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Increasing threats to environmental defenders – Crude Accountability intervention at the HDIM 2019

On September 19, Crude Accountability delivered its remarks at the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting 2019 (HDIM) in Warsaw – one of the biggest human rights conferences in the region. During the intervention at the working session on fundamental freedoms, Crude Accountability director Kate Watters focused on the increasing pressure on environmental defenders in the OSCE region.

The past few years have revealed an alarming trend of increasing administrative and criminal legal charges, bureaucratic obstacles, and physical threats toward environmental activists. Crude Accountability calls on the OSCE countries to take necessary measures to ensure that environmental activists can do their work without constant threats and harassment.

The video and the full transcription of the intervention are below.

I would like to focus my remarks on environmental defenders, who are increasingly under threat, and exposed to grave risks simply for defending the basic human right to a clean and healthy environment.

According to international watchdog group, Global Witness, 2017 was the deadliest year on record for environmental defenders globally, with 207 environmental and land defenders killed around the world. In 2018, 164 environmental defenders were killed. Three of those deaths occurred in the OSCE region, in Ukraine: Ekaterina Gandziuk, Nikolai Yarema and Nikolai Bychko.

In addition to the murder of environmental defenders, harassment, intimidation, and pressure through administrative and legal action continue to be business as usual for governments and companies determined to stop environmental defenders.

In Russia, Environmental Watch on the North Caucasus and other environmental NGOs, including EcoDefense, endure spurious legal charges and continued violence against their members.  Environmental Watch’s office has been raided three times in the past year by the authorities; twice these were men armed with automatic weapons and wearing balaklavas. This follows the brutal December 2017 attack on Environmental Watch’s coordinator, Andrey Rudomakha, which put him in the hospital for the better part of a month. Although the attack was recorded on video, the perpetrators have still not been found by the police.

In Kazakhstan, environmental defender Sergey Solyanik was illegally detained by the police in May of this year for his participation in a 16 year-long campaign defending the rights of the residents of the village of Berezovka, who suffered from toxic emissions from the Karachaganak Oil and Gas Field. He was identified as a “witness” in a criminal case of distributing allegedly false information about the 2014 mass poisoning of children in Berezovka by Karachaganak emissions. The criminal case is still open, meaning the authorities could continue to pressure him and other defenders working on this case.

Max Bokaev is still wrongly serving time in a Kazakh prison colony for speaking out about land rights in the country.

In Azerbaijan, Dr. Gubad Ibadoghlu, an economist and active member of the EITI coalition, was fired from his teaching position at the university for participating in EITI events.

In the United States, the current administration has proposed new legislation that would make it a felony offense of up to 20 years to protest oil and gas pipeline construction, even in cases of eminent domain when individuals are merely protecting their own property rights. Since November 2016, 17 states have introduced legislation that would criminalize participation in pipeline protests. Documented efforts to label environmental defenders as terrorists are chilling, as are documented cases of private security forces perpetrating violence against defenders on behalf of corporations.

Throughout the OSCE region, environmental defenders are subject to frozen bank accounts, false legal accusations, charges of acting against the national interest of their country, inciting social discord, or working as foreign agents.

At a time when climate change is the largest threat to the planet, environmental defenders are not only fighting to protect the environment, but they are fighting for their lives. We urgently call on the OSCE to work actively for the protection of environmentalists. Thank you.