HRC 51 – Side Event on Human Rights Defenders
“Protecting the Frontline: Good Practices for Supporting Environmental Human Rights Defenders”
Remarks by Deputy Permanent Representative Kelly Billingsley
Good morning. I want to thank the organizers for highlighting the need to support civil society and human rights defenders who work on environmental issues.
The United States is concerned with the narrowing of civic space for the public to participate in state and private-sector decisions about the use of natural resources and for dissenting voices to be heard. This is particularly the case on matters that disproportionately affect the lives and livelihoods of rural and indigenous communities and other members of marginalized and vulnerable groups.
As climate change and environmental degradation become more evident, we are seeing an increase in threats and violent attacks against environment defenders.
Individuals who peacefully exercise their human rights to protect their communities from negative environmental impacts are the most vulnerable to harassment, arbitrary surveillance, detention, intimidation, and even death.
Governments should take seriously any threats of violence against human rights defenders.
Last year, the United States released its revitalized Guidelines for U.S. Diplomatic Mission Support to Civil Society and Human Rights Defenders. These guidelines underscore U.S. commitment to enable civil society and to protect and promote fundamental freedoms and the role of human rights defenders around the world.
In July, the United States joined 160 UN Member States on a resolution on a right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment, both in recognition of the importance of development of such a right under international human rights law in the future and as a way to support environmental defenders.
The United States believes that the most effective way for governments to foster a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment is to adopt and enforce concrete domestic laws and regulations that protect the environment. These laws and regulations should also provide access to information, allow for public participation in decision-making, avoid practices that disproportionately affect already vulnerable and marginalized populations, and provide access to justice in environmental matters.
The United States looks forward to working with governments and civil society to preserve and expand the space for environment defenders and human rights defenders to act without fear of attack or reprisals. Their voices benefit all of us. Thank you.