News / 10 May 2024

An Introduction to Both ENDS' System of Care

Silencing the Voices of Environmental Defenders

Together with environmental justice groups from the Global South, Both ENDS works towards a sustainable, fair and inclusive world. In recent years, our partners have become increasingly threatened, intimidated, violated, imprisoned, and even murdered as a result of their environmental and human rights activities. Our advocacy partners face repressive reprisals for speaking out against environmentally destructive initiatives and denouncing human rights abuses of companies and governments, whilst the communities they support are subjected to violence for simply acting out of necessity to protect their lives, land, territories, and communities from harm.

Their experiences are part of a broader crackdown on environmental human rights defenders (EHRDs) across the globe, making it harder and more dangerous for them to defend basic rights and amplify their voices. The Business and Human Rights Resource Centre tracked over 3,500 attacks on environmental defenders between 2015 and 2023, while a recent report by Global Witness documented at least 1,910 environmental defenders losing their lives between 2012 and 2022. The most dangerous sectors for environmental defenders according to the first report are mining, oil, gas and coal, and agribusiness – sectors where Both ENDS partners are very active. Additionally, protective social and environmental legislation is eroding, leaving communities and human rights defenders, often women, more vulnerable.

Our partners work on various issues, from challenging trade and investment rules to promoting sustainable land, forest, and water use and advocating for a just energy transition. However, they face increasing violence and opposition from vested interests, especially in lucrative development industries like fossil fuels, extractives, commercial plantation agriculture, forest industries, bio-fuels, and large-scale infrastructure. These industries, often in collaboration with government agencies or other enablers such as police, military, and private security actors, use intimidation tactics to silence EHRDs opposing land acquisition for commercial and state-led ventures.

Repressive Tactics and the Human Costs

These repressive methods include the implementation of new laws and regulations (and their selective enforcement) that limit the work and activities of civil society organisations in many countries (e.g. fiscal-administrative sanctions, permits being revoked, freezing bank accounts, restrictions on rights to freedom and public assembly). EHRDs suffer physical attacks including gender-based violence, harassment, disappearances, arrests, online censorship and digital threats, surveillance, office-raids, SLAPP suits, smear-campaigns, the deliberate undermining of community processes, and killings.

The demands of sustaining operations or simply making one’s way and coping in such hostile conditions places our partners and their local constituencies under unimaginable pressures and strain. The emotional, physical, and psychological toll of continuous exposure to threats and repressive actions is becoming manifest in exhaustion, sickness, and trauma. For women and girls, this is compounded by sexual violence and gendered exclusion from access to basic welfare. The need to implement security management protocols around daily activities in order to stay safe and keep supporting communities has increased the basic operational costs of CSOs enormously.

Our Duty to Care for Defenders for Environmental and Climate Action

We recognise the urgent need to support our advocacy partners and their communities in addressing risks and ensuring their well-being. Both ENDS sees this as not only a humanitarian necessity but also as an indispensable environmental-climatestrategy. Supporting partners in dealing with risks in what is often high-risk lobbying and advocacy is also a vital pre-condition to enable them to continue their work and protect the world’s ecosystems, promote sustainable alternatives to harmful development, and defend ancestral ways of relating to the earth that safeguard our collective future.

We also see that support for Environmental Human Rights Defenders (EHRDs) tends to be ad-hoc and focused on the security of individual defenders rather than the collective, holistic protection and well-being that EHRDs identify as crucial for remaining active and effective in local movements. Funding mechanisms often lack flexibility to address ongoing risks or unforeseen emergencies. Moreover, funding typically prioritises well-known EHRDs, overlooking the broader community of defenders and their interconnected support networks.

To address these challenges, Both ENDS, in collaboration with allies, has been working on developing a comprehensive System of Care, exploring and piloting the ways in which our partners facing threats as a result of their environmental and human rights work can be supported in their efforts to build protection, strengthen practices of care, and sustain their work and guarantee our collective future.


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