PBI-Canada calls on COP26 to recognize the crucial role of human rights defenders in addressing the global climate crisis

Published by Brent Patterson on

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Samir Flores Soberanes (Mexico), Berta Zúniga Cáceres (Honduras), Bernardo Caal Xol (Guatemala) and Yuvelis Natalia Morales (Colombia).

Environmental human rights defenders play a crucial role in addressing the global climate crisis. Many have been killed, suffered loss, been imprisoned and threatened. Their safety and agency to continue should be a priority for the COP26 climate summit.

Global Witness will soon be releasing its report documenting the land and environmental defenders killed in 2020.

Last July, it reported that 212 defenders were killed in 2019, including defenders in Colombia (64), Mexico (18), Honduras (14) and Guatemala (12).

It further highlighted: “On average, four defenders have been killed every week since December 2015 – the month the Paris Climate agreement was signed.”

The Global Witness Defending Tomorrow report also stated: “Last year, 40% of murdered defenders belonged to indigenous communities. Between 2015 and 2019 over a third of all fatal attacks have targeted indigenous people – even though indigenous communities make up only 5% of the world’s population.”

Notably, the text of the Paris climate agreement reached at the COP21 summit has only one reference to human rights (in its non-binding preamble):

“Parties should, when taking action to address climate change, respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on human rights, the right to health, the rights of indigenous peoples, local communities, migrants, children, persons with disabilities and people in vulnerable situations and the right to development, as well as gender equality, empowerment of women and intergenerational equity.”

We believe this should be addressed as the COP26 summit is set to be held on November 1-12 both virtually and in Glasgow, Scotland.

In March 2019, the UN Human Rights Council resolution affirmed:

“Human rights defenders, including environmental human rights defenders, must be ensured a safe and enabling environment to undertake their work free from hindrance and insecurity, in recognition of their important role in supporting States to fulfil their obligations under the Paris Agreement.”

That resolution also called on States to “acknowledge, through public statements, policies, programmes or laws, the important and legitimate role of human rights defenders.”

Now, the Escazu Agreement, which entered into force on April 22, 2021, has additional and binding language on environmental defenders including:

“Each Party shall guarantee a safe and enabling environment for persons, groups and organizations that promote and defend human rights in environmental matters, so that they are able to act free from threat, restriction and insecurity.”

This past March, Canada’s Ambassador at the UN in Geneva, Leslie E. Norton, told the Human Rights Council: “Some states have established specific protection mechanisms to prevent risks and attacks against HRDs and to intervene when need be. Canada wants to stress these important milestones such as the Escazu Regional Agreement.”

And in June at the G7 summit, Canada also affirmed: “The importance of civic space and partnership with diverse, independent and pluralistic civil societies, including human rights defenders, in promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

PBI-Canada calls on the Canadian government to build on these statements and advocate for the inclusion of similar language in any statements and agreements emerging from the COP26 climate summit this November.

This would be an important commitment to the protection of environmental human rights defenders both globally and on the lands and territories within Canada.

In the lead-up to COP26, PBI-Canada will be amplifying this call and working with other PBI entities to build awareness of the crucial role played by frontline environmental human rights defenders in addressing the climate crisis.

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