GENEVA (30 November 2023) – Human rights and those who defend them must be at the forefront of the COP28 summit which begins today in the United Arab Emirates, a UN expert said today.
“There have been too many occasions in the past where decisions have been made without representation of those who are most impacted by them,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor. “I urge authorities in the UAE to ensure that human rights defenders representing the rights of the most marginalised and most at risk from the climate crisis are meaningfully involved in the negotiations next week,” she said.
COP28, which will take place between 30 November and 12 December, will see stakeholders gather in Dubai to assess what progress has been made in relation to the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change. Lawlor said it was essential that people be permitted to voice their concerns or criticisms of the human rights impacts both of climate change and measures designed to mitigate climate change, which ignore the effects on rights holders. “States must recognise that human rights and climate justice are two sides of the same coin, and if we exclude or silence those who are warning us about human rights risks, we will fall into the same trap as before of designing a new framework of living for the few, rather than for the many,” the Special Rapporteur said.
Lawlor said it was essential that human rights defenders and civil society are permitted to play a full role in COP28. For this to happen however, the expert noted that the UAE would need to rescind restrictive legislation it has in place which limits the space for freedom of expression, association and assembly in the country. Furthermore, she urged the UAE to avoid adopting similar measures conducted against civil society at COP27 in Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt, where environmental human rights defenders and civil society activists were subjected to intimidation, harassment and surveillance. For the sake of transparency, the host country agreement should be made publicly available, the expert said.
“I urge the UAE to use its moment in the global spotlight to show that it respects human rights,” Lawlor said. She said the UAE could send a strong signal immediately by releasing human rights defenders in its prisons who have already served their full sentences.
“As this year is the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 25th Anniversary of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, it would be fitting,” the expert said.
Ms. Mary Lawlor (Ireland) was appointed as Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders by the Human Rights Council in 2020. She is currently Associate Professor of Business and Human Rights at the Centre for Social Innovation (CSI) at Trinity College Dublin Business School. In 2001 she founded Front Line Defenders - the International Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders to focus on human rights defenders at risk. As Executive Director between 2001 and 2016, Ms. Lawlor represented Front Line Defenders and played a key role in its development. Ms. Lawlor was previously Director of the Irish Office of Amnesty International from 1988 to 2000, after becoming a member of the Board of Directors in 1975 and being elected its President from 1983 to 1987.
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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