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March 30th, 2023
Grijalva, Merkley Colleagues Introduce Resolution Standing Up for and Protecting Environmental Defenders

In the face of persecution in nearly every corner of the globe, Senate resolution commends environmental defenders for their role in defending human rights, combatting climate chaos, and supporting a sustainable environment for all.

Washington, D.C. – As governments, civil society organizations, and leading activists come together this week for the Summit for Democracy, Representative Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ-07)  and Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley teamed up to introduce a resolution commending environmental defenders and their work to support a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment as an integral part of a thriving democracy. Merkley and Grijalva, along with Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Alex Padilla (D-CA), and Ben Cardin (D-MD) called for robust U.S. leadership against human rights abuses that have targeted environmental defenders and urge the international community to stand with individuals and communities working to fight against climate chaos.

“Environmental defenders are often the first and last line of defense in protecting human rights, land and natural resources from exploitation, abuse, and destruction,” said Representative Grijalva. “With the alarming rates at which environmental defenders are being targeted, the United States must do more to protect environmental defenders, including holding those who harm them accountable.  I’m proud to partner with Senator Merkley to introduce this resolution that uplifts the critical work environmental defenders do to protect human and Indigenous rights and biodiversity in countries across the world and outlines actions the U.S. must take.”

“The impacts of climate chaos are becoming deadlier and more frequent—threatening our health, planet, and future,” said Senator Merkley, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “We must support environmental defenders around the world who are exercising their fundamental rights of free expression and association to demand a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment. They are risking everything to protect the environment and their human rights, and we should be doing all we can to support and protect those efforts.”

“From rising sea levels to more frequent and extreme wildfires, climate change is greatly impacting communities and biodiversity all over the globe. The environmental defenders who are working to combat climate change and protect human rights around the world often do so at great risk to their lives,” said Senator Kaine. “I join my colleagues in condemning the persecution of these individuals and highlighting their critical role in promoting a healthy, sustainable environment for all.”

“Environmental defenders are doing important work to raise awareness and advocate for urgent actions to counter the existential threat posed by climate change,” said Senator Booker. “However, environmental defenders are being targeted, sometimes facing physical violence, for their work. This is an attempt to silence those who are speaking out on behalf of a cleaner, healthier environment. I am proud to join my colleagues in introducing this bill that will protect environmental defenders and ensure they can continue advocating for a more sustainable environment for all.”

“As we continue to see the increasingly alarming impacts of the climate crisis both in California and across the globe, environmental defenders are fighting to preserve our planet for generations to come,” said Senator Padilla. “However, they are also the very people being targeted for their work by governments, private corporations, and criminals. I’m joining my colleagues to make it clear that violent retaliation against those who are taking bold and necessary action to combat the climate crisis is unacceptable.”

Environmental defenders are under attack in nearly every corner of the world. From government, private sector, and criminal actors, environmental defenders face persecution ranging from restrictions on free speech and assembly to criminalization, civil lawsuits, surveillance, and harassment—including, but not limited to verbal, cyber, physical, sexual assault, and even assassinations.

Latin America, the Caribbean, and Asia are among the deadliest regions for environmental defenders, but their persecution spans the rest of the globe. Global Witness reported that at least 1,733 environmental defenders have been killed since 2012, with more than 200 reportedly killed in 2021 alone.

The lawmakers’ bicameral resolution calls out fossil fuel companies, mining operations, agribusiness plantations, and mega-dams as major causes of environmental destruction, often driving communities from their homes and their lands.

Furthermore, this resolution spotlights environmental defenders’ right to free expression and association to protect themselves, their lands, and their communities from climate chaos and damages caused by resource-extracting corporations. Rampant corruption and weak rule of law often enables those targeting environmental defenders to operate with impunity.

While the situation currently appears grim worldwide, the lawmakers’ resolution expresses hope that the U.S. can exert international leadership in protecting environmental defenders by collaborating in a whole-of-government approach with other governments, multilateral organizations, and civil society.

In the resolution, the lawmakers:

  • Commend and express solidarity with environmental defenders as critical members of civil society defending both human rights and the environment;
  • Strongly condemn any and all violence, intimidation, criminalization, forced disappearance or murder of any individual or group for legitimate defense of land and resources;
  • Welcome relevant principles from international declarations and resolutions as advancing recognition of the multifaceted role that environmental defenders play;
  • Urge the United States Government to consult and cooperate in good faith with Indigenous Peoples regarding any projects that may affect their lands, territories, religious practices, or other natural and cultural resources;
  • Call for the President to prioritize U.S. global leadership in tackling reprisals against environmental defenders;
  • Urge the Department of State to integrate concerns about environmental defenders in all appropriate engagements;
  • Request the Department of State and United States Agency for International Development to establish positions dedicated to protecting environmental defenders as part of their human rights programming;
  • Request that the United States Agency for International Development prioritize the finalization of an independent accountability mechanism and the establishment of a position to integrate protection of environmental defenders across broader environmental, economic growth, and human rights and democracy programming in order to better achieve its 2022-2030 Climate Strategy;
  • Encourage the United States International Development Finance Corporation to improve transparency, conduct due diligence with partners, and engage in local consultation processes based on free, prior, and informed consent;
  • Encourage the United States Government to use its voice and vote within international financial institutions to ensure that United States taxpayer dollars do not support individuals, foreign governments, or private sector entities that adversely affect the environment, or target or expose to harm persons who speak out against such individuals and entities;
  • Call for responsible conduct of United States companies, financial institutions, and investors in relation to the freedoms and rights of Indigenous communities and other environmental defenders, particularly in the agribusiness, fossil fuel, mining, and hydroelectricity sectors; and
  • Call for the United States to use its influence in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to push for Conference of Parties (COP) host countries that have and actively encourage a thriving civil society, in addition to taking concrete actions to combat climate chaos.

Full text of the resolution can be found here.

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