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UN agencies sign deal to protect human and environmental rights defenders

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) will strengthen cooperation with OHCHR, as threats to individuals and communities defending their environmental and land rights intensify.

UN | Updated: 16-08-2019 22:35 IST | Created: 16-08-2019 22:35 IST
UN agencies sign deal to protect human and environmental rights defenders
“A healthy environment is vital to fulfilling our aspiration to ensure people everywhere live a life of dignity”, said UNEP Executive Director, Inger Andersen. Image Credit: Twitter(@andersen_inger)

The UN environment agency and human rights office (OHCHR) signed a landmark new agreement on Friday aimed at better protecting vulnerable human and environmental rights defenders and their families, while increasing protection for people and the places where they live, across the world. The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) will strengthen cooperation with OHCHR, as threats to individuals and communities defending their environmental and land rights intensify. Reports suggest that an average of more than three rights defenders were killed every week last year.

Although more than 150 countries have recognized the right to a healthy environment in their constitutions or legal frameworks, "significantly more work is needed" to inform policymakers, institutions and the public, say the leaders, both women, of the two UN bodies.

"A healthy environment is vital to fulfilling our aspiration to ensure people everywhere live a life of dignity", said UNEP Executive Director, Inger Andersen. "We must curb the emerging trend of intimidation and criminalization of land and environmental defenders, and the use of anti-protest and anti-terrorism laws to criminalize 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," she added.

Human, environmental rights, need 'stronger global partnerships'

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said: "Our planet is being recklessly destroyed, and we urgently need stronger global partnerships to take action to save it...We call on leaders and governments to recognize that climate change and environmental degradation severely undermine the human rights of their people, particularly those in vulnerable situations – including the generations of tomorrow."

A key part of the new protection agreement is to monitor threats to environmental human rights defenders more closely, develop better defenders' networks, urge more effective accountability for perpetrators of violence and intimidation, and promote "meaningful and informed participation by defenders and civil society, in environmental decision-making.

Ms. Bachelet said every State needed to be encouraged "to develop and enforce national legal frameworks which uphold the clear linkages between a healthy environment and the ability to enjoy all other human rights, including the rights to health, water, food – and even the right to life...We also strongly encourage greater recognition that the actions and advocacy of environmental human rights defenders are deeply beneficial to all societies."


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