Climate protest in Frankfurt, Germany, with a large number of people with someone holding up a sign saying "There is no planet B"
29 Feb 2024

Workshop “Protection of environmental defenders and their freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association across Europe” – Outcomes Report

ENNHRI has published a report that captures the discussions of a workshop on the repression of civil disobedience in the context of environmental activism. It includes recommendations for NHRIs who wish to find more effective ways of working with and protecting the rights of environmental defenders. The workshop was held on the occasion of ENNHRI 10th anniversary conference and was led by Michel Forst (UN Special Rapporteur on Environmental Defenders under the Aarhus Convention).

ENNHRI Outcomes Report and recommendations for NHRIs

The newly published Outcomes Report is an important tool to enhance ENNHRI and NHRIs work in this field.

It starts with an overview of the Special Rapporteur’s preliminary findings on the repression of environmental defenders engaging in civil disobedience in Europe, against the backdrop of shrinking democratic space across Europe.

The report continues with the presentation of the panel discussion, that gave space to the testimonies of three young environmental defenders and the German Institute for Human Rights. The environmental defenders spoke about their personal experience as activists, illustrating the difficulties they face and the challenges surrounding the protection of their human rights. The German Institute for Human Rights shared the experience of an NHRI dealing with these issues, emphasizing the important role that it can play.

Finally, NHRIs, climate activists and other stakeholders participating to the workshop engaged in interactive group discussions and formulated recommendations for NHRIs and ENNHRI on the concrete role that they can play to address states’ responses to environmental civil disobedience and on advocacy opportunities at national, regional and international level. These recommendations are compiled in the report.

NHRIs can play a vital role in addressing these challenges. They can offer protection to environmental defenders and uphold the principles of human rights, ensuring that they are safeguarded against persecution and harm and that their voices are heard. This is also a transversal priority for ENNHRI, interlinking with the wider framework of ENNHRI’s work on climate change and on human rights defenders.

Workshop on the protection of environmental defenders

The workshop was co-organised by ENNHRI, the French National Consultative Commission on Human Rights (CNCDH) and the UN Special Rapporteur on Environmental Defenders under the Aarhus Convention and took place on 10 October 2023 in the framework of ENNHRI’s 10th Anniversary.

It was part of a wider project on environmental defenders and civil disobedience, led by the CNCDH, in cooperation with the UN Special Rapporteur on Environmental Defenders under the Aarhus Convention. The project was funded through the recently launched ENNHRI Regranting Programme, aiming at supporting the institutional capacity of its members and encouraging them to share national initiatives within the network.

Position Paper of the Special Rapporteur on Environmental Defenders

On 28 February 2024 the UN Special Rapporteur on Environmental Defenders under the Aarhus Convention released a position paper on State repression of environmental protest and civil disobedience: a major threat to human rights and democracy.

The position paper provides an overview of the Special Rapporteur’s observations on the trend of repression and criminalization of peaceful environmental protest and civil disobedience identified during his visits to various European countries that are Parties to the Aarhus Convention.

The position paper explains that this trend spans at least four dimensions: the media and political discourse; legislation and policy; law enforcement; and the courts. The paper also gives a snapshot of the main issues for each of these dimensions, illustrating them with examples drawn from various countries. It concludes with five calls for action to States on how to make a profound change in how they respond to environmental protest, and also urges the human rights community to coordinate their efforts to support this call for action.