Nearly half of the 281 human rights activists who lost their lives in 2016 were murdered for protecting land, indigenous and environmental rights. Another 185 environmental defenders were killed in 2015, a death toll more than double that of journalists. Not only are these citizens recognized by the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, but they also play a critical role in combating climate change and advancing sustainable, socially equitable development. Yet lack of government transparency and officials’ failure to consult the public inhibits many communities from effectively challenging powerful political and corporate interests. They are often silenced, intimidated and harassed.

WRI will host a panel discussion of experts to examine underlying causes of violence against environmental defenders—lack of political will, corruption and unequal power dynamics at all levels of environmental decision making—and emerging good practices that states can adopt to protect these individuals. They will also discuss cases that promote preventative approaches to avoid social and environmental conflicts through mechanisms of access to information, participation and justice.


Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner

John Knox, Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner

Andrea Davide Ulisse Cerami, Human Rights and Environment Coordinator, Mexican Center for Environmental Law A.C.

Kizito Byenkya, Program Specialist, Human Rights Initiative, Open Society Foundations

Moderator: Carole Excell, Project Director, The Access Initiative