09 Mar 2021

Venue: Online | Webex

As a follow-up to the Human Rights Council Resolution 40/11 on the protection of the rights of persons engaged in the defense of the environment, adopted in 2019, the Geneva Road Map 40/11 seeks to ensure the effective implementation of the right to act for the protection of the environment and to promote free and safe spaces for information and discussion on environmental matters. This event is co-organized by the University of Geneva and Earthjustice, within the framework of the Geneva Environment Network and under the sponsorship of Norway, in parallel to the 46th session of the Human Rights Council to draw what this Roadmap for the protection of environmental defenders should be in 2021 and at the same time to prepare taking stock in 2022 of their realization, their impact and of the so urgently needed reversal of the current worrying trend.

Geneva Roadmap 40/11

Human Right Council Resolution 40/11 – Recognizing the contribution of environmental human rights defenders to the enjoyment of human rights, environmental protection and sustainable development – was adopted by the Human Rights Council by consensus on 21 March 2019. Following the adoption of the resolution, platforms, coalitions and networks of defenders met in February 2020 to launch the Geneva Roadmap 40/11 for the implementation of this Human Rights Council Resolution 40/11. The actions envisaged at the time were thwarted by the pandemic and its consequences, but the orientations of this Roadmap defined then remain fully relevant.

Milestones and Opportunities in 2021

2020 was to be an exceptional year for the environment, given the important conferences that were to be held on the subject. In the end, it will have been the year of the coronavirus (Sars-Cov-2). However, this turnaround confirms, if need be, the crucial role of environmental issues. If the exact cause of this pandemic remains to be clarified, it is part of the worrying emergence for several decades of new pandemics resulting from zoonoses, showing the consequences of massive degradation of the natural environment of our planet. Yet, while the protection and restoration of this environment is clearly becoming a priority, intimidation, attacks and violations of the fundamental rights of those who commit themselves to it continue to increase.

Global actors strive to make up for lost time and make 2021 the year of the environment. This raises important hopes. But for this year to be so, it must also be the year of the protection for the people who are working towards its protection in the first place.

Several events on the international scene offer critical opportunities in 2021, as potential milestones in the realization of this Roadmap. These include both global and regional processes in both the environmental and human rights spheres.

A significant number of environmental events will take place in 2021. In addition to their contribution to safeguarding the planet’s environment, all of them will have the potential to incorporate measures addressing needs and rights of environmental human rights defenders.


By intervention order



Permanent Representative of the Republic of Fiji to the United Nations in Geneva, President of the Human Rights Council


Deputy Permanent Representative, Norway

David BOYD

UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment (video message)


Programme Officer, Law Division, UNEP

Regional Steps in 2021


Legal Focal Point for EECCA countries, European ECO Forum | Senior Policy Expert, Resource & Analysis Center Society and Environment


Chair of the Aarhus Convention Meeting of the Parties


Director, Environmental Democracy Practice, WRI


Co-Founder, NOT1MORE

Environmental International Milestones in 2021


Programme Officer, Law Division, UNEP


Senior Expert Environmental Justice, IUCN Netherlands

Ameyali RAMOS

Vice-Chair, IUCN Commission on Environmental, Economic and Social Policy (CEESP)

Sébastien DUYCK

Senior Attorney, Climate & Energy Program, Center for International Environmental Law

H.E. Amb. Rita FRENCH

International Ambassador for Human Rights, and Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations and other International Organizations in Geneva, United Kingdom



Human Rights Lawyer, Mexican Center for Environmental Law | Defending Land and Environmental Defenders Coalition


Thematic Coordination Manager, International Land Coalition


Executive Director, International Service for Human Rights


Executive Director, Universal Rights Group


Senior lecturer and researcher, Environmental Governance and Territorial Development, University of Geneva



H.E. Amb. Nazhat SHAMEEN KHAN | Permanent Representative of the Republic of Fiji to the United Nations in Geneva | President of the Human Rights Council

In March 2019, the Human Rights Council (HRC) adopted the Resolution 40/11, which recognized the contributions of environmental human rights defenders (EHRDs) around the world in supporting States to realize the 2030 Agenda and urged all states to take all necessary measures to ensure their rights, protection and safety. Since then, the HRC continued work for the protection of EHRDs.

