16 August 2019: The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the UN Human Rights Office signed a cooperation agreement on protecting environmental and human rights. The agreement responds to the growing threats to individuals and communities defending their environmental and land rights in many parts of the world. While seeking to increase support for national implementation of human rights-based environmental policies, the partnership aims to also promote global recognition and acceptance of the human right to a healthy environment.
The strengthened cooperation between UNEP and the UN Human Rights Office will better protections for environmental human rights defenders and their families, who often face violence, including killings and sexual violence, smear campaigns, and other forms of intimidation. The two agencies will monitor threats against environmental rights defenders; advocate for better protection; urge more effective accountability for perpetrators of violence and intimidation; develop networks of environmental human rights defenders; and promote meaningful and informed participation by rights defenders and civil society in environmental decision-making. The partnership will also increase support to national governments to promote human rights-based policies, especially in the sustainable management of natural resources, development planning, and actions to combat climate change.
Failing to protect biodiversity will also negatively impact the human rights to food and safe drinking water, and the rights of indigenous peoples.
On the occasion of the agreement’s launch, UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen underscored the need to curtail the use of anti-protest and anti-terrorism laws to criminalize the use of rights that should be constitutionally protected, adding that UNEP and the UN Human Rights Office are committed to assist state and non-state actors to promote, protect, and respect environmental and human rights.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet added that every state needs to be encouraged to develop and enforce national legal frameworks that uphold “the clear linkages between a healthy environment and the ability to enjoy all other human rights, including the rights to health, water, food, and even the right to life.”
Prior to this cooperation agreement, in June 2019, in a statement following the release of the latest global biodiversity assessment by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), a group of UN experts underscored that failing to protect biodiversity can be a human rights violation, as it can constitute a violation of the right to a healthy environment, a right legally recognized by 155 States. The experts explained that failing to protect biodiversity will also negatively impact the human rights to food and safe drinking water, and the rights of indigenous peoples. [UNEP Press Release] [UN Experts Statement] [UN Human Rights Office Press Release]