambiental e cultural Petón do Lobo
  152. Asociación galega Cova Crea
  153. Amigos e Amigas dos Bosques “O Ouriol do Anllóns”
  154. Réseau Camerounais des Organisations des Droits de l’Homme (RECODH)
  155. CNCD-11.11.11
  156. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
  157. Rainforest Foundation Norway
  158. Women Working Worldwide
  159. Greenpeace
  160. AMDH- Maroc
  161. In Difesa Di , per i diritti umani e chi li difende
  162. Center for Environmental Concerns-Philippines
  163. Buliisa Initiative for Rural Development Organisation (BIRUDO) – Uganda
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