At the current session (HRC46), the Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment reported many cases of EHRDs suffering from violence, intimidation, or criminalization for the courageous efforts to protect water and note that States must protect EHRDs from such threats, and investigate, prosecute and punish the perpetrators of those crimes (A/HRC/46/28).

A report presented by Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders at HRC46 indicated that 1323 human rights defenders have been killed since 2015, and of those, EHRDs are the most targeted (A/HRC/46/35). This is an unacceptable situation, that deserves our full attention and efforts to change.

Jannicke GRAATRUD | Deputy Permanent Representative, Norway

Over the last year, Covid-19 has forced us to change the way we live and the lack of progress to address biodiversity loss, pollution and climate change has been disheartening. International cooperation to face these issues is facing with the additional challenge of negotiations through virtual format and we must be mindful of the need for inclusive and transparent processes in the digital spaces. Nonetheless, action to address environmental crises cannot be postponed or weakened. We must act now, and with urgency.

While we have not been able made substantive progress at the international level, EHRDs have continued to fight for a safe, clean, health and sustainable environment. Their invaluable contribution to our shared environment affects us all. However, intimidation, attacks and violations of their fundamental rights has continued to increase. We need to be good allies and ensure they are protected.

The Resolution 40/11 provides a strong mandate to governments and to civil society to increase efforts to protect EHRDs. It was a global recognition that more needs to be done to protect those on the front lines. Taking stocks and intensifying our efforts is essential to ensure effective implementation of the resolution. Incorporating and implementing measures to address the rights of EHRDs into the many relevant environmental meetings in 2021 will be extremely valuable.

David BOYD | UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment

We are in the midst of a global environmental emergency, and the world needs more people to stand up for the protection and restoration of the air, water, soil, biodiversity and climate that we all depend on. We need defenders of the right to a healthy environment, indigenous rights, the rights of the child, and other human rights. Yet, in far too many States, these are dangerous activities. There are more than 200 documented murders of EHRDs every year, and this is just the tip of an iceberg of violence, criminalization, harassment and intimidation.

Instruments are the global and regional level to protect EHRDs are there – the Resolution 40/11, the Escazu Agreement, the Aarhus Convention with a potential new rapid response mechanism -, and a growing number of States have put national responses mechanisms in place. But we need more action to protect EHRDs who are at risk right now, as situation has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. We need immediate implementation of existing mechanisms to protect EHRDs and the enforcement of existing environmental laws.

We need to use a rights-based approach to conservation, preventing pollution and climate change. Evidence demonstrates that protecting the rights of indigenous people and local communities produces positive conservation outcomes. We need to build capacity, reduce corruption and strengthen the rule of law. We need to take action to protect the heroic individual and communities who fight for this beautiful planet we are so lucky to call home.

Angela KARIUKI | Programme Officer, Law Division, UNEP

A year ago, we all met to discuss how different entities could support the implementation of the Resolution 40/11 in a coordinated manner. Since then, the situation has only gotten worse for EHRDs. A number of organizations have documented the threats to and killings of EHRDs. A global analysis by Frontline Defenders found that 331 defenders were targeted and killed in 2020, 69% of which were people working on land, indigenous people or environmental rights.

Amid all the damage and roll back of environmental law that the pandemic has caused, opportunities have arisen to include diverse voices in recovery processes, including EHRDs. Besides UNEP’s Defenders Policy, new protection mechanisms for EHRDs are being developed at global and regional level.

Regional Steps in 2021

Aarhus Convention: Introduction | Yves LADOR

The Aarhus Convention covers the three pillars set out in the Rio declaration (principle 10): access to information, public participation, and access to justice in environmental matters. The convention covers the UNECE region, with Parties from Portugal to Kazakhstan. The convention was one of the first environmental instruments to integrate human rights through a Compliance Committee whose authority is recognized by all Parties. The committee’s role is to receive communications from the public, States or Secretariat about issues of non-compliance.

