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Environmental defenders protest at COP 28 in Dubai on international human rights day

DUBAI — Is the COP 28 a cop-out?

Indigenous peoples and environmental defenders attending the Conference of the Parties (COP) 28 in Dubai commemorated the 75th year of the Universal Declaration for Human Rights by protesting the unabated attacks against environmental and human rights defenders.

According to Global Witness, at least 1,910 environmental defenders around the world were killed between 2012 to 2022. Majority of the slain environmental defenders were from Latin America. Other deadly countries for environmental defenders are Brazil, with 34 killings, Mexico with 31, Honduras with 14, and the Philippines with a total of 11 defenders killed.

Environmental defenders are also subjected to other forms of rights violations for opposing projects that affect the environment and communities. This was the case of Sara “Bestang” Dekdeken, secretary general of Cordillera People Alliance, who confronts judicial harassment in the Philippines. She attended the COP 28 in Dubai to make her voice heard.

She said that certain corporations’ exploitative projects resulted in state-sponsored violations of the rights of indigenous people in defense of their ancestral lands and natural resources. “Nobody deserves to be criminalized for speaking out for justice, for truth and for speaking out for indigenous peoples’ rights.”

She added that indigenous peoples have yet to see in the COP meaningful ways to address the indigenous people’s situation, particularly the exploitation and plunder of their ancestral lands and resources. “We have yet to see the inclusion of our rights in every negotiation and meaningful participation of indigenous peoples in all matters related to climate change.”

As long as the rights of the indigenous peoples continue to be violated, Dekdeken stressed that there will be no climate justice.

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South African environmental defender Andrew Zeleman said that in developing countries, 70 percent of the land is owned by indigenous peoples. In south west Africa, he said that many exploitative projects have affected the people’s lives. “We call on the world leaders to consider the rights of the people,” Zeleman said.

Radiatu Kahnclaye, an activist in Liberia, said that in South Africa thousands of environmental defenders are actually facing judicial harassment and reprisals. There are even cases of murder, according to her.

“They are the local chiefs, women, girls, farmers, they are the defenders who could not even have internet presence like you and me. They are nameless and faceless defenders. […] We are demanding that COP deliver and hold people accountable for injustice, for series of attacks, reprisals and killings of human rights defenders.”

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