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Open letter from civil society to world leaders: Put human rights at the centre of environmental policy

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This open letter was signed by 166 civil society organizations and individuals calling upon world leaders to put human rights at the centre of environmental policy.

Respecting and protecting human rights and protecting the environment are inextricably linked. Yet while Heads of State from 88 countries have called to end siloed thinking in the Leaders Pledge for Nature, environmental policy-making still too often excludes or sidelines human rights.

Today we, the undersigned – a broad range of indigenous peoples’ organisations, civil society groups – including human rights, land and environmental defender organisations – academics and [UN] experts from the Global South and North – call on the world’s leaders to bring together human rights, environmental and climate in policy-making in order to secure a just, equitable and ecologically healthy world for all.

The reciprocal relationship between nature and people has existed since time immemorial, but it is now unbalanced. There are countless examples in all parts of the world of how forests, savannas, fresh water sources, oceans, and even the air itself, are being privatised, polluted and destroyed by industries such as agriculture, timber, pulp and paper, mining and oil and gas extraction. These and many other industries not only wreak destruction on Mother Earth, but they also have direct and devastating impacts on human rights. Indigenous peoples and local communities living in close proximity to the production, extraction and processing of raw materials suffer dispossession of their lands, impoverishment, deterioration of their health, and destructive impacts on their culture, among many other abuses. In turn, human rights, land and environmental defenders who seek to prevent these violations suffer threats, criminalisation and violent attacks, and increasingly, killings.

The costs of both environmental destruction and measures to address this often fall disproportionately on those already in precarious positions – such as indigenous peoples, afro-descendants, local communities, women, children and youths, and poorly-paid workers, particularly in the Global South but also in the Global North – while the profits of the largest and most environmentally-damaging industries, and the wealth of their owners and financers, continues to grow. It is unforgivable that polluting industries profit at the expense of the health and human rights of marginalised communities. And, ultimately, this environmental destruction has indirect human rights impacts on us all.

Just this month the Human Rights Council adopted a resolution recognising the Right to a Healthy Environment. Yet while there is evidence that the protection of human rights can lead to better environmental outcomes, calls for recognition of the holistic and indivisible nature of human rights and the environment often go unheeded in global, regional and national environmental and climate policy forums.

This must change. As a global community we face multiple, intersecting crises: increasing human rights abuses and environmental harms by companies, land grabs, the loss of food and water sovereignty, increasing poverty and inequality, increased attacks and killings of defenders, climate change-induced disasters and migration, the diminishing health of the oceans and critical biodiversity loss. Resolving these crises demands a holistic approach to environmental policy that embeds human rights and tackles systemic problems, including historically rooted social injustice, ecological destruction, state capture by corporations, corruption and impunity, as well as and social and economic inequality.

We urge world leaders to ensure that all policymaking related to the environment – including the climate and biodiversity crises, ownership and use of land, water and resources, ecosystem degradation, corporate accountability and trade, among others – address human rights and the environment in an integrated manner. This would help to catalyse the transformative action that is urgently required.

Respect for, protection, promotion and fulfilment of human rights, and the protection of those who defend them, must be an essential and non-negotiable part of measures adopted in upcoming negotiations at the UN Convention of Biological Diversity, COP15, and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, COP26. Human rights must also be central to regional and national level climate and environmental policies, such as proposed deforestation legislation in the UK, the EU and the USA, which must be further strengthened.

The time to act is now: we call on you to unite human rights, climate and the environment once and for all. In doing so, you can help us and our future generations to thrive by living in harmony with nature. And in doing so, you can affirm that both nature and people have intrinsic worth and that governments are serious in living up to their duty both to protect Mother Earth and to respect, protect and fulfil human rights.