When the convention was signed, it seemed that the system was complete and allowed for full implementation of the convention. However, it appears that it is not exactly true. Therefore, the Conference of the Parties in October in Geneva will discuss a Rapid Response Mechanism (RMM) that could complement the existing Compliance Committee.

Aarhus Convention: A Rapid Response Mechanism (RRM) for Defenders ? | Andriy ANDRUSEVYCH

The compliance mechanism is a great achievement of the Convention; however, it is not fit to react to many situations where timing is key. One of the main cases that led to the discussion of the EHRDs under the Aarhus Convention was related to the harassment and persecution of environmental activists in Belarus. While the facts took place in 2009 and 2012, the case was finally decided in 2017 under the compliance mechanism. The timeline was too long to actually help the EHRDs which were facing great pressure.

These situations are wrong, we all know it. One shouldn’t feel unsafe just for raising environmental concerns. This feeling of being unsafe prevents the convention and its participatory system from being effective. This is one of the main reasons why the Aarhus Convention is discussing to establish a Rapid Response Mechanism which would be designed to react to such situations and to help citizens and the parties to the convention to mitigate such cases of harassment, persecution or criminalization. My key message it that, if we are to encourage citizens to participate and to seek information, we must ensure that they feel protected from threats by private entities, by the state itself, or by anybody else.

Aarhus Convention: Message from the Chair | H.E. Maia BITADZE

It’s a great pleasure to address the issues of rights of environmental defenders under the Aarhus Convention today. Article 3(8)  of the convention deals specifically with this issue and requires Parties “ensure that persons exercising their rights in conformity with the provisions of this Convention shall not be penalized, persecuted or harassed in any way for their involvement.” This provision covers various groups, including indigenous people, vulnerable and marginalized populations.

The safety of environmental defenders is increasingly recognized as a critical component of the convention. This includes addressing threats, violence, intimidation, detention, and other attacks to EHRDs, but also overcomes challenges of impunity of the authors of such acts. In response to these concerns, the Bureau of the Convention issued a proposal for a Rapid Response Mechanism (RRM) to deal with cases under Article 3(8), which considered inputs from Parties and interested stakeholders. The mechanism would establish an entity with a clear and strong mandate to deal with the cases.

There is a call to raise awareness of the obligations under Article 3(8), emanating in particular from officials of public authorities, law enforcement agencies, and state intelligence and security agencies. The many forms of retaliation against EHRDs need to be properly brought to justice, and impartial investigation must be conducted. The proposal for RRM will be submitted to the Working group of the Parties at its next meeting in June 2021. Depending on the outcomes, it could be brought up to Conference of the Parties in October 2021 for adoption. The proposal fostered collaboration with other UN institutions, specialized agencies and multilateral agreements. There are strong links and opportunities to cooperative with several other mechanisms to protect EHRDs, including the HRC Resolution 40/11. Ensuring the safety of environmental defenders is critical to achieve 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals.

ECLA Escazu Convention: What Will the Entry into Force Change in 2021 for Defenders? | Carole EXCELL

The Escazu Agreement has been signed by 24 countries and ratified by 12 countries so far. It will be coming into force on 22 April. This agreement presents many opportunities, but also some challenges in terms of ensuring that that the obligation for Parties to guarantee a safe and enabling environment will be implemented.

Article 9 that of the convention details the obligation for Parties to recognize, protect, and promote human rights defenders in environmental matters and to take appropriate, effective and timely measures to prevent, investigate, and punish attacks. The interim period represents an opportunity for countries and civil society to create forums and discuss how this will be implemented. Countries that have put in place mechanisms to protect EHRDs could review their efforts and share their experience across the region. Latin American and the Carribean see the higher numbers of threats and killings of EHRDs. It’s important to look at the reality of the situation and consider the challenges of institutionalization, legal and policy frameworks, recording and reporting of attacks beyond killings. There is a great opportunity for countries to do this work now to facilitate implementation of the provisions.

The interim period is also the opportunity to ensure that indigenous people, local communities, and others know about the agreement, as many are not yet aware of its existence. We need to ensure that they can participate in the convention processes, and that they understand how they can get involved in the tasks forces, the convention itself, and the creation of rules on implementation and compliance. Discussions on rules of procedures during the interim period creates great opportunities for broad engagement and to assess the existing legal gaps.

