Oct 22 2019
Past event

Supporting environmental and land rights defenders: Sharing initiatives and best practices

Environmental human rights defenders (EHRDs) are individuals and groups who ‘strive to protect and promote human rights relating to the environment.’[1] They come from many different backgrounds and work in different ways. Some are lawyers or journalists, but many are ‘people living in remote villages, forests or mountains, who may not even be aware that they are acting as environmental human rights defenders.’[2] What they all have in common is that they work to protect the environment on which a vast range of human rights depends.

Ideally, all EHRDs should be able to exercise their human rights to freedom of expression and association, to information, to participation in decision-making and effective remedies to help to protect the environment – and the rights that depend upon it[3]. In this way, the relationship between human rights and the environment should be a virtuous circle: the exercise of human rights helps to protect the environment, and a healthy environment helps to ensure the full enjoyment of human rights.

The reality too often falls far short of this ideal. In many countries, EHRDs face a high risk of violence and even death. On average, every week, more than three EHRDs are killed somewhere in the world. Countless more are threatened and harassed. The improper use of criminal law against EHRDs is an increasingly common trend.

To respond to this crisis, States and the international community have adopted, respectively, multiple instruments and declarations, inter alia, recognising their rights, and have created mechanisms to respond to their claims.  Most significantly, on 4 March 2018, Latin America and Caribbean States adopted the Escazú Agreement, the first binding regional agreement on the environment and the first treaty to include provisions for the protection of Human Rights defenders.

Similarly, many governmental and non-governmental organizations have put in place a wide range of programmes and tools to contribute to the prevention of attacks against, and protection of EHRDs. These initiatives seek to contribute to the implementation of the human rights norms and standards by, inter alia, empowering defenders, promoting access to information, guiding States on their pathway to fulfil their international obligations, among others.

General objectives of the event

On the occasion of the UN Special Rapporteurs on human rights and the environment, and on human rights defenders’ annual reports to the 74th session of the General Assembly, the event will seek to offer a space for the exchange of experiences and best practices in the promotion and protection of the rights of EHRDs. In particular, the event will seek to:

  • Present some of the existing instruments and initiatives designed to support the work of EHRDs, with a view to sharing best practices and encouraging States and civil society organisations to adopt and join these important efforts.
  • Generate improved awareness, among governments, human rights experts and NGOs about the particularly vulnerable and deteriorating situation of EHRDs, and the steps they can take to contribute to protecting and ensuring respect for their rights.
  • Share best practice and lessons, and share some of the existing regional and international solutions and remedies to the EHRDs crisis.



[1] As Michel Forst, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders explains, “land and environmental rights are interlinked and are often inseparable. As a result, the two broad categories of defenders advocating for the environment are often characterized as ‘land and environmental rights defenders,’ ‘environmental rights defenders,’ or just ‘environmental activists.” Like him, we use the term ‘environmental human rights defenders’ to include all such defenders.  Forst, Michel. (3 August 2016). Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. UN Doc. A/71/281, para. 7.

[2] Ibid., para. 8.

[3] John, Knox. (February 2017). Environmental Human Rights Defenders: A Global Crisis. Available at: https://www.universal-rights.org/urg-policy-reports/environmental-human-rights-defenders-ehrds-risking-today-tomorrow/

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