Thirteen journalists who were investigating damage to the environment have been killed in recent years and many more are suffering violence, harassment, intimidation and lawsuits, according to a study. The Committee to Protect Journalists (cpj.org), which produced the tally, is investigating a further 16 deaths over the last decade. It says the number of murders may be as high as 29, making this field of journalism one of the most dangerous after war reporting.
The study was produced for Green Blood, a reporting project whose aim is to continue the reporting of local environmental journalists who have been forced to abandon their work (theguardian.com/environment/series/green-blood). Led by Forbidden Stories (forbiddenstories.org), a group of 15 media partners, including the Guardian, El País and Le Monde, have come together to shine an international light on the way these activities affect local environments and communities.
India is one of the most dangerous places to be a journalist – three of the 13 identified as having been killed in the course of their work since 2009 were from the country. Three more were based in the Philippines. The others died in Panama, Colombia, Russia, Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand and Indonesia.
Abridged from: Juliette Garside and Jonathan Watts, 18 June 2019, 'Environment reporters facing harassment and murder, study finds', https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jun/17/environment-reporters-facing-harassment-murder-study
UN Human Rights Council resolution
On March 21, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a consensus resolution affirming "the positive, important and legitimate role" played by environmental defenders. The Council also noted more than 150 states have recognized some form of a right to a healthy environment.
At a time when even authorities in established democracies harass environmental defenders and roll back environmental safeguards that protect public health to benefit corporate interests, the Council called upon states "to strengthen democratic institutions, safeguard civic space, uphold the rule of law and combat impunity," as key components to protect environmental defenders. The resolution also underscores the responsibility of businesses to respect the rights of defenders to carry out their work safely.
The distance between a Council resolution and the realities of grassroots activists will remain a challenge, but environmental human rights defenders now have a new tool to call for accountability – backed by the top global human rights body.
Abridged from Luciana Téllez Chávez / Human Rights Watch, 27 March 2019, 'Top UN Rights Body Calls for Protection of Environmental Defenders', https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/03/27/top-un-rights-body-calls-protection-environmental-defenders
Laws designed to silence: the global crackdown on civil society organizations
A new Amnesty International report shows that an alarming global trend has surfaced over the last decade in which states are introducing and using laws to interfere with the right to freedom of association and to hamper the work of civil society organizations and individuals who participate in them.
The report, 'Laws designed to silence: the global crackdown on civil society organizations', highlights the global trend to use restrictive legislation to target civil society organizations and human rights defenders who speak out against unjust laws and government practices, challenge public opinion or those in power, and demand justice, equality, dignity and freedom.
The pace is accelerating: in the last two years alone almost 40 pieces of legislation have been either put in place or are in the pipeline. Various provisions impose barriers at all stages of these organizations' existence, and allow the authorities to closely monitor them. This happens particularly at the point of registration, but also when they plan, conduct and report on their activities, when they seek and receive funds, and when they carry out public campaigning and advocacy. At least 50 countries have put in place such laws in recent years.
Restrictive legislation reflects the broader political and cultural trends in which toxic narratives demonize "the other" and breed blame, hatred and fear, creating a fertile ground for the enactment of such laws; and justifying them in the interests of national security, identity and traditional values. In practice, they often silence critical and diverse views and opinions and inhibit the ability of organizations and individuals to scrutinize governments.
The phenomenon is evident in all regions. The justifications for draconian restrictions are as diverse as the countries in which they are implemented. Such justifications include national security, concern about foreign interference in national affairs, the need to protect national identity, traditional values and morals, religious beliefs, economic development and other imperatives.
The practical obstacles posed by restrictive and arbitrary laws, and the climate of fear and suspicion surrounding civil society organizations and human rights defenders, discourages others from demanding human rights and makes it increasingly difficult to maintain an open and healthy space for civil society.
Australia is among countries such as Azerbaijan, Belarus, China, Egypt, Hungary, Pakistan and Russia in being criticised for passing restrictive laws which often silence critical and diverse views and opinions and inhibit the ability of organisations and individuals to scrutinise governments.
"It's shocking to think that Australia is noted in the same breath as some notoriously repressive regimes, but the reality is that over the past decade, there has been a concerted effort to stifle civil society in the name of 'national security'," Amnesty International Advocacy Manager Emma Bull said.
