Eight climate activists call on UN and COP26 leaders to condemn the killing of land defenders

Published by Brent Patterson on

Photo: Elizabeth Wathuti (Kenya), Xiye Bastida (Mexico) and Laura Verónica Muñoz (Colombia) are among the eight climate activists.

The Independent reports that eight climate activists have written United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and COP26 President Alok Sharma calling on them to “condemn the killing and harassment of land and environmental defenders.”

The letter came from Elizabeth Wathuti (Kenya), Laura Verónica Muñoz (Colombia), Xiye Bastida (an Indigenous Mexican-Chilean based in the United States), Vanessa Nakate (Uganda), Ridhima Pandey (India), Ayakha Melithafa (South Africa), Litokne Kabua (Marshall Islands) and Olumide Idowu (Nigeria).

Global Witness has highlighted: “On average, four defenders have been killed every week since December 2015 – the month the Paris Climate agreement was signed, amid hopes of a new era of climate progress. Countless more are silenced by violent attacks, arrests, death threats, sexual violence or lawsuits.”

And the UN Human Rights Council passed this resolution in 2019 that says 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.”

In response to the letter, a COP26 spokesperson says: “No one should face violence or harassment for peacefully standing up for our planet. COP26 will ensure the voices of all are heard in the fight against climate change, which is why the COP26 president-designate has prioritized meeting people on the front line of climate change.”

In countries where Peace Brigades International physically accompanies at-risk defenders, Global Witness has documented that 64 were killed in Colombia in 2019 as were 18 in Mexico, 14 in Honduras, 12 in Guatemala, 3 in Indonesia and 1 in Kenya.

The COP26 summit will take place November 1-12 in Glasgow, Scotland.

The letter in full:

Environmental defenders are in greater danger than ever. We are being killed, threatened, harassed, criminalised and silenced for peacefully protecting the basis of life that all of us depend on. Since the Paris Agreement was signed in December 2015, at least four environmental defenders have been killed every week – these are just the deaths that have been registered. The violence has only increased since the onset of Covid-19.

It has been a month since environmental activist Joannah Stutchbury, 67, was killed near her home in Nairobi, Kenya. No arrests have been made so far – justice for Joannah is yet to be served. Joannah died because of her tireless fight to protect green spaces. She stood up to developers who were eyeing Kiambu Forest in Kenya. Like Wangari Maathai, she put the protection of Kiambu Forest ahead of her personal comfort – and, in the end, survival.

As young activists from around the globe, we come armed with nothing more than courage. But many of us feel unsafe in our own countries due to killings like Joannah’s. Both climate impacts and legal protections are unevenly distributed – some of us are much more unsafe than others. Today we stand together in solidarity; demanding justice for Joannah and asking leaders – everywhere – to protect us, especially those most at risk.

Environmentalists are the first line of defense against socio-ecological collapse and the climate crisis. We need them. Instead, we allow them to be silenced through violent attacks, death threats, or murder by those who refuse to act responsibly and continue to devastate nature. Defenders need and deserve to feel safe in their own countries. Nobody should be threatened or killed for standing up for life, speaking truth to power, or for choosing to be a part of the solution to address global environmental challenges. We must defend the defenders. There is little hope for our species if we allow the killing of the very people who stand up to protect us.

This situation cannot continue. Today we call on:

The UN secretary-general and the Cop26 president-designate to condemn the killing and harassment of land and environmental defenders in the strongest possible terms, and to call for countries to bring the perpetrators of these crimes to justice.

The UN secretary-general to utilize all tools available to the UN to ensure the protection of environmental defenders, including by supporting the global implementation of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

The Cop26 president-designate to use the significant diplomatic resources at his disposal – through UK embassies and High Commissions around the world – to make this a top priority in his discussions with Government leaders, working with them to strengthen protections for environmental defenders in-country.

-Elizabeth Wathuti, Laura Verónica Muñoz, Xiye Bastida, Vanessa Nakate, Ridhima Pandey, Ayakha Melithafa, Litokne Kabua, Olumide Idowu

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