RFK Human Rights files amicus brief on climate change, seeks protection for environmental defenders

On December 18, 2023, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, in partnership with the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria, Amazon Watch, Latin American and Caribbean Network for Democracy (REDLAD), ARTICLE 19: Global Campaign for Free Expression, Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (GI-ESCR), and International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), filed an amicus brief before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights with regards to the Request for Advisory Opinion on the Climate Emergency and Human Rights.

In January 2023, Colombia and Chile submitted a request for an advisory opinion to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to “clarify the scope of State obligations, in their individual and collective dimension, in order to respond to the climate emergency within the framework of international human rights law, paying special attention to the differentiated impacts of this emergency on individuals from diverse regions and population groups, as well as on nature and on human survival on our planet.”

The amicus brief seeks to provide the Court with jurisprudence from various regional and international legal authorities to contribute to the analysis and progressive protection of environmental defenders. The amicus brief addresses the relevant standards that may be useful for the Court to answer questions regarding States’ “obligations of prevention and the protection of environmental defenders, as well as women, Indigenous peoples, and Afro-descendant communities in the context of the climate emergency.” This advisory opinion represents an important opportunity to deepen and expand Inter-American standards on the rights of these groups, especially due to the urgent nature of the climate crisis and the myriad of attacks against environmental defenders.

This brief posits four main arguments. The submission argues that, because environmental defenders address climate change through their work, States’ climate and human rights obligations require them to protect environmental defenders. The brief also outlines States’ obligations regarding human rights defenders and asserts that they also apply to environmental defenders. Additionally, the amicus contends that because of the special risk environmental defenders face, States have a reinforced obligation to protect them. Lastly, the brief argues that States must take a differentiated approach to protecting environmental defenders in order to account for the additional struggles faced by women, Indigenous peoples, Afro-descendants and rural farming communities (campesinos).

Therefore, this amicus brief invites the Court to use its advisory opinion to encourage States to adopt certain best practices to enhance the protection of environmental defenders, including providing extensive support to defenders who are victims of violations, ratifying and implementing the Escazú Agreement, adopting legislation to combat Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs) with explicit references to “environmental defenders,” and increasing corporate due diligence obligations in relation to adverse human rights and environmental impacts. Further, the amicus invites the Court to require States to take a differentiated approach when performing their obligations to environmental defenders, ensure that protection measures promote a broad and inclusive definition of environmental defenders, and involve defenders in the development and implementation of strategies for their protection.

This is an unprecedented opportunity for this Court to further develop its jurisprudence on these matters and strengthen the protections for environmental defenders and, in turn, combat the climate emergency.