The National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Act 2018 imposes criminal penalties for sharing what is broadly defined as "sensitive" information. While the legislation contains certain provisions to protect journalists, it does not contain safeguards to protect whistle-blowers who divulge information about human rights abuses or other information of public interest, nor for other human rights defenders or organisations who may discuss human rights concerns with representatives of foreign governments or international human rights mechanisms.
"By passing this draconian law, Australia is effectively criminalising organisations which expose human rights violations or that share information with the UN, which is a key right protected by the UN Declaration on human rights defenders," Bull said.
Here's the link to the full report: Amnesty International, 2019, 'Laws designed to silence: the global crackdown on civil society organizations', https://www.amnesty.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Laws-designed-to-silence_final_web-version.pdf
Amnesty International Australia statement: https://www.amnesty.org.au/laws-designed-to-silence-the-global-crackdown-on-civil-society-organizations/
Green activists dragged down by petty lawsuits
Despite the global environmental crisis confronting our planet, environmental activism has become a dangerous activity. In many countries, environmental defenders are harassed, attacked or even killed for speaking out and mobilizing against projects that threaten the health and livelihood of communities.
The latest tactic is nuisance lawsuits, as a new report about South African mining communities shows. The companies that bring these baseless lawsuits ‒ known as "Strategic lawsuits against public participation," or SLAPPs ‒ are not particularly concerned with winning. Rather, it's a tactic to suppress environmental defenders' effectiveness by intimidating them and burdening them with onerous costs of mounting a legal defense.
The South Africa report documents the targeting of community rights defenders in KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Northwest, and Eastern Cape provinces between 2013-2018 for expressing opposition to mining projects. Activists reported intimidation, violence, damage to property, use of excessive force during peaceful protests, and arbitrary arrest, but also frivolous lawsuits and social media campaigns to curb their opposition to the mining projects. The companies have often sought court orders to halt or ban protests. The report was a collaborative effort between Human Rights Watch, Centre for Environmental Rights, groundWork, and Earthjustice.
These lawsuits are a growing trend globally. In Australia, Adani ‒ India's largest coal importer with interests in a coal mine in Central Queensland ‒ engaged a law firm that recommended adopting an aggressive legal strategy to bankrupt opponents, silence critics and pressure the government.
Nongovernmental groups have been mobilizing to resist these tactics. In late 2018, environmental and human rights organizations came together to form the Protect the Protest task force against these nuisance lawsuits (protecttheprotest.org). It offers legal and campaign support and solidarity to those involved in these cases. The task force takes the view that an attack against one group of environmental defenders is an attack against all.
Abridged from Marcos Orellana / Human Rights Watch, 'Green Activists are Fighting the Great Fight ‒ But are Being Dragged Down by Petty Lawsuits', https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/05/20/green-activists-are-fighting-great-fight-are-being-dragged-down-petty-lawsuits
Environmental laws won't fix climate change unless we enforce them
The number of environmental protection laws around the world has increased 38-fold since 1972, but a lack of sufficient enforcement has rendered many of them useless, a new United Nations report has found. In 1972, the year of the first UN environmental agreement, only three countries had national environmental framework laws. By 2017, 176 nations had these laws.
But the UN report, based on 35 case studies, found that few of these laws have been implemented and enforced effectively.
"It really is something that all countries share," said Carl Bruch, the director of International Programs at the Environmental Law Institute and one of the authors of the report. "We do have a lot of environmental laws that are on that books that could be so much more effective if they were actually fully implemented."
The report broke down the shortcomings of environmental policies into four categories: institutions responsible for the laws, civic engagement, environmental rights, and justice for those who break the law. Not every country has a problem in each category, but every country has challenges in at least one sector that has reduced the effectiveness of its environmental laws, Bruch said.
Bruch said he hopes this will be the first in a series of reports so people can track the progress ‒ or regression ‒ that governments make in shoring up their environmental laws.
United Nations, 2019, 'Environmental Rule of Law, First Global Report', https://www.unenvironment.org/resources/report/interactive-environmental-rule-law-report
Kaleigh Rogers, 24 Jan 2019, 'Environmental Laws Won't Fix Climate Change Unless We Enforce Them, New UN Report Says', https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/qvyp4x/environmental-laws-wont-fix-climate-change-unless-we-enforce-them-new-un-report-says
Published in Chain Reaction #136, August 2019. National magazine of Friends of the Earth Australia. www.foe.org.au/chain_reaction