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Launch of UN Environment’s Environmental Defenders Policy

Berta Caceres at the banks of the Gualcarque River in the Rio Blanco region of western Honduras where she, COPINH (the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras) and the people of Rio Blanco have maintained a two year struggle to halt construction on the Agua Zarca Hydroelectric project, that poses grave threats to local environment, river and indigenous Lenca people from the region.

First published on 03/22/2018, and last updated on 04/26/2018

Violations of the environmental rights of communities and individuals are on the rise worldwide. More and more ordinary people are on the frontlines, defending their rights from violations by corporate or state actors, and from unsustainable exploitation of the environment. In 2017, the UN Environment Programme (UN Environment) agreed on the need for a common and coherent approach to promote greater protection for environmental defenders. In March 2018, the agency launched its new Environmental Defenders Policy, which proposes how it can promote greater protection for individuals and groups who are defending their environmental rights, and identifies solutions to mitigate the abuse of environmental rights.

Through this policy, UN Environment will:

  • Contribute to ending the threats, restrictions and violence against environmental defenders;
  • Assist States to address crucial issues related to environmental rights, and encourage States to recognize and support the role of ordinary citizens in environmental protection, and indigenous peoples and local communities;
  • Respond directly to the three pillars of the UN, and the Secretary General’s priorities on peace and security, development, and human rights, as well as the UN System-Wide Action Plan for coherent implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples;
  • Support the implementation of and adherence to the UN Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms;
  • Promote the critical role of the rule of law in environmental matters; and
  • Encourage initiatives in the public, non-governmental and private sectors with the aim of ensuring greater respect and support for the rights of environmental defenders.

In addition, UN Environment will continue to work with judges around the world to develop and implement environmental constitutional provisions that will secure environmental rights.

UN Environment is encouraging civil society groups, faith-based organizations, law and policy makers, judges, prosecutors, national human rights institutions, regional human rights organizations, and citizens, indigenous and local communities and their leaders, to be at the core of this initiative.

The Policy is available in six languages at:

UN Environment also offers a free online course on the situation of environmental defenders, available at: