The protection of environmental activists is getting closer. Governments are negotiating on a new international mechanism

28.10.2020 - PRAGUE / GENEVA
Arnika calling for an end to the persecutions
PHOTO: Arnika

The year 2019 showed the highest number of environmental and land defenders killed ever; 212 people worldwide [1]. Although most of them were in Latin America, murders also occurred in Kazakhstan and Romania. The global pandemic, accompanied by restrictions on civil freedoms as a result of the coronavirus measures, accelerated negative trends – a recent report spotlights 15 cases from Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia in which environmental rights have been violated. The countries which are parties to the international Aarhus Convention [2] are now discussing a new international mechanism to protect defenders of the environment.

In Belarus, 67 people were detained till May 2020 while peacefully protesting against a new accumulator plant. During the mass protests against the falsified presidential elections, the Belarusian government is persecuting activists of the anti-nuclear movement [3]. In Slovenia, citizens were deprived of the right to participate in the environmental impact assessments (EIA) of new dams. In Czechia, Poland, and Slovakia, activists have been punished within the last three years for organizing events to draw attention to climate change.

“Defending the environment is truly dangerous work. For years, we were used to hearing frightening stories from Latin America, Africa, or Asia. However, violence against activists also occurs in Europe. In the times of restrictions on civil freedoms due to global pandemic, we are registering even more cases of environmental damage and breaches of the rights of the local communities,” says Martin Skalsky, head of Arnika’s Citizens Support Centre. “The Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee is effective, but investigation of the cases takes several years. It is promising that the governments are preparing the Rapid Response Mechanism, which is supposed to provide endangered people with the necessary help.”

The Working Group of the Parties to the Aarhus Convention is meeting in Geneva and virtually on 28th-29th October. It will prepare the documents for final approval by the ministers of the environment of signatory countries at the Meeting of the Parties scheduled for the autumn of 2021 in Georgia. Thus, there is hope that the Rapid Response Mechanism could already start working next year.


Footnotes:

[1] Defending Tomorrow. Global Witness revealed the highest number of land and environmental defenders murdered on record in a single year, with 212 people killed in 2019 for peacefully defending their homes and standing up to the destruction of nature. https://www.globalwitness.org/en/campaigns/environmental-activists/defending-tomorrow/ 
[2] The UNECE Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters was adopted on 25 June 1998 in the Danish city of Aarhus at the Fourth Ministerial Conference in the 'Environment for Europe' process. It entered into force on 30 October 2001. Details on the Convention: https://www.unece.org/env/pp/introduction.html
[3] Several activists from the Belarusian NGO Ecohome were detained recently for participating in unauthorized public assemblies and some of them were imprisoned for weeks. According to Arnika, the arrests of Irina Sukhy, Marina Dubina, and Alena Dubovik and attempts to detain other members of Ecohome appear to be related to the final phase of the preparations for the launch of a nuclear power plant near the village of Ostrovets.
Case of Irina Sukhy: https://stop-persecution.org/arrest-of-irina-sukhy
Marina Dubina: https://stop-persecution.org/marina-dubina-from-ecohome-imprisoned
Alena Dubovik: https://stop-persecution.org/green-telephone-operator-alena-dubovik-sentenced-to-15-days-in-prison 

 

International activities