Ireland to help provide ‘rapid response mechanism’ to ‘conservationists’

Ireland must lead a global effort to put in place a ‘rapid response mechanism’ to protect ‘conservationists’ – people who are being persecuted for raising concerns about environmental damage in which they live.

Human rights organization Global Witness recorded 1,539 environmental defenders killed between 2012 and last year around the world, a figure widely viewed as a blatant understatement due to underreporting.

The government is to provide 50 percent of the funding – approximately $ 100,000 (€ 85,000) per year for the next four years in partnership with Austria – to support the establishment and operation of the mechanism.

It will operate under the auspices of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and the Aarhus Convention. The announcement coincided with a meeting of the parties to the convention in Geneva.

Incidents of persecution, criminalization and harassment of environmental defenders have been reported in 16 countries party to the convention since January 2017.

Environment Minister Eamon Ryan said Ireland’s commitment was “an expression of solidarity with conservationists across Europe and neighboring regions… we hope it can also serve as a model of best practice in other regions ”.

“This will ensure that people exercising their rights, in accordance with the provisions of the convention, are not penalized, persecuted or harassed in any way,” he said.

The mechanism, added Mr. Ryan, “will make the light of justice shine in dark corners. He will ask the party authorities to uphold the rule of law. It will be a voice for the women and men who are often the last line of defense for our land, our air, our forests, our waters and our wetlands ”.

‘Deeply concerned’

Attracta Uí Bhroin, Vice-President of the European Environment Bureau, said she wished to “warmly applaud this commitment from Ireland and Austria, which speaks volumes about a renewed and concrete commitment to the convention – and the right to be able to exercise rights under the convention without fear of persecution or harassment ”.

It also sends a strong message to conservationists around the world, she said. Although it applies in the UNECE region, “it is hoped that it will influence the establishment of similar mechanisms in other regions, where they are also needed in an increasingly desperate collective struggle to defend an environment without borders ”.

Ms. Uí Bhroin has often criticized the government on environmental issues but on this occasion she wished to salute her action.

Addressing this week’s meeting, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said he remained “deeply concerned about the targeting of environmental activists” and welcomed efforts to protect them.

“Twenty years ago, the Aarhus Convention entered into force, bridging the gap between human and environmental rights,” he said.

“Today, as the devastating effects of climate change continue to ravage the world, the main purpose of the Convention – to enable people to protect their well-being and that of future generations – has never been more critical. “

Mr. Ryan also confirmed Ireland’s support for the Geneva Declaration on Environmental Democracy for Sustainable, Inclusive and Resilient Development.

“As we face the next decade of challenges in achieving our sustainable development goals, enabling our citizens to actively participate in large-scale land use planning and infrastructure development processes is more important than ever. It is time for the Geneva Declaration to reaffirm the human rights and environmental principles of the Aarhus Convention.

Meanwhile, the government is to co-sponsor a United Nations Human Rights Council resolution that recognizes “a right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment”. The resolution, which for the first time clarifies the law, was recently adopted by the council.

“The co-sponsorship of this resolution (…) demonstrates Ireland’s support for climate change mitigation and adaptation around the world,” Ryan said. “It also strengthens climate change mitigation and adaptation here in Ireland. Ensuring the quality of our environment is implicit in our own government agenda.

Recognizing this fundamental right is particularly important now, he added. “The world’s attention is rightly focused on climate action, as we will see at COP26 in Glasgow. Closer to home, we will be launching the 2021 Climate Action Plan in the coming weeks. It will outline the practical steps we need to take to achieve our own climate goals. “

Foreign Minister Simon Coveney noted that this important bill of rights “gives momentum to our international efforts to address pressing environmental and climate issues”.

This helps to strengthen the conditions for an effective investment of Ireland’s contributions to climate and environmental finance, he said. “These contributions support and lead essential adaptation work in the countries most affected today by the climate and biodiversity crisis.

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