List of signatory organizations

  1. ABColombia – United Kingdom
  2. AbibiNsroma Foundation – Ghana
  3. ADeD – Republic of Benin
  4. Al-Haq, Law in the Service of Man – Palestine
  5. Albanian Human Rights Group – Albania
  6. ALTSEAN-Burma – Burma
  7. Amerindian Peoples Association – Guyana
  8. Anti-Slavery International – United Kingdom
  9. Appui pour la Protection de l’Environnement et le Développement (APED) – Cameroon
  10. Articulação dos Povos Indígenas do Brasil (APIB) – Brazil
  11. Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact – Thailand
  12. Asian Indigenous Women’s Network – Philippines
  13. Asocamp – Colombia
  14. Association for Emancipation, Solidarity and Equality of women – ESE – North Macedonia
  15. Association For Promotion Sustainable Development – India
  16. Association marocaine des droits humains (AMDH) – Morocco
  17. Association of Indigenous Village Leaders in Suriname (VIDS) – Suriname
  18. Association Okani – Cameroon
  19. Association pour la Promotion des Ecosystèmes Tropicaux et pour la Protection de l’Environnement (APETDS) – Republic of the Congo
  20. Avaaz – United States of America
  21. BirdLife International – United Kingdom
  22. Both ENDS – Netherlands
  23. Business & Human Rights Resource Centre – United Kingdom
  24. Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD) – United Kingdom
  25. Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR) – United States of America
  26. Centre for Research and Advocacy, Manipur – India
  27. Centro de Politicas Publicas y Derechos Humanos – Peru EQUIDAD – Peru
  28. Chepkitale Indigenous Peoples’ Development Project (CIPDP) – Kenya
  29. Clean Clothes Campaign International Office – United Kingdom
  30. ClientEarth – Belgium
  31. Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz – Colombia
  32. Community Empowerment and Social Justice Network (CEMSOJ) – Nepal
  33. Comptoir Juridique Junior – Republic of the Congo
  34. Conectas – Brazil
  35. Conféderation génerale autonome des travailleurs en Algerie – Algeria
  36. Construisons Ensemble le Monde – Democratic Republic of Congo
  37. CoopeSoliDar R.L – Costa Rica
  38. Coordinadora de las Organizaciones Indígenas de la Cuenca Amazónica (COICA) – Ecuador
  39. Corporate Justice Coalition – United Kingdom
  40. Covenants Watch – Taiwan
  41. Deache – Colombia
  42. Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) – Egypt
  43. Emmaus Aurinkotehdas ry – Finland
  44. Endorois Welfare Council (EWC) – Kenya
  45. Environmental Defender Law Center – United States of America
  46. Environmental Investigation Agency – United Kingdom
  47. Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) – United Kingdom
  48. Equitable Cambodia – Cambodia
  49. ESCR-Net (International Network for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights) – Switzerland
  50. European Anti-Poverty Network – Belgium
  51. European Coalition for Corporate Justice – Belgium
  52. Federação do Povo Huni Kui do Acre (FEPHAC) – Brazil
  53. Federación por la Autodeterminación de los Pueblos Indígenas – Paraguay
  54. Federation of Community Forestry Users Nepal – Nepal
  55. FERN – Belgium
  56. Forest Peoples Programme – United Kingdom
  57. Foundation for the Conservation of the Earth (FOCONE) – Nigeria
  58. Friends of the Earth International – Netherlands
  59. Fundacion De Estudios Para La Aplicacion Del Derecho (FESPAD) – El Salvador
  60. Fundación para la Democracia, Seguridad y Paz (FEDEPAZ) – Peru
  61. Global Forest Coalition – Paraguay
  62. Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights – Mexico
  63. Global Justice Now – United Kingdom
  64. Global Witness – United Kingdom
  65. ICCA Consortium – Mexico
  66. Inclusive Development International – United States of America
  67. Indepaz – Colombia
  68. Indigenous Peoples Major Group for Sustainable Development – Philippines
  69. Indigenous Peoples Rights International – Philippines
  70. Instituto de Defensa Legal – Peru
  71. Instituto Runyn Pupykary Yawanawá – Brazil
  72. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) – France
  73. International Institute for Environment and Development – United Kingdom
  74. International Service for Human Rights – Switzerland
  75. International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific – Malaysia
  76. Just Associates (JASS) – United States of America
  77. Just Fair – United Kingdom
  78. Justiça Global – Brazil
  79. Karapatan Alliance Philippines – Philippines
  80. La Route du Sel et de l’espoir – France
  81. Landesa – United States of America
  82. Le Centre pour le Développement et l’Environnement – Cameroon
  83. Legal Resources Centre (LRC) – South Africa – South Africa
  84. Lok Shajti Abhiyan – India
  85. Lok Shakti Abhiyan – India
  86. Lok Shakti Abhiyan (National Alliance Of People’s Movements) – India
  87. London Mining Network – United Kingdom
  88. Mbou-Mon-Tour (MMT) – Democratic Republic of Congo
  89. MINBYUN – Lawyers for a Democratic Society – Republic of Korea
  90. Minority Rights Group International – United Kingdom
  91. Movement for the Survival of the Ohoni People (MOSOP) – Nigeria
  92. Nairobi People’s Settlement Network – Kenya
  93. National Fisheries Solidarity Movement – Sri Lanka
  94. Natural Justice – South Africa
  95. Natural Resource Governance and Economic Justice Network (NaRGEJ) – Sierra Leone
  96. Network Movement for Justice and Development (NMJD) – Sierra Leone
  97. New Wind Association – Finland
  98. Ogiek Peoples’ Development Program (OPDP) – Kenya
  99. Organisation Guinéenne de défense des droits de l’homme et du citoyen (OGDH) – Guinea
  100. Organisation pour le développement et les droits humains au Congo – Republic of the Congo
  101. Peace Brigades International – United Kingdom
  102. Project HEARD – Netherlands
  103. Protection International – Belgium
  104. RedConPaz Somos Genesis – Colombia
  105. Réseau Ressources Naturelles (RRN) – Democratic Republic of Congo
  106. Resguardo de Origen Colonial Cañamomo Lomaprieta, Riosucio y Supía Caldas, Colombia – Colombia
  107. Right to Education Initiative – United Kingdom
  108. Sanjoy Hazarika – India
  109. Sengwer of Embobut CBO – Kenya
  110. Sin Olvido – Colombia
  111. SITOAKORE (Organização de Mulheres Indígenas do Acre, Sul do Amazonas e Noroeste de Rondônia) – Brazil
  112. Social Entrepreneurs for Sustainable Development – Liberia
  113. Society for Conservation Biology – Cameroon Chapter – Cameroon
  114. South Rupununi District Council – Guyana
  115. Support Group for Indigenous Youth – Brazil
  116. Sustainable Development Foundation – Thailand
  117. Sustainable Development Institute – Liberia
  118. Tebtebba – Philippines
  119. Teraju Foundation – Indonesia
  120. The Andrew Lees Trust – United Kingdom
  121. The Circle NGO – United Kingdom
  122. The Corner House – United Kingdom
  123. The International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA) – Denmark
  124. Third World Network – Malaysia
  125. Tierra Nativa / Amigos de la Tierra Argentina – Argentina
  126. Traidcraft Exchange – United Kingdom
  127. TuK INDONESIA – Indonesia
  128. Unison – United Kingdom
  129. We Women Lanka – Sri Lanka
  130. Wetlands International – Netherlands
  131. WGII (Working Group ICCAs Indonesia) – Indonesia
  132. Women Working Worldwide – United Kingdom
  133. World Wildlife Fund – United Kingdom
  134. Yayasan Masyarakat Kehutanan Lestari (YMKL) – Indonesia