Despite these opportunities, there are many challenges to be addressed. Indigenous people in particular are subject to more attacks and threats than any others in the region. During the pandemic, illegal mining and logging has thrived, while land grabbing and criminalization increased. Underlying issues of conflicts and prior informed consent still exist. There are also key challenges with regards to institutionalizing the collection of data around incidence of attacks and threats against EHRDs, as currently very few countries report on this incidence and how they charge perpetrators. Information and transparency on this matter is a real challenge. Lastly, there is a challenge with regards to new institutions, laws and policies that need to be put in place to allow compliance with the agreement.

The Escazu Agreement brings a whole lot of hope to the region. There is lots of hope that the countries who have not yet ratified the agreement will do so in due time. Civil society is very eager to continue to push for this before the first Conference of the Parties.

Southeast Asia: Situation of Environmental Human Rights Defenders During the Pandemic | Fran LAMBRICK

NOT1MORE has been working on investigating the impact of the pandemic and government responses in Southeast Asia on environmental defenders. A report based on interviews with 30 members of civil society and front line EHRDs will soon be published. The findings reveal very severe impacts of Covid-19 restrictions and regulations across the region, and particularly in Philippines, Indonesia, Myanmar and Cambodia.

Many laws establishing a state of emergency had the effect to blur the lines between legitimate peaceful protect and criminal activity. Vaguely formulated legislation, for instance state of emergency in Cambodia and the anti-terrorism act in the Philippines, create greater risk of criminalization, which is a very present threat to EHRDs. In Indonesia, laws on environmental regulation and labor rights, restricted participation in environmental impact assessment processes, so that members of concerned communities are not able to participate as they have been in the past.

Restriction on gathering and travel have also impacted the work of EHRDs, their ability to organize and have their voices heard. This is particularly the case for remote communities who are at the front lines of environmental protection, such as indigenous people. Restrictions highlighted the digital divide and have disproportional impacted those who do not have internet access or devices. Some companies have used these circumstances to push through their projects without getting priori informed consent or consultation.

Another observed trend relates to the acceleration of development projects and schemes. While Southeast was not very impacted by deaths due to Covid-19 in comparison with other places of the world, these countries have suffered enormous economic impact. Unfortunately, the responses has not been a green recovery and sustainable economy. Rather, governments have turned to development projects, constructions, and extraction of natural resources.

In Southeast Asia, there is no regional human rights court, nor any kind of intergovernmental agreement. It would be very beneficial if States could be encouraged to move in that direction.

Environmental International Milestones in 2021

UN Environment Programme | Angela KARIUKI

There has been a couple of key developments in UNEP’s and UN’s efforts to contribute to addressing the situation of EHRDs. In 2018, UNEP developed an internal policy and response mechanism on defenders. The programme has supported over 110 defenders, and several lessons can be drawn from the implementation. Therefore, UNEP is focusing on reviewing this policy with clearer lines of accountability, improved response time, and a more gender-inclusive and child-sensitive approach.

UNEP will also focus a large part of its activities in 2021 on good practices on environmental defenders, in partnership with Universal Rights Group and OHCHR. This workstream will contribute to changing the negative narrative often associated with the work of EHRDs. While we continue to monitor the muzzling and killing of EHRDs, we also want to shine a spotlight on the good stories and practices in different regions and the efforts underway by EHRDs to empower their local communities. An interactive publication, as well as new tools will be developed based on the findings.

This work fully links with the efforts to operationalize the Secretary General’s call to action, adopted last February, especially with regards to developing a system-wide approach to the protection of EHRDs to help increase the UN’s capacity to protect and promote EHDRs both at global and country level.  An important element here is how we align with existing guidance and UN tools. These include for instance the guidance note on civic spaces, and processes underway through the Interagency Support Group on Indigenous Issues. An important element of this workstream will be to consult with defenders themselves so that their inputs, suggestions and needs are integrated.

