EJA has met with Mr Michel Forst to help him assess the overall environment for human rights defenders and civil society in Australia
Yesterday EJA, together with other environmental NGO representatives, met with Mr Michel Forst, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders.
The Special Rapporteur is on a visit to Australia from 4 to 18 October 2016 to assess the overall environment for human rights defenders and civil society in the country. He is meeting with representatives across a number of NGO sectors, as well as MPs, statutory officers such as Ombudsman, and Government officials. The office the Special Rapporteur was established in 2000 in support of the UN General Assembly's 1998 Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. Mr Forst was appointed as the Special Rapporteur in 2014.
In a very positive and constructive meeting, we discussed a range of matters affecting the capacity and need for communities, individuals and NGOs to engage in work to protect the environment. Significant challenges to this capacity were identified, such as constraints in legal procedures, criminalisation of protest and public participation in environmental monitoring, regressive political agenda and political attacks on environmental defenders, and imbalances in the powers and resources of community, corporate and governmental actors in environmental governance. The situation of environmental defenders is integral to the exercise and protection of the right to a clean, safe, healthy and sustainable environment – a right founded in international law and advanced through the UN Human Rights Council as a human right.
EJA prepared a briefing for the Special Rapporteur to inform the discussions.
The visit coincides with an extraordinary and vehement attack in the Queensland media on environmental organisations working to halt the immense damage that is being and will be done by large-scale resources projects in that State. Such attacks continue the work of deeply reactionary political and industrial factions, who have in the past sought to undermine the legal and financial capacities environmental defenders. This all occurs in an ongoing context of harm and loss of our common resources, such as clean air, water, healthy biodiversity and democratic rights to stand up for these basic human needs.
The Special Rapporteur is holding further meetings in Sydney, Brisbane, Hobart and Darwin.
Photo: John Englart