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Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed deep concern about the targeting environmental activists. He welcomed the quick response mechanism as an important contribution for helping advance my cause.Call to Action for Human Rights.

The agreement will give the authority to set up the new mechanism to either the United Nations or another international organization.

As the first ever internationally-agreed tool to safeguard environmental defenders,It is a significant step in upholding the universal rights to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment As recognized by the Human Rights Council earlier in the month.

Twenty years ago, Aarhus Convention was in force. It bridged the gap between environmental and human rights.

As the world continues to be ravaged by the effects of climate change, the UN chief stressed that the Convention’s core purpose, which is to allow people to safeguard their wellbeing and that for future generations, is now more crucial than ever.

A protective eye

The Meeting of the Parties to the Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Makingand Access to Justice in Environmental Matters, also known as the Aarhus Convention, adopted the agreement to establishthe mechanism on Thursday.

Thislandmarkdecisionis a clearsignal toenvironmental defendersthat they will not be left unprotected, OlgaAlgayerova is the chief of UNECE.

It demonstrates a new level in commitment to upholding public rights under the Aarhus Convention andParties willingness to respond effectively at the ground to grave and urgent challenges.

Vital defence

These can be groups protesting the construction a dangerous dam, or individuals speaking out against harmful agricultural practices within their local communities.The role of activists is crucial to the preservation of the environment around the globeUNECE.

The Aarhus Convention ensures that those exercising their rights in conformity with the provisions of the Convention shall not be penalized,persecutedor harassed in any way for their involvement.

As such, the mechanism will create a Special Reporteur or an independent rights expert who will quickly respond and take action to protect those facing or under imminent threat from penalization, persecution or harassment in order to exercise their rights.

Because time is critical to ensure the safety of environmental defenders and other defenders, any member or party to the Aarhus Convention will be able submit confidential complaints to the Special Rapporteur. This is even before all legal recourses have been exhausted.

Defenders targeted

Environmental defenders must be able to assert their rights confidently. However, there have been cases in which they face firing, severe fines, criminalization and detention, as well as death.

Moreover, Incidents of harassment and violence against environmental defenders is not unusual.

A report to Human Rights CouncilbyMary Lawlor, Special Rapporteuronthe situation ofhuman rights defenders,found thatone-in-two human rights defenders who were killed in2019 hadbeen working with communities around issues of land, environment,impactsof business activities,povertyand rights of indigenous peoples,Afrodescendantsand other minorities.

Since January 2017, among the Parties the Aarhus ConventionIn 16 countries, there have been reports of harassment, sanctions and persecution against environmental defenders..

Contrary to the current initiatives that rely on political pressure through media, the Aarhus Conventions’ rapid response mechanism will be based on a legal framework. This will give it more power to act.

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