GENEVA — Leaders of the United Nations’ environment and human rights agencies teamed up by signing a new agreement on Friday intended to protect people and their families who push for environmental protections around the world.
Inger Andersen, who heads U.N. Environment, and Michelle Bachelet, who oversees the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, or OHCHR, inked the accord. It focuses on closer monitoring of threats to environmental human rights defenders through networks of supporters and advocates of accountability for perpetrators of violence and intimidation.
The agencies’ partnership is also meant to encourage greater acceptance by leaders and governments of the human right to a healthy environment pursuing efforts toward its global recognition.
“It will seek to increase support to national governments to promote human rights-based policies, particularly in terms of sustainable management of natural resources, development planning, and action to combat climate change,” the agencies said in a statement.
The two leaders said threats to individuals and communities defending their environmental and land rights are intensifying in many parts of the world, despite more than 150 countries recognizing the human right to a healthy environment in constitutions, national laws or other agreements.
Three environmental activists a week on average were killed somewhere in the world in 2018, according to a July 30 report by Global Witness, an international organization that exposes corruption and environmental abuses. The U.N. leaders said the death toll shows the dangers facing those who defend their environmental and human rights in mining, logging, and farming along with other “extractive” industries.
“A healthy environment is vital to fulfilling our aspiration to ensure people everywhere live a life of dignity,” Andersen said. “We must curb the emerging trend of intimidation and criminalization of land and environmental defenders, and the use of anti-protest and anti-terrorism laws to criminalize the exercise of rights that should be constitutionally protected.”
Andersen said the two U.N. agencies are committed to bringing environmental protection closer to the people by helping to support environmental and human rights.
Well said, a life with dignity for the overall society can only be guaranteed in an enivironment that is healthy!
— Inyom Bernard (@kvng_sleeky) August 16, 2019
‘Stronger global partnerships’ needed
In a major report earlier this year, U.N. Environment put the planet’s health thorough its most thorough checkup of the past five years, saying it found Earth’s condition so degraded and “dire” that many people’s lives will worsen unless “unprecedented action” is taken to improve things.
The Nairobi-based agency cautioned in March that millions of premature deaths could occur by the mid-21st century unless cities and regions of Africa, Asia and the Middle East drastically improve their environment protections. The report was released on the sidelines of the U.N. Environment Assembly.
Bachelet said all nations must be encouraged to put in place and enforce laws that protect people who insist on healthy landscapes, water and food that benefit everyone.
A former president of Chile, Bachelet was appointed head of OHCHR last year. She is responsible for promoting a main pillar of the U.N. system in a role that draws on her past as a victim of torture and detention in her home country.
The three main pillars of the United Nations system are peace and security, development and human rights. Between 2010 and 2013, Bachelet also served as the first head of U.N. Women, the international organization that champions gender equality and empowerment of women.
“Our planet is being recklessly destroyed, and we urgently need stronger global partnerships to take action to save it,” she said. “We call on leaders and governments to recognize that climate change and environmental degradation severely undermine the human rights of their people, particularly those in vulnerable situations — including the generations of tomorrow.”