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HRW's submission to UNSR on freedom of association on threats faced by climate defenders includes recommendations for businesses

'Submission on the Challenges and Threats Facing Climate Defenders', 1 June 2021

Human Rights Watch welcomes the opportunity to provide input on the challenges and risks facing climate defenders for the upcoming report by the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association. While recognizing that climate defenders face threats in countries all over the world, we have chosen in this submission to focus largely on incidents and trends that we have documented in our prior research, namely in Brazil, France, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Philippines, Poland, Russia, South Africa, and Uganda, including the experiences of Indigenous peoples, women, and children.

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Challenges of Climate Defenders to Exercising Assembly and Association Rights

... In Brazil, people put their lives at risk to protect the Amazon rainforest, one of the world’s most important carbon sinks... Human Rights Watch documented 28 killings—as well as four attempted killings and more than 40 death threats—linked to illegal deforestation... In Kenya’s Lamu county, activists have sought to raise awareness about the environmental, health, and climate impacts of a regional project known as LAPSSET, the Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport corridor project which includes a proposed coal-fired power plant... in 2016 at least two activists in Lamu, an island on the Kenyan coast, were kidnapped... In Indonesia, women impacted by the palm oil industry’s deforestation practices have been excluded from community consultations regarding selling of their family land... South African police have failed to carry out adequate investigations for high-profile murders of environmental activists, including Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Rhadebe in 2016 and Mama Fikile Ntshangase in 2020... Companies have also weaponized courts against climate defenders using ... baseless lawsuits—known as “Strategic lawsuits against public participation,” or SLAPPs... In India, authorities arrested 21-year-old climate activist Disha Ravi in February 2021...

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Recommendations for Businesses

  • Take adequate measures to address any environmental concerns, meaningfully consult with impacted communities ensuring participation of women and Indigenous peoples, and respect the rights of climate activists when carrying out infrastructure projects. Publicly condemn all attacks against climate activists.
  • Conduct human rights due diligence to identify any risks, including those posed by police, military, or other government officials, and take actions to prevent or mitigate them. Adopt and implement the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights, including by recording and reporting allegations of credible human rights abuses by police in their areas of operation to appropriate government authorities and encouraging investigations of allegations.
  • Develop and implement, in collaboration with climate defenders, a grievance mechanism for raising allegations of human rights violations, and take all necessary steps to ensure the safety of anyone who files a grievance.

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