In conclusion, many opportunities exist, and I am hopeful that we can use the Geneva Roadmap to ensure that we take advantage of these opportunities and meaningfully contribute to addressing the often deadly and devastating situation that EHRDs find themselves in.

IUCN World Conservation Congress | Liliana JAUREGUI

The IUCN World Conservation Congress in September 2021 in Marseille is one of the milestones coming up this year. It will bring together several thousands of leaders from governments, civil society, indigenous people and academia with the goal of conserving the environment. What can be expected from the congress with regards to the protection of EHRDs and the promotion of their work?

A resolution on protecting environmental human and people’s rights defenders and whistleblowers will be presented for approval. While previous resolutions have address specific regions and contexts, this resolution focuses on the global level, with a particular focus on the threats to indigenous people and local communities. The resolution explicit link between the accelerated loss of biodiversity and the increased violence toward those defending the remaining biodiversity. It also stresses that we have been failing to protect both biodiversity and EHRDs despite the proliferation of environmental law.

The resolution also invites governments to echo the concerns of EHRDs, in particular with regards to land conflicts which are a particular driver of aggression and intimidation. It also encourages governments and civil society to change the narrative and show the value that EHRDs bring to society for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

On the practical side, the Congress will show experiences and exchange strategies. As a community, we will also promote coordination to counter the risk of multiple and fragmented efforts. Beside the resolution, we can then expect than IUCN members will consolidate their group efforts to protect defenders and collaborate on policy and concrete action on the ground.

IUCN Commission on Environmental, Economic and Social Policy | Ameyali RAMOS

For the past three years, the IUCN Commission on Environmental, Economic and Social Policy (CEESP) has taken the issues of EHRDs as a priority of its work and contribution to IUCN. Our members and partners are affected by the issue, as they work directly on the ground and impact EHRDs. CEESP is committed to the Geneva Roadmap and organized a couple of events with some of the panel today and will continue to support these dialogues and exchanges to bring better awareness on the issue.

CEESP sees its role as a convener, boosting international cooperation and creating a shared framework and language for building bridges. 2021 is a year of opportunity. In June, CEESP will launch a special issue of the journal Policy Matters on defenders that weaves together different forms of knowing – from testimonials and case studies to poems and music. Additionally, a task force will be launched at the start of the IUCN Congress to look specifically at EHRDs and the work that CEESP can do within the union and with our members and partners to support them.

Within IUCN, CEESP raised the issue of EHRDs to the IUCN Council and created a committee on human rights and conservation issues. This committee should inform the governance work that IUCN does at the global, regional, and member level. CEESP is also organizing a high-level panel that will focus on the implementation of the motion on EHRDs (Resolution 039). This little piece at different scale will hopefully contribute and support EHRDs.

UN Biodiversity Conference (CBD COP15) | Peter LARSEN

The Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP15), which should take place this year in Kunming, China, will negotiate a post-2020 biodiversity framework. Questions have arisen about the ability to bring on board EHRDs, to include them in those discussions, and to address their issues as part of this framework. Hopefully, the connection can be strengthened, and integrated in specific targets or as part of a broader enabling rights-based framework for the psot-2020 biodiversity framework. Therefore, the CBD COP15 presents clear opportunities to address EHRDs issues.

UN Biodiversity Conference (CBD COP15) | Yves LADOR

As we head toward the 15th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, a few points need to be kept in mind. First, we should remember that the CBD has been developed on the basis of action coming from civil society. Civil society always been extremely involved in the institutions of this convention, and this should continue.

Secondly, in the development of the post-2020 biodiversity framework, there should be stronger elements of human rights obligations. While these considerations were in previous drafts, they have been removed and they should be brought back. Likewise, EHRDs must be clearly mentioned. There is a clear pressure coming from NGOs, and we hope the role IUCN plays in the CBD can also bring this topic back on the table.

Third and lastly, we must ensure that Kunming will be a safe place. Currently, many people who are working in the field are unsure whether Kunming will be a safe space where they can come freely come, attend, and speak and where their voices will be heard in the process. It is challenge for the CBD to ensure that Kunming is an effective, open and free space, according to the human rights norms.

