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Governments must harness power of climate protests, not suppress them – UN expert

NEW YORK (14 October 2021)  ̶  Too many governments are cracking down on peaceful climate change activists at the very time their energy is needed to save the planet and build a greener, more sustainable future, a UN expert told the General Assembly today.

“I am especially troubled by efforts to clamp down on protest movements that engage in civil disobedience and non-violent direct-action campaigns,” said Clément Voule, UN Special rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and association.  “Climate justice activists and indigenous peoples are following in the footsteps of other major transnational social movements that brought us the end of apartheid, segregation and discrimination against women.”

Voule spoke as he presented a report on the increase in restrictions and attacks on climate protestors, and failure to protect civil society. He called on governments to “exercise great restraint” in imposing restrictions on peaceful climate-change protests. 

“What I learned from speaking to communities is that as more people around the world organize to protect their communities from the devastating effects of climate change, violent repression also increased,” Voule said. This takes the form of physical attacks, killings, and intimidation campaigns, as well as new bans on protest, and judicial harassment. 

“If States are serious about tackling climate change and building a greener and more sustainable future, they must protect civic space and empower civil society,” Voule said. “Civil society and protest movements around the world are protecting the world’s lands, forests and waters; raising awareness of climate change, building communities that are resilient, proposing solutions and holding State and non-State actors accountable.”

Ahead of the major UN climate change conference, COP26, starting at the end of this month, Voule called on States to “harness the power of the climate justice movement, rather than trying to suppress it.”

ENDS

Clément N. Voule (Togo) was appointed as UN Special Rapporteur on the right to peaceful assembly and association in March 2018. He is a lawyer and currently works in Geneva in the field of human rights. He is an associate researcher at the Geneva Academy of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law. Prior to his appointment, he led the work of the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR). Mr. Voule also worked as Secretary General of the Togolese Coalition of Human Rights Defenders, as campaigning officer for the Coalition for the Togolese International Criminal Court and as Secretary General of the Amnesty International section in Togo. Since 2011, Mr. Voule has been an expert member of the Working Group on Extractive Industries, Environment and Human Rights Violations of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council's independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures' experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

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