Who are environmental defenders?

For their tireless work in empowering communities and protecting ecosystems, environmental defenders are killed in startling numbers. Murder is not the only way environmental defenders are persecuted; for every 1 killed, there are 20 to 100 others harassed, unlawfully and lawfully arrested, and sued for defamation, amongst other intimidations” – John Knox, former UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment.

UN Environment considers an environmental defender to be anyone who is defending environmental rights, including constitutional rights to a clean and healthy environment, when the exercise of those rights is being threatened.

Violations of environmental rights are on the rise worldwide fueled by corruption, greater competition for natural resources, weak enforcement of environmental laws, and the irresponsible exploitation of land and other natural goods.

More on the situation of environmental defenders

UN Environment aims to support the upholding of environmental rights and oppose the growing wave of violence against environmental defenders as well as the prevailing impunity with which these acts are being committed.

UN Environment will:

  • Denounce the attacks, torture, intimidation and murders of environmental defenders;
  • Advocate with states and non-state actors, including business, for better protection of environmental rights and the people standing up for these rights;
  • Support the responsible management of natural resources;
  • Request government and companies’ accountability for the different events where environmental defenders have been affected / murdered.

Read more on UN Environment's Defenders Policy

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