April 30, 2021

Defend the Planet, Defend Our Rights:

APNED Held a 3-day Training for Environmental Defenders

Regional Solidarity Campaign Network Asia Pacific Network of Environmental Defenders (APNED), together with Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (KPNE), Youth Advocates for Climate Action Philippines (YACAP), and Just Associates – Southeast Asia (JASS-SEA), organized a workshop entitled “Defend Our Rights: A Workshop for Environmental Defenders” on April 5,7, and 9, 2021 via Zoom.

Following up the “Ridge to Reef Resistance” Training last October 2020, twenty-five (25) participants continue to participate in the “Defend Our Rights.” They shared their challenges, lessons learned, and victories in their communities and local campaigns. Fourteen (14) participants out of 25 participants are women; one (1) is a Karen leader from Myanmar. Others are women human rights defenders, environmental lawyers, forest defenders, NGO workers, and young climate activists. 

Launching Environmental Defenders’ Campaigns

Clemente Bautista, the Global Coordinator of KPNE, shared his knowledge and experiences in doing campaigns. He ended his discussion by saying that “the campaign should lead to a stronger organization. The campaign should make the community and their neighbours have a stronger and higher unity in asserting their needs and demands.”

Zephanie Repollo from JASS-SEA and Connie Nawaigo, an Extractives Coordinator for JASS, talk about their research on the extractives toolkit. Nawaigo highlighted her discussion by providing the essential exercises in the toolkit. Their presentation stressed the importance of the human rights framework; to make the community understand to claim their rights and to know that a particular company is violating their community. “Communities should look at the risks, what are the threats, how can we build collective care, how can we make sure that as a community we are safe,” Nawaigo explained.

Mobilizing Resources and Access to Institutional Support

Speakers Felix Webber from Asia of Frontline Defenders, Nick Bull from EarthRights International, Cynthia Veliko from Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights, and Jebli Shrestha from Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights – Asia and Pacific discussed how to access support from their institution. They shared information about how their organizations can support movements such as resource mobilization and urgent alerts. They also discussed can they provide tools and guidance to enhance holistic security. 

Sarah Brookes from International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) and Surya Deva, UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, Brookes delved on the Special Procedures for policy engagement. Brookes explained that an organization could include special procedures as one of their tactics since it is a highly flexible and responsive system. At the same time, Surya enlightened the participants on submitting information to the International Human Rights Framework. This session was cited as the favourite part among the participants during the feedback session. 

Building People-to-people Solidarity

At the heart of the workshop is the breakout room, where participants were divided into four groups to deep dive into their local campaigns. 

In Malaysia, environmental defenders experience online harassment and trolling; They undertook data privacy and security to mitigate the risks. Activists in India have similar experiences too. They experience online intimidation, and sexual harassment and illegal arrests by the government to address mega-development projects in coastal biodiversity; engaging with government agencies and local community leaders are part of their mass campaign. Renuka Kad of Vikas Adhyayan Kendra talked about some of the challenges the human rights and environmental defenders faced, especially women; she stated that “one activist was harassed by the use of stones and sticks in her private part.”

In Indonesia, the struggles of environmental defenders include criminalization, threats, intimidation from private companies, and state forces. These violations stem from the ongoing operation of agribusinesses. Environmental defenders mobilize the youth sector for awareness-raising campaigns and human rights education, while the capacity building of indigenous people is a critical element in their mass campaigns.

Ditta Wisnu, an environmental lawyer from Yayasan Pusaka Bentala Rakyat (Yayasan PUSAKA) in Indonesia, secured their community by providing training and building their confidence to speak up. She also stated that “we accompany the community in Papua and Central Kalimantan, we have lawyers accompanying them if they have problems with the police officers”.

In the Philippines, killings and massacres rise while terror-tagging and illegal detention on false charges are rampant. Such attacks are triggered by development aggression targeting ancestral domains, coastal and mining communities. Environmental defenders continue to do creative protest actions amid the pandemic; these are coupled with the filing of legal complaints while monitoring and documentation of human rights violations sustain their awareness-raising and education campaigns.

Salvert Magapa from Defend Panay Network shared some of their strategies to address these issues by stating that “We do alliance and networking building. Recently, we launched the concerned lawyers of Panay for the dialogue in local government units defend the defenders.”

In the Mekong region, the environmental defenders experience criminalization, Judicial Issues, and physical violence. Rural communities in Thailand and Vietnam experience health hazards from environmental pollution; deforestation triggered by Economic Land Concessions (ELCs) in Cambodia perpetuates displacement and land grabbing, while Karen territories in Myanmar are under attack due to extractive industries. Community empowerment, engaging in policy spaces, grassroots campaigns partnered with court battles, resource generation, and maximizing social media are some of the best practices of environmental defenders in the Mekong region. 

Keo Somaly from Rural Cambodian Technological Support Organization (RCTSO) talks about how they can help the communities secure themselves. He shared that “our organizations trained them how to use social media safely and privately because our work is risky. We also strengthen their capacity on law, criminal code for them to be aware about their constitutional rights.”

People, Planet, Over Profit

Mass campaigns should inspire collective action to protect communities and defend environmental defenders. Highlights of the group’s point of unities are the following:

  • To urge their governments to uphold and implement legally binding tools such as the 1998 UN Declaration on Human Rights defenders and the Human Rights Council resolution 40/11 on environmental human rights defenders. 
  • To urge their governments to formulate stronger laws and policies to protect environmental defenders, grant them greater access to justice, and establish emergency measures and supports. 
  • To encourage the business sector to uphold the highest standards of environmental protection, sustainable development
  • To encourage the business sector to protect human rights and uphold freedom of information and transparency in their operations and take immediate action on community concerns and grievances.

The group ended the training with a common unity that environmental defenders must continue to unite and expand their ranks to pressure governments as duty-bearers to improve the environment and its defenders and seek accountability for human rights violations.

“With the continued action of grassroots communities, national movement, and international solidarity comes hope and sources of inspiration,” said one of the organizers Lia Alonzo, Center for Environmental Concerns Executive Director and APNED Secretariat member. 


Participants of the “Defend Our Rights” were from the following countries and organizations:

Philippines – Palawan NGO Network Incorporated (PNNI), Philippine Misereor Partnership, Inc. (PMPI), Offers Panay, EcoHumans, KALIKASAN ST

Myanmar – Karen Environmental and Social Action Network

Cambodia – Rural Cambodian Technological Support Organization (RCTSO), Not1more – Cambodia, Cambodia Youth Network (CYN) Mother Nature Cambodia, 

Thailand – EnLaw Thai Foundation, Community Resource Centre (CRC)

Indonesia – Walhi Kalimantan Tengah, PROGRESS Kalimantan Tengah, Indonesian Traditional Fisherfolk Union (KNTI), Jaga Rimba, Carbon Ethics Indonesia, Yayasan Pusaka Bentala Rakyat (Yayasan PUSAKA)

Vietnam – Centre for Sustainable Community Development (S-CODE), Malaysia – Klima Malaysia, Jaga Rimba (Social Movement)

India – Vikas Adhyayan Kendra

Zambia – Zambia Social Forum (ZAMSOF)