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Special Rapporteur on Environmental Defenders visits Denmark

The first Special Rapporteur on Environmental Defenders under the Aarhus Convention, Michel Forst, visited Denmark from 8-10 May as part of his European information tour explaining the new mandate. He met with various Danish government officials and civil society organisations, including IWGIA.

“There is an increasing trend currently in many countries, including EU States, to vilify the work of environmental defenders and to launch large campaigns of defamation, calling them eco-terrorists or against progress or anti-development. And it´s not only attacks against the people, but also attacks against the cause for which they are trying to fight. The space is shrinking.” Forst said during his interview with IWGIA.

This mandate is the first international mechanism for the protection of environmental defenders, which includes Indigenous Peoples, and was established within the legally binding framework of the Aarhus Convention - the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Convention. The Convention’s aim is to protect every person’s right to live in a healthy environment.

In the face of increasing threats to environmental defenders, this mandate aims to take measures to protect any person who is experiencing persecution or under imminent threat of harassment. The creation of this mandate is an acknowledgment of the seriousness of the risks that environmental defenders face and the urgency of providing them with better protection. It is therefore a valuable tool for Indigenous Peoples, who are often environmental defenders, to enforce their rights as a people participating in the preservation of biodiversity and sustainable ecosystems.


>> To hear more about the mandate  and Forst´s vision for his term, watch our interview with him here


What is the mandate?

The mandate for the Special Rapporteur was created two years ago by the 46 member States of the Aarhus Convention, which mainly includes the states within the European Union and broader Europe. It is built on three pillars: access to information, public participation and access to justice if these previous rights are violated.

As such, if any of the pillars are violated and are brought the attention of the Special Rapporteur, that opens up the opportunity for them to look into the issue and act accordingly.

“I want to hear those who are affected not only by the government but also by European companies operating abroad. And then I will have the possibility to provide protection measures and to speak to the CEOs of those companies.” Forst said.

In fact, as Forst explained, the jurisdiction of the mandate not only covers environmental defenders within the member parties of the Convention, but also any operations, business or otherwise, that are headquartered in the member parties. This also extends to subsidiaries and contractors hired by such companies. As a former UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders (2014-2020), Forst is familiar with the tools at his disposal in his new capacity, including using diplomatic channels with States and companies; penning letters of allegations, urgent appeals, public statements and press releases to raise awareness; conduct country visits; and, under the auspices of the mandate, he can also attend trials in courts as an observer to monitor legal proceedings.

He also intends to collaborate closely with various UN Special Rapporteurs and other UN mechanisms for stronger and coordinated responses. Indeed, one of his key priorities for this mandate is to create bridges between the human rights and environmental movements and mechanisms.

What are his upcoming plans?

In the short term, Forst is beginning his work this year with a tour of some capitals among the States within the Aarhus region in order to raise awareness of the Convention and to garner support for the mandate, both practically and financially.

As part of the tour, however, he is also listening to the issues that environmental defenders are facing both within the member States and outside at the hands of corporations and other actors based in member States.

Throughout 2023, he will continue such consultations, by holding three regional consultations with environmental defenders within the Aarhus region this year.

Then, in 2024, he plans on holding the same type of reginal consultations with defenders in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East.

As the consultations take place, he is also receiving, researching and responding to complaints and reports of abuses. 

How can people access the mandate?

The mandate offers a simple process for the submission of complaints. Any member of the public can submit a complaint, even if domestic remedies have not been exhausted. The forms received from individuals or groups of environmental defenders that are facing risks or threats are investigated  and the best possible intervention tools are assessed to help the situation. 

>>The form is available on the mandate´s website

>>Learn more about the Special Rapporteur on Environmental Defenders here

Tags: Global governance, Climate, Human rights

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About IWGIA

IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs - is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting and defending Indigenous Peoples’ rights. Read more.

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