Environmental Defenders provided assistance to grassroots organizations, human rights defenders, activists, environmental defenders, and journalists to enhance their safety and security

A fair society where everyone’s dignity is honored, peace prevails, and the natural environment is protected relies on the protection and defense of brave individuals, communities, and organizations fighting against injustice. Environmental Defenders are working towards the goal outlined in the 2030 Agenda via initiatives focused on “Climate justice,” “Environmental Human Rights Defenders,” and “Community empowerment and Livelihoods support.” Individuals, communities, and civil society organizations dedicated to environmental conservation, forest protection, and biodiversity are increasingly encountering direct threats and antagonism that hinder their efforts in several African nations. This disproportionately impacts impoverished and marginalized women and groups. Efforts to use regulatory and administrative systems to hinder campaigners advocating for gender equality and women’s rights are threatening progress in these areas. Many individuals experience stigmatization and reaction from right-wing organizations that jeopardize their personal security and employment.

The Global Sustainable Development Report, released in September 2019, concludes that the existing development model is not sustainable. It warns that advancements achieved in the past twenty years are at risk of being undone due to escalating social disparities and potentially irreversible deterioration of the environment that supports human life. The authors assert that achieving a more positive future is possible, but it requires significant changes in development policies, incentives, and behaviors. The call to action specifies goals for collaborative actions involving several stakeholders. To guarantee progress towards attaining Agenda 2030 at the local level, it is crucial to support the efforts of human rights defenders, environmental activists, communities, and their organizations.

Increasing disparities in the fulfillment of basic rights, discrimination, and extreme economic inequality are growing and continue to hinder the improvement of sustainable livelihood prospects. Women are disproportionately impacted by poverty, violence, discrimination, and limited access to land and resources. Women and girls face many types of discrimination due to gender and other disparities, making them the most marginalized group.

Land and natural resource rights are being contested more often because of environmental strains, degradation, climate change effects, population growth, and land acquisition. Global temperatures are increasing, resulting in heightened occurrences of severe heat waves, heavy rainfall, and frequent and harsh droughts. Ensuring tenure rights for indigenous and local community lands is crucial for addressing both climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Disputes over land and natural resource rights are on the rise because of environmental deterioration, population pressure, and land grabs. 90% of rural land in Africa lacks proper documentation, leaving it susceptible to land grabs and confiscation. This is associated with the continent’s elevated poverty rates, as about half of the population lives on less than $1.25 per day. According to the FAO, over 820 million people are experiencing hunger. Africa has the greatest incidence of undernourishment at about 20% due to increasing hunger in most African subregions. It is estimated that more than 2 billion people worldwide lack consistent access to safe, nutritious, and enough food. Good land governance, intact ecosystems, enhanced understanding of land and water use efficiency and sustainability, and peaceful resolutions to land and water conflicts are crucial in this scenario. Moreover, there is increasing evidence that indigenous peoples and local communities, when granted solid land rights, are very effective at protecting the Earth’s natural resources and play a significant role in both adapting to and reducing the impacts of climate change.

Environmental Defenders (ED) is playing a crucial role in this reaction. We provide assistance to human rights advocates, activists, and their groups who are working to combat threats to their environment, rights, and livelihoods. Since 2019, we have provided technical security assistance to a minimum of 1000 human rights defenders and environmental activists in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Our target demographics include of female activists, organizations advocating for human rights, environmental justice, land rights, and journalists.

We have collaborated with activists, human rights defenders, and organizations in Uganda’s Albertine Rift region who are advocating for human rights, social justice, environmental protection, and protesting against projects like the East African Crude Oil Pipeline Project (EACOP) and the Tilenga project. Additionally, we have supported efforts to address issues such as land grabbing, deforestation in Bugoma and Zoka forests.We have provided protection and assistance to activists who are investigating corruption related to land acquisition for the EACOP project and other major infrastructure projects in the Albertine region. We have also supported journalists who report on illegal wildlife trade and individuals who defend their communities and land.

We also provide support to indigenous activists and organizations in the DRC who advocate for environmental and land rights, women’s rights, and oppose harmful “development” policies and business practices. We also assist those seeking justice for environmental harm, advocating for sustainable climate policies, and journalists investigating illegal wildlife trade in the DRC and across borders.The Environmental Defenders offer support to local activists by providing digital and physical security, psychosocial support, and self-care. They also conduct organizational risk assessments and threats analysis, offering training to community-based organizations, NGOs, and media houses to enhance their risk management, data protection, and information security. We have provided direct support to 150 groups in Uganda and DR Congo between 2019 and 2023.

Climate change is the most urgent concern now, and the connections between land/territory, indigenous peoples’ rights, and the environment are closely intertwined. The Environmental Defenders assist communities, grassroots organizations, and activists in environmental conservation. We acknowledge these groups as caretakers of valuable ecosystems crucial to the global climate. These indigenous peoples inhabit regions that account for 80% of the world’s biodiversity. These movements operate in areas where the impacts of climate change are experienced earliest and most severely, at the crossroads of marginalization, poverty, and livelihoods reliant on natural resources. The work of Environmental Defenders enables communities to resist the encroachment and exploitation of their land by national and multinational enterprises, particularly in extractive and agricultural sectors, as well as by States and other players.

The Environmental Defenders acknowledge the link between environmental and land rights fights and business and human rights concerns, emphasizing the significance of land and natural resource management rights. The Environmental Defenders’ work connects with SDG 15 by focusing on safeguarding, restoring, and promoting the sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, and with goal 16.7 and of SDG 16, which aims to promote responsive, inclusive, participative, and representative decision-making at all levels.

From 2019 to the present, the Environmental Defenders has focused on protecting human rights defenders, managing security, and conducting risk assessments for women human rights defenders, organizations, and environmental activists. We have received support from various development partners such as Hivos Digital Defenders Partnerships, Civil Rights Defenders, Land is Life, Global Green Grants Fund, Environmental Defenders Collaborative, Cultural Survival, Mama Cash, and other foundations and organizations that have not authorized the public sharing of their names.

About the Environmental Defenders-ED

The Environmental Defenders (ED) is an ecofeminist and collaborative environmental justice organization that works to protect biodiversity and Indigenous Peoples’ rights. We work in the Albertine Rift region (Murchison-Semliki, Greater Virunga, and Ituri landscapes), which borders the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda.

We are committed to fostering resiliency for environmental and human security, assisting marginalized Indigenous Peoples and traditional communities in the Albertine rift and Congo Basin regions to live sustainably and safeguard their cultural practices, water sources, lands, and surrounding environment.