46 countries and the European Union have adopted a legally binding mechanism under the so-called Aarhus Convention to protect environmentalists at risk of abuse and harm because of their activism.
The Aarhus Convention was adopted in 1998 in the Danish city of Aarhus under the auspices of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe. It is the only global legally binding treaty linking environmental issues and human rights.
However, UN officials say many of the rights guaranteed by the treaty are being violated. In recent years, UNECE Executive Secretary Olga Algayerova says there have been many reports that these rights are not being respected.
“We are seeing a growing trend that environmentalists live in fear of retaliation and fear for their lives, especially when they oppose territorial planning and large-scale infrastructure projects. … No one should live in fear of stand take care of their environment and where they live, ”said Algayerova.
The UNECE says environmentalists have been threatened, harassed, intimidated and even killed in protests against the construction of a dangerous dam, harmful farming practices and other environmentally damaging projects.
The new agreement establishes the position of a special rapporteur on environmentalists. The official will be able to quickly respond to alleged violations, as provided for by the Aarhus Convention.
Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, says that establishing this rapid response mechanism can be of great benefit to environmentalists.
“As I noted in my report to the Human Rights Council earlier this year, 50% of killed human rights defenders, as recorded by OHCHR (Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights) in 2019, worked with communities on land, environment, business, poverty and the lives of indigenous peoples, Africans and other minorities, ”Lawlor said.
Global Witness said last year that of the more than 300 human rights defenders killed, 70% were environmentalists.
The new agreement describes the various tools available to the Special Rapporteur to quickly and efficiently resolve complaints and protect environmentalists. These include taking immediate protections, using diplomatic channels, issuing public statements and referring urgent cases to the appropriate human rights bodies for action.