Gaia joins environmental defenders from around the world to ask the pope to take action. VATICAN, 5 OCTOBER 2016 – Out of concern for the increasing violence against environmental defenders, a coalition of 76 environmental and human rights organizations from 19 countries asks the Pope to stand up for their protection.

In a letter presented to Pope Francis this week, the organizations ask the Pope to be a patron for all environmental defenders who risk their lives by intimately caring about, and fighting for the preservation of nature, our common home.

The signatories are concerned with the increase in violence against environmental defenders. Every week, three people are killed because they stand up for nature. An even larger number faces threats, intimidation and physical violence. Indigenous groups are most vulnerable, since they often live in remote areas and their territory often lacks legal protection from the state.

The violence against environmental defenders often goes unpunished. The signatories fear the violence will only increase if not highly condemned at the highest level of international politics. Our warming climate and growing population mean that pressures on land and natural resources are set to increase, which means that without urgent intervention the numbers of deaths we’re seeing now will be dwarfed by those in the future. To improve the safety of environmental defenders, the coalition calls on the Pope to condemn violence against environmental defenders.

The coalition is composed of 76 environmental and human rights organizations from around the world. All of them are concerned with this rapidly growing crisis.

The letter was initiated by IUCN National Committee of The Netherlands (IUCN NL). With its project ‘Defending environmental defenders’, supported by the Dutch Postcode Lottery, IUCN NL collaborates with Milieudefensie, Friends of the Earth International and Global Witness to improve the safety of environmental defenders in Colombia, Peru, DR Congo, Indonesia and The Philippines.


The Letter

Holy Father, Pope Francis,

Through this letter we salute Your Holiness as a group of people from different organizations and countries united by one concern: to protect and defend the rights and lives of the poorest, as well as Mother Nature, and all what she offers us. First of all, we will want to thank the commitment that Your Holiness has taken with the publication of the Encyclical Letter Laudato Si` on the Care of Our Common House. This letter not only helps us to reaffirm the urgent challenge of protecting our common home but also it encourages us to unite in search of sustainable and comprehensive development which breaks with the current economic model and restores the relationship between people and nature.

Holy Father, today we write to you with a sense of optimism and sadness. Optimism, because increasingly we see signs of a movement that moves to protect the home we share. We have seen this at the most local level, for example, with the struggle of fishing communities in the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo against the threats of oil to nature and their livelihoods. In Nigeria, oil insurgency against the state has resumed with bombings of oil facilities by militants. We see at community level with the defense of forests against the advance of illegal mining in the region of Madre de Dios (Peru). In the Philippines, everyday environment and community rights advocates continue to fight against different forms of development aggression—large-scale mining, land conversion, mono-crop plantations, dams, and so on. We also see it today transnationally with the signing of a treaty between the First Nations of Canada and Aboriginal communities in the United States to combat the exploitation and distribution of oil from tar sands in Alberta. At the institutional level, we welcome the change in approach of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to handle cases of environmental destruction, overexploitation of natural resources and illegal dispossession of communities from their land, which too often affects the poorest.

Read the [EN] Letter to Pope Francis_Environmental Defenders