Groups Want End to Reprisal on Climate and Human Right Defenders

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The Mano River Union Civil Society Natural Rights and Governance Platform (MRU-CSO Platform) implores governments, the United Nations, International organizations and civil society actors attending the 27th edition of the Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP27), to adopt a resolution insisting on additional commitments that guarantee the protection of environmental and human rights defenders against reprisal attacks and killings.

We strongly recommend the adoption of a framework document that would outline the elements of the human rights obligations under the UNFCCC and see the Paris Agreement. Under the said framework, supporting and ally countries must make commitments against attacks, reprisals, imprisonment, the release of detainees, and the killing of defenders.

Governments must commit to Zero Tolerance for reprisals against political prisoners and climate defenders, in fulfillment of the National Determinant Commitments of countries under the Paris Accord. This would serve as a strategic engagement tool during the post-COP27 process to build trust, and confidence and minimize reprisals.

In December 2019, the MRU CSO Platform commissioned a baseline assessment of the experiences, struggles, challenges, and expertise of Frontline Grassroots Defenders across West Africa and Equatorial Guinea. 

The baseline assessment report reveals with utter dismay, the troubling trend in West Africa and other parts of Africa in which defenders are subjects of increasing surveillance, frivolous criminal charges, imprisonment, threats and stigmatization in the performance of their work.

The report captures a dire account of some of the harsh legal regimes, arbitrary arrests and difficult situations frontline grassroots defenders are faced with around the subregion and despite the scale of the reprisal attacks, these violations passed largely underreported or undocumented.

Because these abuses are perpetrated by multinational investment companies with the full backing of their host governments and the acquiescence of their home governments, the urgent need for consolidated action to confront reprisals against indigenous and grassroots defenders on the frontline of the climate crisis cannot be overstated. 

We are aware of the escalating energy and food crisis facing millions of people around the world, especially the most vulnerable in the poorest of the poor countries, but we cannot afford to allow defenders to be used as a sacrificial lamb in our demand for climate financing.

It is simply a contradiction for parties to the Paris Agreement to turn their countries into risky places for climate activists to live. We, therefore call for the unconditional release of all environmental and human rights activists who are in prisons across Africa and elsewhere.

We should not leave Sharm el-Sheikh without a concrete commitment to end reprisal attacks and other forms of violence against those on the frontline of the climate crisis.

It is baffling that thousand’s of state and non-state actors are gathered for two weeks negotiating for a drastic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, but individuals who put their lives on the line to protect peoples and the planet, our global climate FIREWALLs are unfortunately suffering reprisals and, in some instances, behind bars for the very reasons why we are assembled in Egypt. If climate activism is a crime, then the thousands who showed up for COP27 should all be in jail.

These environmentalists, community leaders, indigenous people, lawyers, scientists, journalists and social media activists have all been laboring for a healthy environment, a just, equal and sustainable world peace, they should not be in prison.

We challenge the UN not to only facilitate talks around saving the planet and the delivery of commitments by richer countries to finance climate actions to developing countries, but it must concomitantly take appropriate actions to guarantee the protection of human rights and environmental defenders.

As we stand up in defense of the climate, we must fight in equal measure to end all forms of reprisals against defenders of the environment. COP 27 is not just an African COP, it is a Human Rights COP. “A people united can never be defeated”

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