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Fighting for their Lives: The Time for Action is Now

Photo Credit: Global Witness

May 27, 2015

Over the past two weeks we have spotlighted the growing threat of violence against environmental activists. Today we are exploring some of the recommendations put forward in Global Witness’s recent report and the steps the Goldman Prize has taken to defend Prize winners under threat.

Global Witness recently stated, “The violence [against activists] is exacerbated by the rolling back of environmental laws, increased militarization of the police and the failure to control armed private security guards. Landowners, mining companies and hydro dam developers routinely ignore local communities’ calls to protect their land and environment.”

At the Goldman Prize, it is part of our work to shine a light on grassroots environmental activists so that their stories and campaigns may not be so easily ignored by private interests like those mentioned above by Global Witness. We also realize that in extreme circumstances of duress a more tailored and robust response may be needed. That is why the Goldman Prize is working to create a responsive, flexible mechanism to respond to threats against Prize winners.


When the Goldman Prize becomes aware of a threat, we convene an internal committee to conduct a rapid assessment of the situation. This committee works with the Prize winner and relevant partner organizations to gather the facts and determine potential actions items.

Action items could include drafting letters of support; outreach to political and diplomatic influencers; partnering with the United Nations Special Rapporteurs, including the Independent Expert on Human Rights and the Environment, and the Special Rapporteur for Human Rights Defenders, Indigenous Peoples and Freedom of Opinion and Expression. The Special Rapporteurs are independent experts appointed by the UN Human Rights Council with the mandate to monitor, advise and publicly report on human rights situations in specific countries and on human rights violations worldwide.

Other potential actions include issuing an action alert via social media to generate intense public attention on a government or multinational corporation; and partnering with other NGOs to create awareness. Traditional media coverage is also a good tool to exert public pressure on governments and corporations.

The Goldman Prize has also identified several key partner organizations including the Sierra Club, Amnesty International, Frontline Defenders, Environmental Defender Law Center (EDLC), EarthRights International (ERI), and the Center for Environmental Law (CIEL) that specialize in everything from action alerts and pro-bono legal assistance to emergency funding.

Ruth Buendia
In their recent report titled “How Many More? 2014’s Deadly Environment: the killing and intimidation of environment and land activists, with a spotlight on Honduras,” Global Witness calls on national and international governments, companies operating in areas where environmental defenders are under threat, and international bodies such as the United Nations to take urgent action to stem the growing wave of violence against environmental defenders:

“This report asks how many more people will die before the world takes notice? The need to protect environmental and land defenders must be pushed high up on the agendas of national governments and international bodies. States should call for a UN Human Rights Council resolution to address these threats. But also, importantly, structural problems at the root of the violence need to be challenged. Laws that guarantee free, prior, and informed consent for indigenous peoples must be properly implemented. Governments must end secret resource deals that benefit business and political elites to the detriment of local communities. Companies behind these projects should also be held accountable for any violence or intimidation carried out on their behalf.

The international community needs a wake-up call. Governments will only feel compelled to act on their responsibilities to protect defenders through external pressure as well as from domestic civil society. By exposing what’s driving violence and intimidation against environmental defenders, Global Witness hopes to help usher in the kind of reforms needed to prevent further attacks. The world is standing idle whilst people on the frontline of the struggle to protect the environment are getting killed. The time for action on these killings is now.”

For full list of Global Witness’s recommendations CLICK HERE.

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