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An Action Guide on Environmental Human Rights Defenders (EHRDs) and Environmental Justice (EJ)

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Brazilian labour leader and environmentalist, Chico Mendes is considered one of the most influential leaders in the global environmental movement. He was assassinated in 1988 while campaigning to stop forest clearance in the Brazilian Amazon. Today, an average of four environmental human rights defenders (EHRDs) are killed each week, (50 in 2018 so far), and the world is facing an environmental rights crisis.  

As economies grow, the international competition and demand for natural resources continue to grow as well. Violations of environmental rights are on the rise, with environmental defenders and their communities deeply affected by the consequences of irresponsible exploitation of land and natural resources made possible by corruption, unchecked corporate power, impunity, and weak law enforcement

All over the world, in India and Ethiopia to Brazil and Malaysia, indigenous groups and minority populations face threats to their lands, environment, and livelihoods. EHRDs play a crucial role in alerting the global community to these issues and ongoing struggles. 

What makes environmental defenders distinctive is how they link issues of health, life and freedom from oppression to the protection of the natural environment that sustains them.

  – Alice Harrison, Communications Adviser with Global Witness

Often located in remote areas, environmental defenders work in contexts where there is little to no access to outside communication and support systems, making them easy targets for reprisals such as forced displacement and extrajudicial killings. Indigenous communities and other marginalized groups, such as women, in particular, are targets of intimidation, gender-based and sexual violence.

National and international legal mechanisms often fail to adequately protect environmental defenders or provide little assistance.

This Action Guide is a round-up of information and resources offered by and for grassroots organizers and transnational solidarity actors working alongside EHRDs in the ongoing struggle for land protection and environmental rights. Highlighting the threats and challenges that EHRDs face is important information to have when deciding how best to support their campaigns and movements

In the face of injustice, a quote in memory of Chico Mendes contains an important message,

“We cannot remain silent in the face of such a situation. We are unable to remain silent in the face of so much injustice.”


This blog post was created by members of the HRC team: Education and Communications Interns Byron Kerry and Kyra Tessman, Community Engagement Associate Alannah Bonalos, Executive director and founder Nicola Barrach-Yousefi.

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