Warning! All those who want not to be afraid to peacefully defend their environmental rights, write appeals to regulatory authorities, comment on EIA reports and because of this to be called criminals – eco-terrorists, we urge you to join this appeal.
Statement on the unacceptability of labeling environmental activists as eco-terrorists
Environmental and human rights organizations, and members of the public who joined the statement, are deeply concerned about the significant surge of accusations, threats and acts of violence against citizens and civil society organizations peacefully defending their environmental rights and the environment in Ukraine, and attempts to incite hostility between business and the public by certain organizations and individuals.
In particular, the business-oriented public association “Professional Association of Ecologists of Ukraine» (hereinafter – PAEU) has long been manipulatively trying to impose on society the concepts of “eco-terrorism”, “eco-raiding” and other shameful labels against citizens and public organizations that use peaceful and legitimate means to protect the environment and their rights. For example, they protest against construction of environmentally hazardous facilities, provide comments within EIA procedure, appeal to regulatory authorities or courts. Recently at the National Ecoforum “Green Economy: How to Achieve Balance” organized by the PAEU, a discussion panel and the resolution of the Forum was devoted to the issue of condemnation of environmentalists and discussion of ways to counter “eco-terrorists”. Based on results of the Forum, PAEU prepared the appeal to the Prime Minister, the President and the Verkhovna Rada requesting to recognize the concepts of eco-terrorism and eco-raiding at the legislative level and to actually criminalize civil actions. For a month now, PAEU and some business experts have been active in the media continuing to heat up this manipulation.
PAEU started false labeling of the public, which defends environmental rights, at its first events when in July 2019 the newly formed association together with other business associations voiced many epithets for the public, namely – “pseudo-environmentalists”, “terrorists”, “racketeers”, “raiders”, “groups”. In this regard, the public made statement then. Instead of building a dialogue with environmentalists, as PAEU allegedly intended to do, the organization deliberately continues the discourse of shame and labeling those who peacefully and non-violently defend the environment and their environmental rights.
Unfortunately, this trend is spreading. In November 2021,a number of parliamentarians,including from the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Environmental Policy and Nature Management, made an appeal demanding to investigate, recognize and counteract so-called “eco-terrorism”. The term “terrorism” exists in the Ukrainian legislation, wjile the term “eco-terrorism” is not defined by the EU law1.
Just opposite! Such pressure on environmentalists is attracting increasing attention on behalf of human rights bodies. As stated by the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights on his page “the situatins when environmental human rights defenders are deliberately mocked, ridiculed, scapegoated, marginalised, or even likened to extremists and given derogatory labels, such as ‘(eco-)terrorists’ – including by public officials, media outlets, or even judicial authorities. Some governments and businesses resort to offensive and stigmatising public relations campaigns to isolate environmental campaigners and make attacks on them more justifiable to the general public.. ” According to the analysis of open sources conducted by the international charitable organization “Environment-People-Law“ in 2021, environmental activists, journalists and ordinary citizens who defended their environmental rights, more than several dozens of time became victims of physical violence. Even more numerous were threats and destruction of property. And this is just the tip of the iceberg, as a large number of such cases are not covered in the press.
The Commissioner for Human Rights notes that we cannot claim to be serious about protecting the environment or combating climate change unless we protect those who put themselves on the line for these goals... Protecting environmentalists, she continues, is not just a moral and political imperative. At the very least, it should be a reflex for collective self-preservation.
In response to the harassment of environmental activists, major law enforcement agencies in particular UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, UNEP and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, take measures to protect them. One of the recent is creation of Rapid response mechanism– a special instrument within the framework of the Aarhus Convention, designed to respond promptly to cases of punishment, persecution or any oppression of those who seek to exercise their procedural environmental rights. According to Article 3 of the Aarhus Convention, no one exercising his/her rights under its provisions may be punished, persecuted or oppressed in any way. It is time to remind PAEU about this. And if necessary, we will remind law enforcement agencies about this.
We call on parliamentarians, the President, other public authorities, business and the media to reaffirm their commitment to democratic values, freedom of speech and human rights, and not to succumb to the tactics of those who do not want to solve environmental problems and instead slander, provoke and push business and the authorities to use violent or other means to put pressure on environmental activists instead of seeking dialogue and resolving disputes peacefully.
More than 150 human rights and environmental organizations, scientists and activists joined the statement. Among them are the Bureau of Environmental Investigations, the Kharkiv Human Rights Group, the Ukrainian Nature Conservation Group, the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, and others.