On Wednesday, Parliament adopted a report assessing the situation of environmental defenders around the world, and what the EU and third countries can do to better assist and protect these human rights activists from reprisals.
The text notes that the impact of climate change and the continued environmental degradation of freshwater resources, ecosystems, and livelihoods of communities are already preventing many from enjoying their human rights. This includes the rights to life, food security, safe drinking water and sanitation, health, housing, work and development, in many parts of the world.
It also highlights the very precarious situation for human rights defenders on the front line of climate action, who are often working to save their local communities, while facing abuse, intimidation, violence and murders in many isolated rural areas, and in a climate of near total impunity.
Therefore, MEPs state that the EU should do more to support environmental rights defenders, who are often members of various indigenous communities.
Fighting impunity at global level and establishing ‘ecocide’ as an international crime
The European Union should make the fight against impunity of environmental crimes at global level one of its key foreign policy priorities, MEPs urge. They encourage the EU and the member states, with the active support of the EU Special Representative for Human Rights, to pave the way within the International Criminal Court (ICC) towards new negotiations between the parties, in order to recognise ‘ecocide’ as an international crime under the Rome Statute.
The EU should also lead more efforts to support people displaced due to climate change who are no longer able to live in their places of residence, for example because of floods, drought, land destruction and other similar phenomena, MEPs say.
Corporate due diligence and accountability is crucial
Members further underline that corporate due diligence and sustainable corporate accountability are indispensable in preventing and protecting against severe human rights and environmental violations. They call on the EU to support sustainable and accountable corporate governance as an important element of the European Green Deal.
The text also urges all EU countries to implement effective regulatory measures to identify, assess, prevent, mitigate and monitor potential corporate-related human rights abuses and hold businesses accountable to ensure they fulfil their due diligence obligations regarding the impact of climate change on human rights.
For all the details, the report will be available in full here (19.05.2021). It was adopted by 518 votes in favour, 97 against with 77 abstentions.
“Climate change and increased global warming is not just scientific evidence. It is a tangible reality that is having a tremendous impact on the full enjoyment of human rights of present and future generations. This is why, from the European Parliament, we call for the fundamental right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment to be guaranteed through urgent and concrete actions and commitments both at international and EU level, by including it as a right within the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. Additionally, we call on the EU to integrate a human rights perspective in the external dimension of the European Green Deal, and to fight impunity for the perpetrators of environmental crimes by helping to improve access to justice and by recognising ecocide as an international crime under the Rome Statute”, said rapporteur Soraya Rodríguez Ramos (Renew Europe, Spain) after the vote.
“Secondly, we urge the EU to further protect environmental defenders. In 2020, 69% of human rights defenders killed worldwide were environmental defenders. Today, we demand robust protection mechanisms for them, as well as further access to justice and effective remedies and redress, with a special focus on the need to respect the right to free, prior and informed consent of local communities and indigenous peoples”, she added.
The report was drafted by Members on the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights, led by Ms Rodríguez Ramos.
According to the 2020 Global Witness report, 212 land and environmental activists were killed in 2019, which was a 30% increase compared to 2018. Around 40% of these victims were indigenous people and traditional land owners, and more than two thirds of the killings took place in Latin America.
Earlier this year, Parliament paved the way for a new EU law that requires companies to address human rights and environmental standards within their value chains. Read more about that here.