By Lise Alves, Senior Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The United Nations Environment along with its partner, Global Witness, launched on Monday the UN Environmental Rights Initiative at Rio de Janeiro’s Museu do Amanhã (Museum of Tomorrow) in an effort to protect environmentalists in Brazil of intimidation, threats and murders. The initiative was launched in response to the escalating violence facing those working on the frontline of environmental protection.

Brazil, Rio de Janeiro,Authorities meet at Museu do Amanha to launch campaign to protect environmentalists in Brazil
Authorities meet at Museu do Amanha to launch campaign to protect environmentalists in Brazil, photo courtesy of Brazil’s Human Rights Ministry.

“Year after year, in a bitter struggle over land, more environmental and land defenders are killed in Brazil than anywhere else in the world,” said Billy Kyte, the Global Witness campaign representative. “Our data shows that in 2017, 57 defenders were murdered, 25 of them during three mass killings.”

Global Witness’s latest report, “At What Price?”, showed that nearly four environmental advocates are being killed each week, with many others being harassed, intimidated and forced to leave their land. Many activists are targeted for defending their communities against illegal logging and the expansion of cattle ranches and agriculture. About 25 percent of the 207 environmental defenders killed in 2017 were from indigenous communities.

“Environmental advocates are the unknown heroes of this era, and it’s up to us to stand side by side with them as they stand on the most fundamental right – to have a safe planet to live in,” says the executive director of UN Environment, Erik Solheim.

“The consequences of environmental damage caused in one country reflect on others and on human life as a whole. Therefore, it is essential that we come to an agreement on what is important for the lives of this and future generations,” said Brazil’s Attorney General, Raquel Dodge during the ceremony.

“It is essential to emphasize the role of environmentalists to defend the right of all of us to enjoy our planet with a balance between a healthy environment and development that benefits each person,” added Brazil’s Human Rights Minister, Gustavo do Vale Rocha.

According to Rocha, the Brazilian government’s Human Rights Defenders Protection Program (PPDDH) currently has 577 people who are being threatened for their work in protecting the environment

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