Global partners launch environmental rights project in Brazil

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UN Environment and its partners have launched an environmental rights Initiative in Brazil aimed at addressing environmental rights issues.

The global environmental body said this is part of efforts to protect environmental defenders from ongoing intimidation, threats and murder in the South American nation.

The Environmental Rights Initiative was launched in response to the escalating violence facing those working on the frontline of environmental protection, and at a time when biodiversity loss has reached alarming levels.

Through the initiative, the many different actors working on environmental rights can more easily cooperate, pool their efforts and unite their voices to promote, protect and respect environmental rights.

The launch came at a significant time, as 2018 marks the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human rights.

Hosted by Rio De Janeiro’s futuristic ‘Museum of Tomorrow’, the event featured environmental defenders, Brazil’s Attorney General, Raquel Dodge, Brazil’s Minister of State for Human Rights, Gustavo do Vale Rocha, Justice Antonio Herman Benjamin, celebrities, and TV Globo.

Global Witness, an international anti-corruption organization devoted to exposing human rights abuses, took the opportunity to discuss the unsettling findings of its recent report which sees Brazil top the list as the most dangerous place for land defenders to live.

“Year after year, in a bitter struggle over land, more environmental and land defenders are killed in Brazil than anywhere else in the world. Our data shows that in 2017, 57 defenders were murdered, 25 of them during three mass killings,” said Billy Kyte, a Global Witness representative.

“As brave communities stand up to corrupt officials, destructive industries and environmental devastation, they are being brutally silenced. Enough is enough. Businesses, government and all the candidates for the forthcoming elections should commit to tackling this issue, strengthening the institutions that protect land rights, indigenous peoples and human rights defenders, and ensuring that justice is done.”

Among those defenders who recounted harrowing experiences of intimidation and harassment was Maria do Socorro, who has been leading communities from the Amazon against alleged land-grabbing, corruption and pollution for over 10 years.

“I am an activist and I have to keep defending life, fighting against companies that throw heavy metals in the river and in the air. Our soil does not produce anymore, it is totally contaminated. We want to live and we want future generations to also live healthily. My activist friends and I are being threatened, others have already been murdered and we are hiding, struggling to save the environment. We want to see our rivers full of fish again. We want to drink clean, non-poisoned water,” she said.

Organized in partnership with Global Witness, and with participation from British newspaper The Guardian, the event also featured portraits of nine environmental defenders risking their lives to protect the environment from exploitation and abuse.

“Environmental defenders are the unsung heroes of this age, and it’s up to us to stand shoulder to shoulder with them as they stand their ground on the most fundamental right – that of having a safe planet to live on,” Erik Solheim, Head of UN Environment said.

“It’s a tragedy that so many defenders around the world are paying the ultimate price for their work. It becomes our responsibility to make sure they are not silenced.”

2017 was the worst year on record for environmental defenders, with the majority of killings, attacks and threats centered around the Amazon. Many activists are targeted for defending their communities against illegal logging and the expansion of cattle ranches and agriculture like soy, palm oil and eucalyptus.