List of individual signatories

  1. Carol Kalafatic, Resistance Studies Initiative, University of Massachusetts-Amherst – United States of America
  2. Dr Alice Karuri, Strathmore University – Kenya
  3. Dr Ariell Ahearn, School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford – United Kingdom
  4. Dr Asma Jabeen, Fatima Jinnah Women University, Rawalpindi, Pakistan – Pakistan
  5. Dr Cathal Doyle, Senior Lecturer in Law, Middlesex University, London – United Kingdom
  6. Dr Diogo Veríssimo, University of Oxford – Portugal
  7. Dr Emiel de Lange, University of Oxford – Netherlands
  8. Dr Francisco J. Rosado-May, Universidad Intercultural Maya de Quintana Roo – Mexico
  9. Dr Henry Travers, Interdisciplinary Centre for Conservation Science, Oxford University – United Kingdom
  10. Dr Jerome Lewis, Centre for the Anthropology of Sustainability (CAoS) – United Kingdom
  11. Dr Jorge C. Llopis, Centre for Development and Environment, Switzerland – Switzerland
  12. Dr Leejiah Dorward, School of Natural Sciences, Bangor University – United Kingdom
  13. Dr Richard Axelby, Senior Research Fellow, Department of Anthropology and Sociology, SOAS University of London – United Kingdom
  14. Dr Stephanie Brittain, Interdisciplinary Centre for Conservation Science, University of Oxford – United Kingdom
  15. Dr Timothy Kuiper, University of Cape Town – South Africa
  16. Edith Bastidas, Indigenous Lawyer – Colombia
  17. James McNamara, Conservation Research Consultants Ltd – United Kingdom
  18. Jérémie Gilbert, Professor of Human Rights, the University of Roehampton – United Kingdom
  19. Jessica Campese, Member, IUCN Commission on Environmental, Economic and Social Policy (CEESP) – United States
  20. John H. Knox, Henry C. Lauerman Professor of International Law, Wake Forest University School of Law and former UN special rapporteur on human rights and the environment – United States of America
  21. Jorge Varela Marquez, Goldman Environmental Prize winner 1999; Ambiente, Desarrollo y Capacitacion, Honduras – Honduras
  22. Michael Stein, the Harvard Law School Project on Disability – United States of America
  23. Niall Watson, Independent Consultant – United Kingdom
  24. Professor Ann Taket, Deakin University – Australia
  25. Professor Ian Scoones, co-director STEPS Centre, IDS, University of Sussex – United Kingdom
  26. Professor Laura T. Murphy, Sheffield Hallam University – United Kingdom
  27. Professor Michel Pimbert, Director of the Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience, Coventry University – United Kingdom
  28. Ruth Spencer, Local Community Advisor – Antigua & Barbuda
  29. Sarah Lunacek, University of Ljubljana, Department of Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology – Slovenia
  30. Tim Cooke-Hurle, Barrister, Doughty Street Chambers – United Kingdom
  31. Universidad de Paz – Colombia
  32. Werner Soors, Equity & Health, Institute of Tropical Medicine, Antwerp – Belgium

To download the PDF version of the letter, click here.

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