Repeal Law That Threatens Lives and Safety of Environmentalists

Target: António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations

Goal: Repeal law that violates human rights and puts the lives of environmentalists in danger.

Environmentalists will soon be targeted by the Polish government for their beliefs. The Polish government passed a bill that will prohibit spontaneous gatherings of environmentalists at the world climate summit in Poland this year. Experts, NGOs, businesses, and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change will meet to negotiate Paris Agreements and often, spontaneous assemblies are necessary during the process. If spontaneous assemblies are banned, citizens will not be able to participate in the process, a violation of the freedoms of assembly, association, and speech. In addition, the bill grants the government the power to place attendees under surveillance and gather personal information without the attendees’ consent.

Another concern will be endangering environmentalists who have faced scrutiny in their home country. With more than 197 environmentalists murdered in 2017 for championing environmental rights, attendees are afraid the personal information the Polish government collects will be shared and jeopardize their safety at home. Certain groups are hesitant to attend if the bill is not repealed. A Filipino indigenous human rights defender, for example, has received threats from the army several times in her home country, and fears this bill would endanger her life even further.

There has been a group of attending organizations calling on the UN, EU members, and  Poland to repeal the law to protect human rights. Several ongoing environmental disputes in Poland might have induced this law in order to avoid unwanted protests. The UN should be actively trying to repeal the law, as it violates fundamental human rights; environmentalists should not feel unsafe for voicing their concerns at an event where that is exactly the purpose. Sign the petition below to urge the UN to help repeal this law.

PETITION LETTER:

Dear Mr. Guterres,

The international climate change Conference of the Parties is being held in Poland this year. With experts, environmentalists, NGOs, businesses, and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change attending, there will be exchanges of ideas and opinions that will require spontaneous assemblies. However, Poland has passed a law–which has not been addressed by the UN–that prohibits spontaneous assemblies and subjects attendees to surveillance. Furthermore, the government has the power to collect personal information without the attendees’ consent, which is alarming for environmentalists who face scrutiny in their home countries.

In 2017 alone, 197 environmentalists were murdered for protecting lands, resources, and human rights. The United Nations was founded on the premise of protecting human rights and this has extended to environmental rights throughout the years. The climate change conference should be a safe space to discuss how we can be better stewards over the the planet and its resources, how we can protect environmental rights and preserve endangered communities. Mr. Guterres, I urge you to speak out against this law that bans the freedoms of assembly, speech, and association or move the conference to another location.

Sincerely,

[Your Name Here]

Photo Credit: Evan Schneider

Make Access to Healthy Environment a Human Right

Target: Erik Solheim, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Program

Goal: Support framework that would help defend environmentalists, not criminalize them.

John Knox, a rapporteur on human rights and the environment for the UN, is pushing to make the right to a healthy environment a human right. Environmentalists are targeted for defending the environment and vulnerable communities. Even more so in recent years, conservationists have been kidnapped, arrested, prosecuted, and outcasted for their work. Big business and those who have big stakes in natural resources such as land often target environmentalists who oppose their agenda. Last year, 197 environmentalists were murdered, according to Global Witness, a monitoring group.

However, the UN and other nations are showing support for the environment and its allies. The UN is currently scaling up training for judges, prosecutors, and police in environmental law. They also encourage them to work with companies who invest in human rights. Although environmental rights are still yet to be recognized in many nations, Knox is pushing for a UN resolution, which includes a policy framework to help support environmentalists and not criminalize them. His first policy is that states should ensure a safe, clean, and healthy environment that respects, protects, and fulfills human rights. His understanding of human and environmental rights allows him to see the connection between the two spheres.

Furthermore, he is pushing for support for vulnerable groups and acknowledgement of the role of business and governments in environmental and human rights.

Environmental rights are deeply intertwined with human rights. Often, those who cannot defend their own land and resources (water, food, air) suffer from exploitation. Knox’s ideas to implement a policy framework to support environmentalists and for the UN to recognize a healthy environment as a human right will help protect vulnerable communities and environmentalists. Sign the petition below to urge the UN to implement this framework.

PETITION LETTER:

Dear Mr. Solheim,

The UN Environment Program is committed to improving the quality of life and environment for people without compromising that of future generations. In order to ensure quality of life for future generations, we must recognize that a healthy environment is a human right. Many groups and communities are vulnerable to environmental exploitation, for example through land grabs, illegal development, and development that promotes pollution. John Knox, the rapporteur on human rights and the environment, is proposing that a policy framework be put into place to help protect environmentalists and to also recognize a healthy environment as a human right.

Although the UN is committed to making sure that judges, police, and prosecutors are receiving more training in environmental law, we must extend this consideration to environmentalists and conservationists. Often, they are criminalized, but they are the ones who champion human and environmental rights when authorities and other groups do not.

Environmental health is closely linked to human health. People living in terrible conditions, ingesting polluted waters, inhaling polluted air, and having no access to natural resources, have their human rights revoked. They can no longer live in with dignity when they have no access to a healthy, clean environment. I urge you to push the UN to consider environmental rights as human rights and promote the policy framework to support environmentalists.

Sincerely,

[Your Name Here]

Photo Credit: Osakabe Yasuo