21 Jul 2018 Press release Environmental rights and governance

Photo series highlights plight of environmental rights defenders

21 July 2018 – Nine environmentalists who risk everything to protect their homes, land and natural environment from harm and exploitation are telling their stories in a published photo series today in The Guardian’s weekend edition, The Observer.  

The defenders featured in the series include Bobby Chan and Marivic Danyan from the Philippines, who are protecting the coral sea coastlines and community land. Aida Isela Gonzalez Diaz, a Mexican anthropologist fighting narco-gangs and agribusiness interests. Ramón Bedoya is a Colombian farmer who continues to fight eviction from family land. Ugandan park ranger, Samuel Loware, faces heavily armed poachers. Maria do Socorro Silva, a Brazilian community leader, opposes the world's biggest alumina refinery in the Amazon. Turkish couple Biran Erkutlu and Tuğba Günal campaign against the installation of a potentially devastating hydropower plant; Fatima Babu, an Indian anti-pollution activist campaigns against a Sterlite copper smelter; and Nonhle Mbuthuma is a South African indigenous woman fighting a prospective Titanium mine in her ancestral land in the Wild Coast, Eastern Cape.

In 2017, almost four people a week were killed defending their right to a clean and healthy environment. UN Environment works to shine a spotlight on these brave people who face threats, intimidation, harassment and murder. Their stories remind us of the many people who pay a price for refusing to stay silent.  The photo series is a project initiated by Global Witness and The Guardian, with practical support provided by UN Environment.

“The right to a healthy environment is fundamental to our collective well-being. It’s critical that we all take a stand against those who seek to profit from the destruction of our planet,” said Erik Solheim, Head of UN Environment. “This is the great struggle of our time. That means supporting environmental defenders, and making their cause our own.”

Environmental rights are enshrined in the constitutions of over 100 countries around the world, yet many people are harassed, intimidated and forced from their lands. Around 40 -50 percent of the 197 environmental defenders killed in 2017 came from indigenous and local communities.

In March, the UN Environmental Rights Initiative was launched in Geneva, and on 3 September 2018, the initiative will be launched at the Museum of Tomorrow in Brazil, one of the epicenters of environmental violence globally. The Initiative aims to help people better understand their rights and how to defend them, and assists governments to strengthen institutional capacities to safeguard those environmental rights. UN Environment also works with media to promote environmental rights, including through the development and implementation of a media training curriculum.

Environmental rights are human rights. When those rights are protected, the planet is protected. UN Environment urges all governments to prioritize protection of environmental defenders from harassment and attack and to bring those who harm or threaten defenders to justice swiftly and definitively. Tolerance of intimidation of environmental defenders undermines basic human rights and the environmental rule of law.



About UN Environment

UN Environment is the leading global voice on the environment. It provides leadership and encourages partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing, and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations. UN Environment works with governments, the private sector, civil society and other stakeholders, and with UN entities and international organizations across the world. 

About the Environment Rights Initiative

The UN’s Environmental Rights Initiative is bringing environmental protection nearer to the people by helping them to better understand their rights and how to defend them; by working with media to improve coverage of rights issues; by calling on the private sector to move beyond a culture of compliance to one where environmental rights are championed; and by assisting governments to implement environmental rights obligations. Read UN Environment’s Defenders Policy in all UN languages.

More about the Launch of the Environmental Rights Initiative in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

For more information, please contact:

Keith Weller, Head of News and Media, keith.weller[at]un.org 

Niamh Brannigan, Head of Communications for Environmental Governance +254 717 733348, niamh.brannigan[at]un.org