December 10, 2020

APNED on the 72nd International Human Rights Day amid Global Health Crisis

“Reject the old normal! Recover better for the people and the planet!”

The 72nd year of international Human Rights Day is commemorated amid a global health crisis. COVID-19 is a zoonotic disease, a disease transferred from animals to humans potentially through habitat destruction from destructive activities such as deforestation, large-scale mining, large dams, and agribusiness plantations by big corporations and increased exposure through illegal wildlife trade.

The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered the global economy into recession and has been maximized by some governments to attack social movements and undermine human rights. Democratic spaces continue to shrink to pacify dissent to allow the continuous plunder of natural resources.

Consequently, the Global Witness report revealed that 2019 has the highest number of killings for land and environmental defenders. It was a bloody and violent year, with more than four people killed a week or 212 for the year with recorded killings in some parts of the region such as in the Philippines (43), India (6), Indonesia (3), and Cambodia (1). Alleged perpetrators include state forces, private armies, and criminal gangs. The pandemic is being weaponized to worsen the already worse state of human rights.

Environmental defenders have worked hard to protect the environment in the Asia-Pacific region which home to one of the world’s richest biodiversity with a lush mountain ranges, long coastlines, vast wetlands and oceans, fertile soil, and long and wide rivers, forests     

Such natural resources come with a hefty price. It has attracted foreign investors and corporate plunderers that led to massive environmental destruction.

 In some parts of the region, the impact of environmental degradation in communities and attacks against environmental defenders have been noted:

In Indonesia, environmental problems are triggered by many extractive investments, uncontrolled land conversion, and mismanagement of natural resources.  The strengthened relationship between the company and government officials and law enforcement officers is the cause of environmental damage and human rights violation.

In Myanmar, extreme biodiversity loss and damages were triggered by corporate activities. Rural peoples and communities are at receiving end of such actions. In July 2020, Myanmar witnessed the worst mining accident in years; the Hpakant Jade mine disaster in July 2020 has killed 174 miners while 100 remains missing.

In India, 13 protesters have been killed allegedly by the police in 2018, known as the Thoothukudi massacre. A copper smelting plant by Sterlite Copper subsidiary of Vedanta Resources was at the protest’s receiving end. The company has reportedly been causing pollution.

In the Philippines, the management of protected areas in Palawan, considered as the last frontier, remains a challenge. Forest rangers who are at the frontlines of environmental defense have been killed. Many others have experienced red-tagging or terror-tagging allegedly which are then followed by different forms of attacks.

These have affected the poorest sectors the most — fisherfolk, farmers, indigenous people, and even the urban poor — through massive flooding, loss of homes, livelihood and income, food insecurity, health hazards, and the overall worsening of poverty. 

The Asia Pacific Network of Environmental Defenders (APNED) joins the public clamor in rejecting the business-as-usual natural resource utilization and environmental degradation that have caused the pandemic. In addition, we resound the call to seek justice and accountability not only for environmental destruction, but also for the different forms of attacks on environmental defenders.                         

APNED enjoins individuals, civil society groups, and peoples’ organizations in the region to continuously assert the principles of solidarity, social transformation, ecological justice as the front and center of the “new normal” to “recover better” for the people and the planet.