Environmental Defenders Call to Make Every Day Earth Day

April 22, 2024

On April 22, we celebrate Earth Day, which started with a million people protesting and demanding environmental protection in the 1970s. After more than five decades, environmentally destructive projects such as mining and large dams still abound and people around the world are still struggling to uphold environmental rights and advocating for environmental protection, rehabilitation, and conservation. Where environmentally destructive activities and policies persist, attacks on environmental human rights defenders (EHRDs) continue, perpetrated both by States and local and foreign corporations. 

EHRDs in Asia and the Pacific have been witness to countless large-scale mining, mega-dam, agribusiness plantation and reclamation projects, among others, which have heightened their communities’ vulnerabilities to the worsening impacts of climate change. These projects compound existing systemic issues of inequity in these countries and follow the same violent trend of profit-oriented natural resource utilization.  

In continuing their struggle for the defense of the environment, EHRDs in the Asia-Pacific are hounded by various kinds of attacks often weaponizing the law against our defenders, such as in cases of SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) and arbitrary arrest and detention. Existing data on attacks on Asian EHRDs in the past decade could not be more alarming: there have been 443 killings (Global Witness, 2012-2022), and 477 cases of non-lethal attacks, affecting at least 5359 people (FORUM-Asia, 2013-2024). Of the killings, almost half are perpetrated by state actors (armed forces/police), while the leading industry driver is mining and extractives (32.8% of killings), followed by agribusiness and logging. While these numbers are only the tip of the iceberg given underreporting and the difficulty in quantifying the impacts of terrorizing attacks, they prove that we must be vigilant against the violations that may accompany large-scale extractive projects.

We re-echo today the calls to stop this harassment of EHRDs, such as the recent calls to Free Koet Saray, a Cambodian environmental youth leader, and Free Daniel Tangkilisan, a vocal critic of the illegal shrimp farms in protected areas of the Karimunjawa National Park in Indonesia. At the same time, we celebrate how local and international civil society has united behind the calls for accountability regarding extrajudicial enforced disappearances and killings, such as the recent call to Surface Eco and Jak, two environmental defenders from the Philippines.

As we celebrate Earth Day, let us remember the importance of protecting the environment, and take one step further by challenging development aggression at the local and international level. We are all a part of the environment, and we have many great models of how to save our planet in our environmental defenders, advocates, and organizations. Let us support them and follow in their footsteps; let us be environmental defenders, not just on Earth Day, but every day!

#DefendEnvironmentalDefenders #EHRDs 


Relevant links:

FORUM-ASIA. (2024). Asian HRDs Portal. https://asianhrds.forum-asia.org/en/page/jpnvxt51sxe 

Global Witness. (2022). In numbers: Lethal attacks against defenders since 2012. https://www.globalwitness.org/en/campaigns/environmental-activists/numbers-lethal-attacks-against-defenders-2012/ 

Free Koet Saray: https://apned.net/free-cambodian-environmental-defender-koet-saray/ 

Free Daniel Tangkilisan: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1o6fii_7-BGfLpQdyga3BohM0tPbzR0Shwpiu8LQ25tY/edit 

Surface Eco and Jak: https://apned.net/surface-environmental-defenders-eco-dangla-and-jak-tiong/https://www.cecphils.org/joint-statement-of-the-surface-eco-jak-fact-finding-mission-team/