Human Rights Day 2020 – Justice for all

Dec 10, 2020

On International Human Rights Day we demand justice and protection for all environmental and human rights defenders.

In the last few years, Friends of the Earth Asia Pacific’s member groups’ staff, activists, and supporters have been beaten, kidnapped, jailed, and even murdered while fighting for environmental justice. This year was no exception. 

Russian Social-Ecological Union / Friends of the Earth Russia summed up the preliminary results of pressure on environmental activists in Russia for 11 months of 2020. At least 150 episodes of pressure on more than 400 environmental activists were recorded in 25 regions of Russia. One activist died, 15 received injuries of varying severity, 12 criminal cases were initiated, and more than 250 administrative cases.

In Bangladesh, environmental activists who spoke out against industrial pollution faced intimidation and harassment. This incident demonstrates an ongoing pattern of abuse and harassment towards environmental defenders in Bangladesh.

In Indonesia, members of WALHI, advocating for the fishing community’s rights who oppose the development of a port in Makassar, eastern Indonesia, were subjected to online attacks and threats from anonymous groups. October 2020, also marked one year since environmental lawyer and activist Golfrid Siregar from WALHI died in suspicious circumstances. One year later, justice has still not been served and there is no clarity about his death.

In Palestine, Israel had planned to forcefully annex significant parts of the occupied Palestinian territories from 1 July 2020, which effectively would have given them control of Palestinian lands and natural resources, and isolate Palestinian communities in the governorates of the occupied West Bank. Though this plan has been halted for now, it has not changed the fact that the rights of Palestinians are continuously violated through land confiscation, discrimination and detention, confiscation of natural resources, food insecurity, house demolitions, forced displacement and targeting of women activists and defenders of territories. 

In Malaysia, fishers, indigenous and local communities continue to desperately defend their territories from destructive projects. These communities are at risk of losing their economic and social rights with the loss of their livelihoods. 

In April 2020, approximately 100 members of the police accompanied fuel tanks entering an Oceana Gold mining facility in Didipio, Nueva Vizcaya, in the Philippines. The provincial and municipal police forcibly dispersed a community barricade that had been in place since July 2019. After the expiration of Oceana Gold’s mining agreement, the barricade was established to ensure that mining activities cease. Furthermore, the introduction of the new Terror Law — formally known as the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 — is a draconian measure that would worsen the already atrocious human rights situation in the Philippines, a country previously labeled the world’s deadliest country for land and environmental defenders. 

We remember Dilip Kumar Mahato, a 24year old environmental activist in Nepal, who was crushed to death by a tipper truck for protesting against the illegal extraction of construction material from the riverbed in Dhanusha.

In May 2020 alone there were at least 2 deadly gas leaks and a fire at the LG Corp Polymers plant in Andhra Pradesh and the Baghjan Oilfield of Oil India Limited (OIL) in the Tinsukia district of Assam. In the Andhra Pradesh incident, at least 12 people were killed but in both incidents several thousands of people have been severely impacted, apart from  the devastation caused to the surrounding environment. Both these incidences show patterns of corporate negligence and government leniency in India with a seeming lack of care for human rights or nature.

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused a rise in human rights violations, including incidents of police violence against those protesting openly against the lack of food, issuance of subpoenas to private citizens who have expressed frustration online over government relief packages, farmers being killed and harassed by companies for defending their territories, and the detentions of Palestinians during this period by Israeli authorities. 

Despite the risks, Defenders continue to fight for environmental justice. We are inspired by their perseverance and bravery in the face of adversity and their commitment to struggle on.  

Friends of the Earth Asia Pacific reaffirms our commitment to the struggles of environmental human rights defenders. We stand in solidarity with defenders who risk their own lives and rights daily as they fight for collective rights and environmental justice. We demand an end to the corporate plunder of community resources, attacks on environmental human rights defenders, and governments and corporations’ impunity in ecological destruction and human rights violations. To keep Defenders safe, we call for the development of mechanisms to recognise the role of Defenders, protect them and include them in relevant decision-making processes. We pay our humble respect and light a candle for every Defender who has gone before us and far too soon. 

Share in Solidarity with the hashtag #Light4Defender

For more information contact:
Theiva Lingam
FoE Asia Pacific Regional Facilitator

Emma Harvey
FoE Asia Pacific Communications Coordinator

In the last few years, Friends of the Earth Asia Pacific’s member groups’ staff, activists and supporters have been beaten, kidnapped, jailed and even murdered while fighting for environmental justice. Our report exposes these injustices and highlights the ongoing struggle for those on the frontlines.

Find out more in our reportDefending territories, Defending our lives: Protecting human rights and the environment in Asia Pacific through system change.

Watch the interviewRizwana Hasan (FoE Bangladesh), Vitaly Servetnik (FoE Russia) Abeer Butmeh (FoE Palestine) on the repressions against EHRDs .

Listen to our special report on Real World Radio: “International human rights day: cases of serious violations across Asia”