UN Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC COP26) | Sébastien DUYCK

The UN Climate Change Conferences (UNFCCC COPs) are a crucial compass that guide sustainable development policies beyond the strict topics discussed in the negotiations halls. Similar challenges and opportunities as identified for the CBD can be observed in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), both in the perspective of the content they can deliver and in the context of the hosting of these events.

Indeed, EHRDs have not yet been addressed explicitly in the UNFCCC, despite the importance of ensuring public participation in climate policies. Morevoer, EHRDs have faced restrictions and violations of their rights when trying to participate in the climate conferences in the past. The conferences are supposed to resume this year under the leadership of the UK presidency, and this create opportunities to address these issues.

In terms of the content of the conferences, the most significant element that is expected to be delivered at Glasgow is the operationalization of carbon trading mechanisms under the Paris Agreement. This is critical from an EHRDs perspective, because in the absence of specific provisions to protect human rights, projects can be validated under carbon trade mechanisms despite violations of human rights on the ground. There are cases of farmers being shot dead because of their opposition to carbon sequestrated projects that we funded under the schemes of the Kyoto Protocol. We need to make sure that no carbon trading mechanisms is operationalized in Glasgow without an effective and adequate human rights standard.

The COP26 will also review the work established under the UN climate agreements in relation to public participation, access to information and climate education. So far, these areas of work have done very little to embrace the human rights aspects. As Parties review this mandate for the years to come, we must use this opportunity to bring light on a right-based approach to public participation.

Finally, we have seen in the past environmental advocates detained as they entered the host country. Hopefully, the UK presidency will pay attention to this issue. COP26 President issued a statement that this COP will be the most inclusive climate conference ever organized. High standards must be upheld to ensure that this is indeed an inclusive COP, despite the Covid-19 challenges.

UN Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC COP26) | H.E. Amb. Rita FRENCH

Raising the ambition on climate change – on mitigation, adaptation and support to developing countries – is the biggest priority for the UK Presidency of COP26. The pandemic presents opportunities to develop green and resilient recovery plans, that deliver for the planet and the economy while protecting communities and human rights.

Human rights considerations are essential to the successful implementation of countries’ nationally determined contributions (NDCs) and climate change can undermine the enjoyment of human rights. The UK will use its position as president to ensure that States comply with their human rights obligations when taking action to respond to climate change.

In order to deliver an inclusive COP26, the UK is engaging with non-state actors and wants to hear the voices of indigenous and marginalized groups and actors from the global South and wider community. The UK is also committed to ensuring that the voices of EHRDs are heard in the conversations. In March 2019, the UK developed an EHRDs Plan to ensure that all our diplomatic missions across the globe take action to support EHRDs. The UK will continue to monitor cases through its diplomatic network and raise issues with governments. As we are aware of the situation in which many EHRDs are, it is critical that we protect them.

The UK is also committed to championing the participation of indigenous people throughout COP26, working closely with these communities on climate change issues through the UNFCCC platform. The COP26 Advisory Group has three indigenous representatives and will continue to invite representatives to join ministerial roundtables. As stewards of 80% of the remaining biodiversity on earth, indigenous people are leaders in how to develop nature-based resilient and effective solutions to climate change, through their knowledge. Their voices must be heard.

In conclusion, the UK acknowledges the work that EHRDs are doing on a daily basis in very difficult circumstances and reiterates its continuous support and willingness to their voices.


Andrea CERAMI | Mexican Center for Environmental Law | Defending Land and Environmental Defenders Coalition

2021 is a very important year for environmental defenders, as the Escazu Agreement comes into force in the Caribbean and Latin American Region. EHRDs are key to democracy and environmental protection. The protection of EHRDs depends not only on regulatory frameworks and laws, but also on political will, especially in environmental protection and development policy.

The situation in the region is truly worrying. Out of the 1323 murders of human rights defenders recorded by the Commission on Human Rights between 2015 and 2019, 75% of which happen in Latin American and the Caribbean. Many of the victims are EHRDs. In Mexico, we recorded about 500 attacks and 166 murders of EHRDs in Mexico since 2012. Considering this terrible situation, we hope the Escazu Agreement can be an important step for the protection of EHRDs. Our work as an NGO focuses on empowering EHRDs and providing legal defense. We call on States to implement integral policies of prevention and protection of defenders.

