UN steps up commitment to protect environmental rights defenders

People defending the environment have faced violence, including killings and sexual violence, smear campaigns and other forms of intimidation

Two UN organisations have stepped up their commitment to drive better protection of environmental rights defenders and their families who face violence.

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the UN Human Rights Office have signed a new co-operation agreement to prioritise their efforts to promote and protect environmental and human rights.

The heads of the two UN bodies agreed although more than 150 countries have recognised the human right to a healthy environment in their constitutions, national laws or through regional agreements, more significant work is needed to inform policymakers, justice institutions and the public on the various ways they can take action to uphold this right.

People defending the environment have faced violence, including killings and sexual violence, smear campaigns and other forms of intimidation.

Latest research has revealed more people are now murdered defending the environment each year than the number of soldiers from the UK and Australia killed in war zones.

The new partnership also seeks to increase support to national governments to promote human rights-based policies, particularly in terms of sustainable management of natural resources, development planning and action to combat climate change.

The two organisations will work more closely to monitor threats against environmental rights defenders, advocate for better protection and urge more effective accountability for perpetrators of violence and intimidation.

UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen said: “A healthy environment is vital to fulfilling our aspiration to ensure people everywhere live a life of dignity. We must curb the emerging trend of intimidation and criminalisation of land and environmental defenders and the use of anti-protest and anti-terrorism laws to criminalise the exercise of rights that should be constitutionally protected.

“UNEP and the UN Human Rights Office are committed to bringing environmental protection closer to the people by assisting state and non-state actors to promote, protect and respect environmental and human rights. In doing so, we will move towards a more sustainable and just planet.”

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