Securing the Firewall and Connecting the Unconnected: Frontline Defenders Across West Africa
Green Advocates International and the Mano River Union Civil Society Natural Rights and Governance Platform will on Thursday, June 30th launch a report detailing the atrocious accounts of grassroots human rights defenders working across West Africa and Equatorial Guinea. The report is a Baseline Assessment that examined the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR) of defenders working mainly on Environmental and Land Rights issues in the region.
It elevates the work and situation of HRDs on the frontline of the climate crisis and the environmental and social impacts related to the operations of multinational corporations, governments and other actors.
The report also focuses on the downstream consequences of these operations, which result intensified conflicts between pastoralists and farmers, artisanal small-scale miners, large-scale commercial mining operators, and artisanal and industrial commercial fisheries.
The study reveals troubling trends across the region, pointing to the wanton killings, reprisal attacks, stigmatizations, arbitrarily arrests and imprisonments, frivolous charges, unfair trials and increased government surveillance of defenders. with little or no visibility given to their stories.
Findings suggest that despite the scale of these reprisal attacks and killings, mostly perpetrated by foreign investment companies and their host governments, these violations passed with no visibility or are left largely underreported by the media and data collection organizations.
According to a press release, the latest Global Witness Report, a leading Human Rights monitor, documents the killings of at least 212 defenders, without a mention of the many killings that are thought to have taken place in the sub-region.
The release says, there are strongly worded recommendations from frontline grassroots defenders surveyed, including the need for a regional environmental rights instrument to serve as a safeguard against business and development impacts on vulnerable communities to counterbalance investment and trade.
In late 2020 and early 2021, Green Advocates International and the MRU CSO Platform embarked upon the assessment with support from the Open society Initiative.
Tens of defenders from affected communities, regional and international state and non-state actors, academics, NGOs and support groups are expected to attend the ceremony, which will be held virtually, beginning at 2:00hrs GMT. The United National Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, Professor David Boyd will deliver the launching address and launch the report. while Mr. Ed O’Donovan, Special Advisor to Mary Lawlor, United Nation Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders will make special remarks focusing on measures the mandate holder would be putting in place to ensure the protection of defenders during COP 27 in Egypt in like of concerns expressed by many activists, NGOs and defenders about fears of reprisals by the Egyptian Government.
The launch of the Baseline Assessment Report is coming after validation of the document by defenders and international actors in March 2021. The international conference among other things endorsed recommendations calling for the enactment of an African-wide environmental rights treaty modeled after the Escazu Agreement in Latin America and the creation of a documentation system to track and report attacks on human rights defenders in West Africa.
Plans are already in the offing for the establishment of those instruments. The release emphasized that the documentation system, “West African Frontline Grassroots Defenders Directory” has since been put into motion and tested, and is expected to be launched at a separate event in July this year with support from Global Witness.
The Lead Campaigner of Green Advocates International and a co- author of the report Alfred Brownell, who is also Associate Research Professor at Northeastern University School of Law, current Visiting Scholar at Yale Law School and the Founding Director at the Global Climate Legal Defense Network( CLiDeF) has described the Baseline Assessment study as “ a significant development in the fight to protect, defend and raise the profile of Frontline Grassroots Defenders across West Africa and the World. These Defenders are the Planet and its Peoples’ First Responders and FIREWALL responding to the Climate Crisis and up holding Democracy Commitments.”