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

11 October 2021

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

List of individual signatories

  1. Anthony Charles, Director, School of the Environment, Saint Mary’s University – Canada
  2. Carol Kalafatic, Resistance Studies Initiative, University of Massachusetts-Amherst – United States of America
  3. Dr Alice Karuri, Strathmore University – Kenya
  4. Dr Ariell Ahearn, School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford – United Kingdom
  5. Dr Asma Jabeen, Fatima Jinnah Women University, Rawalpindi, Pakistan – Pakistan
  6. Dr Cathal Doyle, Senior Lecturer in Law, Middlesex University London – United Kingdom
  7. Dr Diogo Veríssimo, University of Oxford – Portugal
  8. Dr Emiel de Lange, University of Oxford – Netherlands
  9. Dr Francisco J. Rosado-May, Universidad Intercultural Maya de Quintana Roo – Mexico
  10. Dr Henry Travers, Interdisciplinary Centre for Conservation Science, Oxford University – United Kingdom
  11. Dr Jerome Lewis, Centre for the Anthropology of Sustainability (CAoS) – United Kingdom
  12. Dr Jorge C. Llopis, Centre for Development and Environment, Switzerland – Switzerland
  13. Dr Leejiah Dorward, School of Natural Sciences, Bangor University – United Kingdom
  14. Raquel Negrao, Science Department, Royal Botanic Garden, Kew – United Kingdom
  15. Dr Richard Axelby, Senior Research Fellow, Department of Anthropology and Sociology, SOAS University of London – United Kingdom
  16. Dr Stephanie Brittain, Interdisciplinary Centre for Conservation Science, University of Oxford – United Kingdom
  17. Dr Timothy Kuiper, University of Cape Town – South Africa
  18. Edith Bastidas, Indigenous Lawyer – Colombia
  19. James McNamara, Conservation Research Consultants Ltd – United Kingdom
  20. Jérémie Gilbert, Professor of Human Rights, the University of Roehampton – United Kingdom
  21. Jessica Campese, Member, IUCN Commission on Environmental, Economic and Social Policy (CEESP) – United States
  22. 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
  23. Jorge Varela Marquez, Goldman Environmental Prize winner 1999; Ambiente, Desarrollo y Capacitacion, Honduras – Honduras
  24. Michael Stein, the Harvard Law School Project on Disability – United States of America
  25. Niall Watson, Independent Consultant – United Kingdom
  26. Professor Ann Taket, Deakin University – Australia
  27. Professor Ian Scoones, co-director STEPS Centre, IDS, University of Sussex – United Kingdom
  28. Professor Laura M. Rival, University of Oxford – United Kingdom Professor Laura T. Murphy, Sheffield Hallam University – United Kingdom
  29. Professor Michel Pimbert, Director of the Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience, Coventry University – United Kingdom
  30. Ruth Spencer, Local Community Advisor – Antigua & Barbuda
  31. Sarah Lunacek, University of Ljubljana, Department of Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology – Slovenia
  32. Tim Cooke-Hurle, Barrister, Doughty Street Chambers – United Kingdom
  33. Universidad de Paz – Colombia
  34. Werner Soors, Equity & Health, Institute of Tropical Medicine, Antwerp – Belgium

The list of signatories was updated on 27 October 2021.

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

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