UN Special Rapporteurs Fry and Boyd say environmental human rights defenders have critical role in addressing the climate crisis

Published by Brent Patterson on

ISHR reports United Nations Special Rapporteurs Ian Fry and David Boyd have emphasized the critical role of defenders in addressing the environment and climate crises, urging States and non-State actors to take measures to protect them.

Fry is the first Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of climate change. Boyd is the Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment.

Their reports were made at the Interactive Dialogues with States at the General Assembly that took place last week.

Fry says: “As groups and communities become increasingly frustrated with the lack of action on climate change, they have turned to protests and public interventions to bear witnesses to the climate emergency. Sadly, we are seeing many climate rights defenders persecuted by governments and security organizations. Some defenders have even been killed.”

His thematic report recommends establishing an international tribunal for the prosecution of perpetrators of violence against and the killing of environmental and indigenous human rights defenders and enhanced participatory processes at future COP conferences as well as the General Assembly.

Boyd also called on States to take urgent action to safeguard environmental human rights defenders.

His report highlights that States have a procedural obligation to “protect environmental human rights defenders from intimidation, criminalization and violence, diligently investigate, prosecute and punish the perpetrators of those crimes and address the root causes of socio-environmental conflict”.

The UN Human Rights Council has affirmed that “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 was adopted in March 2019. At least 639 land and environmental defenders have been killed since then.

The crucial role of environmental defenders

The UN Emissions Gap Report 2022 says there is “no credible pathway to 1.5C in place”. The Guardian highlights: “The report found that existing carbon-cutting policies would cause 2.8C of warming, while pledged policies cut this to 2.6C.” The world has warmed nearly 1.2C since the start of the Industrial Revolution and already faces increasingly ferocious climate-enhanced weather extremes like heatwaves, storms and floods.

In contrast to the failure of states to address climate change, this report by the Indigenous Environmental Network and Oil Change International found that the resistance by Indigenous land defenders, water protectors and allies on Turtle Island “has stopped or delayed greenhouse gas pollution equivalent to at least one-quarter of annual U.S. and Canadian emissions [1.587 billion metric tons CO2e].”

To hear frontline climate defenders from Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua and Kenya, join our webinar on November 15.

Yuli Velásquez (Colombia), Walter Rene López Pérez (Guatemala), Ana Paola Torres Barranco (Mexico), Gladys Losike (Kenya), Amaru Ruiz (Nicaragua).

More on the thematic reports from the UN Special Rapporteurs in this International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) article at UN experts call for protection of human rights defenders in addressing environment and climate crises.

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