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Working Group C – Empowering and protecting human rights defenders working on environmental issues

Introduction

Land and natural resources management is one of the most critical challenges the world faces today. Increasing competition over diminishing renewable resources, such as land and water, is on the rise. Conflicts over the rights to land and natural resources multiply and regrettably have led to increasing repression of environmental rights defenders. Human rights defenders (HRDs) working on environmental issues are facing an extremely difficult situation across the world with increasing harassment, arrests and attacks.

Repression takes various forms aiming at discouraging, discrediting and disrupting their non-violent activities. Smear, defamation, criminalisation and stigmatisation campaigns are widely used. There is serious concern worldwide on the growing number of killings and violence perpetrated by both State and non-State actors towards activists who expose or oppose environmental destruction and the violation of their rights. These two aspects of HRD work are interlinked and often inseparable, in particular as regards those activists who are living in remote area such as indigenous peoples' leaders and community members.

Support to HRDs (individuals, groups and organisations) is one of the major priorities of the EU's external human rights policy. The Global Strategy for the European Union’s Foreign and Security Policy reaffirms the conviction that the EU needs to invest in sharpening the means to protect and empower human rights defenders. A clear example of this commitment is the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR),  the world’s largest programme dedicated to human rights and democracy (EUR 1.3 billion for the period 2014-2020), which supports numerous EIDHR-funded projects and activities in support of human rights defenders at risk at the global, regional and local levels. To give just two examples:

  • The EIDHR funds the EU human rights defenders mechanism, ProtectDefenders.eu (EUR 19,950,000 for 2015-2019), which provided support to more than 30.000 HRDs and their families since 2015 through a combination of short, medium and long-term initiatives.
  • To specifically react to the situation of Human right defenders working on environment, the global EIDHR call for proposals in 2017 allocated 5 million to projects " Supporting Human Rights Defenders in the area of land-related rights, indigenous peoples, in the context of inter alia 'land grabbing' and climate change".

Objectives

Without empowering and protecting human rights defenders working on environmental issues, universal human rights for all cannot be realised. Therefore, this Working Group will focus on:

  1. Raising awareness on the risks faced by environmental HRDs and their coping and survival strategies, particularly through fostering connections, exchanges, partnerships and skills development.
  2. Review and reflect on existing EU and other international and regional policy responses and good practices to protect environmental HRDs.
  3. Promoting an enabling environment and addressing the shrinking space for environmental HRDs.
  4. Assess how the EU's human rights toolbox can be more effectively utilized and further develop new ways to address emerging challenges faced by environmental HRDs.

Methodology

This working group will host two interactive sessions. Following a keynote presentation, the moderator will explain the objectives and the organisation of the session. The participants will discuss in small groups organised by geographical region. Each small group will produce three take-aways on the theme identified by the moderator and record these on a flip chart. A few previously selected and briefed participants will each make a short presentation of a case study of good practice. The resource person for each small group will briefly present the take-aways produced by the group. There will be some time for Q&A to the various speakers. This methodology is followed twice in the first session, while the second session will have extended Q&A time, which the moderator will use to steer discussion towards a validation of key take-aways. Individuals will be able to express agreement with any take-away using small coloured stickers. There will be a flip chart available for ‘other comments’ that were not selected by the small group.

Risks and solutions to protect and empower environmental HRDs Including international and regional mechanisms responses to support and protect defenders

TUESDAY 3 December 11.00-13.00

Moderator: Chiara Adamo, European Commission

11.00

Welcome and presentation of programme.

11.05

Keynote speaker: UNSR on the situation of human right defenders, Michel Forst presenting the risks facing environmental HRDs worldwide.

Round 1: The risks and good practices in protection

11.15

The moderator will open the floor for discussion in small groups on the risks that environmental HRDs face and good practices on protection emanating from HRDs themselves with the objective of putting forward the main risk and best responses to be presented to the group.

11.35

Human right defenders from different regions  will present a two minute testimonial on their daily live struggle and responses:

Sherif Jamilor or Lay peng pua (TBC)

Neftali Reyes Menez

Vladimir Velinchkin (TBC)

P. Omido (CJGEA) or L. Cunningham (CEJUDHCAN) (TBC)

11.45

 

Each table through its "Note taker" will present their three take-aways to the group. After the quick presentations by note takers the moderator will open the floor for general discussion.

Round 2: Good practices in protection

12.00

Regional mechanisms will present their actions protecting environmental HRDs.

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights: (TBC)

Special Rapporteur of the (ACHPR): Mr Rémy Ngoy Lumbu

CoE Advisor to Commissioner for Human Rights Mr Furkat Tishaev

FRA  Programme Officer - Civil Society, Ms Waltraud Heller

European Commission Focal Point HRD , Christine Mardirossian

12.20

 

The moderator will open the floor for active discussion in small groups on what works, and what should be improved

12.40

Each table will present their three take aways to the group and a small Q&A session will follow including to review and reflect on existing EU and other international and regional policy responses to protect environmental HRDs. The discussion will be able to continue during next day session.

Promoting an enabling environment and addressing the shrinking space for environmental human rights defenders - Including developing new ways to address emerging challenges faced by HRDs.

Wednesday 4 December 14.30 -16.00

Moderator: Emma Achilli TBC

14.30

Keynote speaker: MEP Hannah Neumann  "Promoting an enabling environment and addressing the shrinking space for environmental HRDs

14.40

The moderator will open the floor for active discussion in small groups on new ways to address emerging challenges faced by environmental HRDs and address the shrinking space.

15.00

Representatives from civil society at large will present a two minute testimonial on creative new ways of engagement

Innovative collective protection initiatives OXFAM Hector Saenz

 

Modification of a HRD protection mechanism

Success story on improving the enabling environment challenging impunity 

Paul Maasen:  Chief of Country Support at the Open Government Partnership (OGP).

Presentation of the Environmental Justice atlas

Innovative collective protection initiatives OXFAM Hector Saenz

Promoting an enabling environment - Protection International  - gaps of national protection mechanism - Mauricio Angel

The potential of social media #Trashtag Drici Tani Younes (TBC)

Rachel Owens, Head of EU Office, Global Witness, Belgium

15.15

Each table will present their three take aways to the group and a small Q&A session will follow open to a general discussion on how could we do it better together

15.45

The moderator will resume the discussion of the two sessions and represent the key take-aways

16.00

Closing

* The session will produce ‘take-aways’ on the above themes – priorities and suggestions that will be presented to the EU and to the other participants for consideration.

Background documents

Links to the following documents have been placed on the Conference website.

  • UN Special Rapporteur’s report on Violence against Environmental Human Rights Defenders (English | French | Spanish)
  • UN Human Rights Council resolution Recognizing the contribution of environmental human rights defenders to the enjoyment of human rights, environmental protection and sustainable development (March 2019).

https://undocs.org/A/HRC/40/L.22/Rev.1

https://eeas.europa.eu/sites/eeas/files/eu_guidelines_hrd_en.pdf