Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, called for protection of environmentalists who defend the planet at the 49th Session of the Human Rights Council


49th Session of the Human Rights Council – High Level Event on Environmental Human Rights Defenders

Opening statement by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

1 March 2022

Minister Ernkrans, Minister Solano Quirós,
Colleagues and friends,

Thank you for joining us today.

Every day, environmental human rights defenders face abuse, threats and harassment for their work addressing the triple planetary crisis of climate change, pollution and nature loss.

Speaking out and standing up for environmental human rights can – and does – come at an enormous cost to both individuals and communities. They are subjected both to killings and smear campaigns. At particular risk are people who speak out against deforestation, extractives, loss of cultural heritage or identity, or large scale-agribusinesses and development projects – including those intended to produce clean energy, such as mega dams.

Many environmental human rights defenders are themselves indigenous peoples or members of local communities, or they represent them. Others are members of minority groups or communities which face racial discrimination, and which are more likely to be exposed to environmental degradation, or to live in close proximity to polluting industries.

And when someone speaks out on their behalf, entire communities may be subject to threats and intimidations.

States have an obligation to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of environmental human rights defenders and the communities they represent. They must also prevent and ensure accountability for attacks.

This is the objective of Human Rights Council resolution 40/11. Human Rights Council resolution 48/13 on the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment also adds to the toolbox that can assist States in better upholding the rights of environmental human rights defenders.

In addition, it is critical that States effectively regulate businesses and hold them accountable for human rights violations. Businesses themselves have a responsibility to respect and remedy human rights violations as outlined in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

Prior to undertaking any climate project, both businesses and States must carry out human rights risk assessments. If indigenous peoples’ rights are at risk of being adversely affected by such projects, it is crucial that their free, prior and informed consent is obtained.

The rights to information, participation and access to justice – which are protected under international human rights law – are further stipulated by Rio Principle 10, the Aarhus Convention and the Escazú Agreement.

When these rights are upheld – when there is a fully functioning, dynamic and diverse civic space – both the earth and the people who defend it are better protected.


The Secretary-General’s Call to Action for Human Rights instructs the UN system to support States protect human rights defenders and advance the human right to a healthy environment.

Together with UN partners, my Office is currently developing guidance for the UN system to strengthen protection of environmental human rights defenders.

Let me move now to some examples of our work around the world.

In the Pacific, my Office has trained over 200 human rights defenders on sustainable development, business and human rights in the context of climate change. They have held regional forums bringing together States, the private sector and civil society to find common ground aimed at protecting human rights, including the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment.

In South-East Asia, we are monitoring cases of harassment, arrest, killings and disappearances of environmental human rights defenders. And working with governments in the region, we are urging them to stop the use of all punitive measures routinely levelled against defenders. 

In Mexico and Kenya, my Office is supporting environmental human rights defenders and their networks. In Kenya, we have supported the Land and Environment Defenders Network since its formation five years ago jointly with UNEP. This network has been a valuable forum for exchange, capacity building and solidarity between environmental human rights defenders – including on strategic litigation, engagement with businesses and media strategies.

All around the world, my Office is committed to supporting States, businesses and environmental human rights defenders in all of their efforts to protect our planet.

Protecting the environment goes hand-in-hand with protecting the rights of those who defend it. Their voices must be heard – and protected. We must have zero tolerance for killings or threats and attacks against them.

Let us stand together to take immediate action and make the world a safer place for environmental human rights defenders.

Thank you.

Taken from: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=28181&LangID=E