In Memory and Action: Recognizing Environmental Human Rights Defenders during the International Week of the Disappeared
As we observe the International Week of the Disappeared every last week of May, The Asia Pacific Network of Environment Defenders is in solidarity and proudly remembers the brave Environmental Human Rights Defenders (EHRDs) and advocates who have unjustly disappeared and faced violence and persecution for their unwavering dedication to safeguarding our planet and upholding our human rights in the face of unrelenting risks and threats to their lives.
EHRDs are on the frontlines in protecting the last ecological frontiers that we rely on. They champion environmental justice and defend the rights of marginalized communities ravaged by destructive extracting industries, deforestation, and pollution. In their work, they are targeted by state forces and corporations seeking to suppress their voices, restrict their activism, and maintain the development status quo perpetuating environmental injustice and human rights abuses.
Enforced disappearances are among the most common threats to EHRDs and are rampant in Asia and the Pacific. Repressive governments and militant groups primarily carry out these grave injustices and abuse of power in small and large-scale conflict settings to spread terror and fear.1 For example, a 2020 United Nations press release recorded 1,301 unsolved cases of enforced disappearances in Southeast Asia, half of which are from the Philippines2, one of the deadliest places for EHRDs. Under the new Marcos Jr. administration, six cases of enforced disappearances have been recorded. Furthermore, the details of these abuses are difficult to track. As a result, they are mostly underreported, further exacerbating our ability to tackle the issue. It also raises a frightening reality that this injustice is much worse and more widespread than we think.
The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED) took effect in 2010 to directly address the issue and urge states to act on their obligations to protect our right to security, dignity, and life. However, thirteen years since then, many nation-states have yet to ratify the agreement and, to an extent, properly recognize this grave injustice. Only six countries have ratified the document in Asia3 and only 1 in the Pacific.
In light of these, we call upon governments, international bodies, civil society organizations, and individuals to unite in solidarity and take action to:
Demand better justice and accountability measures: Governments must ensure thorough, timely, and impartial investigations into all cases of enforced disappearances and violence against EHRDs. In addition, states that have ratified the ICPPED must strengthen domestic legal frameworks and protection mechanisms to further their obligations under the agreement.
Call to act: Remaining nation-states must urgently ratify the ICPPED and incorporate its mechanisms into existing local legislations.
End impunity: Judicial systems must prioritize prosecuting those responsible for the disappearance of EHRDs, and they must be held accountable, regardless of their position or influence.
During this commemoration week, let us reflect on the invaluable contributions of EHRDs and strengthen our commitment to safeguarding their rights and protecting our shared environment. Together, we can envision a society where defending the planet does not come at the cost of our human rights but instead thrives on the synergy of all stakeholders recognizing that our goals of a healthy, just, and sustainable environment and development is possible through protecting environmental human rights defenders.