Cristina CAMBIAGHI | International Land Coalition

EHRDs defenders are not only activists, but often people who live on the land and may not even see themselves as environmental defenders. These people are often evicted from their homes and suffer from land grabbing. The International Land Coalition is a network of more than 250 organizations working on the issue of land rights with a people-centered and human rights approach. Its work puts people at the center of policies, decision making and action.

Indigenous people, small scale farmers and family farmers who do not have their land tenure secured live in a very vulnerable situation and suffer violence. As previously mentioned, indigenous people’s role as guardians of conservation is important, but are often the victims, as their land and territorial rights are not secured.

Marc LIMON | Universal Rights Group

An enormous amount has been done over the recent years in terms of raising awareness of the rights of EHRDs, working on different UN resolutions, including EHDRs in regional agreements and mechanisms, and reaching out to EHRDs to collaborate and build capacity – one example being the Environment Rights portal.

To more forward, we should focus on three key aspects: (1) continue and expand engagement with EHRDs themselves, especially on capacity building, (2) change the narrative on EHRDs so that they are not seen perceived as against development and economic progress, but rather as supporters of sustainable development, and (3) push for global recognition of the right to a healthy environment.

Phil LYNCH | International Service for Human Rights

Because of the interdependence of human rights defenders, and environmental justice, protection and sustainability, it is essential that all environmental conferences and congresses be open and accessible to defenders. It is imperative that States and organizations ensure they defenders have a seat at the table and that they can participate fully in safety. Therefore, these conferences only be held only in those places where independent civil society is able to operate freely, and certainly not in closed or oppressive places or where reprisal is widespread or systematic.

Secondly, it vital that EHRDs can bring environmental issues and concerns at human rights fora, like the HRC and treaty bodies. Such fora should develop norms and jurisprudence to better recognize and protect EHRDs. In that regard, States at the HRC could play a leadership role in recognizing the right to a healthy environment. The work of EHDRs must be recognized as integral to the realization of the right to a healthy environment. Therefore, it is crucial that attacks and restrictions against them are understood as attacks on the environment that they see to preserve and protect.

Finally, while the Resolution 40/11 contains a number of references to the human rights and environmental responsibilities and impacts of business. In that regard, we call on all States who support defenders and the right to a healthy environment to engage constructively with the ongoing negotiations for a binding international treaty on business and human rights, ensure that defenders have a seat at the table, and that their interest and protection is guaranteed by the text.

Peter LARSEN | Environmental Governance and Territorial Development, University of Geneva

The Geneva Roadmap is far from being exhaustive, but it does remind us that we have clear milestones in 2021. These are opportunities to invite EHRDs to be part of the conservation and extend protection even more when necessary. Our quest to resolve climate change and wider conservation and environmental issues is too big to fail, yet no one is too small to take part in these efforts.

There are key questions we need to answer with regards to how we targets regional and global processes, how we ensure that the voices of EHRDs I heard, what new coalitions we might need, and whether we need to engage in new practices. In 2020, the Geneva Roadmap established four action goals: (1) reverse the tide of marginalization and attacks against environmental actors, (2) reinforce environmental rights, enabling civic spaces and accountability, (3) bridge initiatives and enhance cooperation, (4) break isolation and secure effective access to protection. We hope that the Geneva Roadmap 40/11 can continue to exchange annually to assess our progress.

The key milestones in 2021 are not only steps for climate change, land and the environment, but also for climate change, land and environmental defenders. Our minimum scenario is to ensure that defender issues are addressed and strengthened in these key environmental processes.


The following event, taking place on 22 March 2021, has been announced and could be of interest for the participants to this event: Enabling sustainable recovery with greater access to information, access to justice and public participation in environmental decision making.


In addition to the live WebEx and Facebook transmissions, the video is available on this webpage.

Video message from the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment

Video message by Andriy ANDRUSEVYCH on Aarhus Convention Rapid Response Mechanism (RRM) for Defenders