Friends and colleagues!
Tomorrow is the International Day for Human Rights and 71 years since the United Nations adopted The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This declaration recognizes that “Everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of person.” My name is Makoma Lekalakala and I am an environmental activist and Director of Earthlife Africa in Johannesburg. By gathering here today we are honoring the memory of the environmental defenders we lost during 2019. So far this year, or until mid-November, 138 environmental defenders were murdered according to the organization Global Witness. 138 women and men. That is more than 3 persons every week. All of them was someone’s mother, brother, colleague or friend. Also, due to unrecorded cases, the actual figure is probably significantly higher. Judicial harassment, death threats, and surveillance affect thousands of women and men around the globe for their efforts against land grabbing, exploitation of our natural resources and for standing up for human rights and mother nature. Over the past decade, authoritarian and nationalist leaders and parties have gained ground around the world. An alarming trend that highlights the need for common agreements and cooperation across borders. No less than 70 countries have recently introduced restrictions against people organizing themselves. Civil society is under attack and we are seeing how democratic space is shrinking in many countries all over the world. This is about farmers who fight for the right to their own land. Families whose small scale fishing-based livelihoods are threatened by multinational fishing companies. This is about indigenous peoples who been cultivating their forests for generations and now are forcibly displaced to make room for plantations and mines as the agricultural- and mineral industries are thriving. Today is the closing day of the global campaign Land Rights Now. An important initiative where indigenous peoples, local communities, and their allies worldwide mobilizes to call for an end to the criminalization of land rights defenders. This is what it is all about – we, the environmental movement, call for an end of the violence and criminalization of environmental defenders and people who fight for their right to protect their land. As we speak, ministers from the entire world are gathering here in Madrid for climate negotiations. To succeed in curbing the ongoing climate change, long-term and courageous decisions are required by our political representatives. In this context, human rights need to be addressed. It has never been more important to protect the environment. And it has never been more deadly. -We demand that the world's governments ensure that people and communities affected by land and environmental exploitation must be given the opportunity to gain insight and influence.