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2020 Edelstam Prize for outstanding contributions and exceptional courage in standing up for human rights

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Video Statement by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

24 November 2020

Greetings to all of you. It is a great pleasure to celebrate with you the human rights work of Osvalinda Marcelino Alves Pereira, in Brazil.

Ms. Pereira is known for her work with and for women, and her struggle to prevent illegal mining, logging and destructive agricultural and business practises from harming the environment in the Amazon.

The actions of human rights defenders like Osvalinda Pereira are deeply beneficial to all of us. In recognizing Ms. Pereira, we also honour all those who take action to stand up for human rights – including our right to a healthy environment. They often do so at great risk. Far too often, they suffer violence and abuse – even killings. In this year alone, at least 9 human rights activists have been murdered in Brazil– and Ms Pereira is one of many who have received death threats.

Human rights defenders are a testament to human resilience and strength, and to our capacity to recover better, by empowering all people to exercise their rights. These women and men need meaningful protection. Impunity fuels the perpetuation of further assaults against defenders, and weakens the cause of human rights. They – and all of us – should be able to count on a free and open space for community associations, local and international NGOs.

The shrinking of the civic space in Brazil, as in many other countries, has alarmed my Office. We are seeing rollbacks of environmental protections and the erosion of mechanisms to ensure that civil society organizations can fully participate in decision-making. Human rights defenders and journalists remain under threat.

Consider the Amazon rainforest which Osvalinda Pereira, and so many others, risk their lives to protect. The destruction of the Amazon is a vital issue for the millions of people who count upon this ecosystem for their daily survival, as well as to global climate change. Under human rights law, all Governments of the Amazon region have an obligation to take action to prevent these harms, and to protect environmental human rights defenders.

The Escazu Agreement, which will soon come into force, aims to guarantee the right of every person to a healthy environment, and to protect human rights defenders. I call on Brazil and other signatories to ratify the Agreement immediately, and all State parties to effectively implement it.

I congratulate Ms. Pereira on her award, and thank her for her work. I hope this well-deserved recognition of her courage will send a timely and empowering message to human rights defenders across the Amazon, and around the world.

Thank you.