UN expert calls for European nations to stop repression of climate protesters News
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UN expert calls for European nations to stop repression of climate protesters

The UN Special Rapporteur on Environmental Defenders issued a position paper Wednesday urging European nations to stop the state repression of environmental protest and to live up to their obligations under the Paris Agreement to cut global warming.

In the paper, Michel Forst stated that the “repression that environmental activists who use peaceful civil disobedience are currently facing in Europe is a major threat to democracy and human rights.” He emphasised that addressing the environmental crisis hinges on ensuring that individuals who raise concerns and advocate for action aren’t penalised for their actions. He claims that multiple European nations including, among others, the UK, France, Spain and Denmark have engaged in the harassment of protesters through the abuse of arrests, fines and identity checks. He further identified instances of the harassment and prosecution of journalists, as well as abusive practices on the part of law enforcement. There has been an increase in the number of prosecutions of climate protestors in an attempt to deter people from protesting. The judicial procedures and court systems of various nations are allegedly fuelling the suppression and legal prosecution of environmental activists involved in peaceful demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience.

Forst urged European nations to address what he calls the “triple environmental crisis,” meaning the ongoing crises of pollution, biodiversity loss and climate change. He believes that the increasing threat of this crisis will mean further mobilization of protest groups and that, rather than criminalising those involved, countries should be looking at the root causes behind the need for such groups. He called on states to reverse the trend of repression and “ensure a safe and enabling environment for environmental defenders.”

The report comes as countries across Europe adopt harsher measures against peaceful demonstrators and environmental groups are being stigmatised through criminalization. According to a statement made by the European Council’s Commissioner for Human Rights in June 2023, peaceful environmental protesters had, in the preceding months, faced instances of being pepper sprayed, manhandled, injured, dispersed and subject to arrests and detention in several European nations. She had called on governments to end repressive crackdowns on environmental protesters, saying, “These are issues that affect us all in that they concern our human rights, well-being, and future. Those who raise them deserve our sympathy and support – not repression or resentment.”