Protecting the planet and protecting people – opening remarks at the 65th UN Commission on the Status of Women

Commission on the Status of Women 65th Session

 Protecting planet and peopleVoices from Women Environmental Human Rights Defenders

17 March 2021


EU Special Representative for Human Rights, Eamon Gilmore

Opening Remarks



Thank you Meerim and to Silvio and Jane for your introductory remarks.  It is a great pleasure for the European Union to join the United States and Front Line Defenders in co-hosting this event and of course, to be joined by Assistant Secretary General Ilze Brands Kehris and five outstanding women human rights defenders: Irina, Melania, Miriam, Rizwana and Phyllis.

 This discussion brings together two inseparable imperatives for humanity – protecting the planet and protecting people.  During this past year, the COVID-19 crisis has shown us even more clearly the interconnectedness and universality of human rights and the need for a rights based approach to crises, including to climate change and the protection of the environment.

Even before the pandemic, it was clear that environmental harm interferes with the enjoyment of human rights, while conversely the exercise of human rights helps to protect the environment. Women environmental human rights defenders are at the heart of that inseparable relationship between the protection of the planet and the protection of human rights.


The EU is extremely concerned about the growing backlash against women’s rights around the world, as well as increased violence against women human rights defenders.


Women human rights defenders are especially at risk of sexual and gender-based violence and suffer threats, stigma and worse, not only because they are promoting and defending the rights of others, but also because they are women doing that work.  They are disproportionally at risk of suffering multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination.


This is further compounded when women defend environmental, land or indigenous peoples’ rights.  According to reports, defenders working on these rights are nearly three times more likely to be assaulted than other human rights defenders.  This type of violence is often linked to impunity.


To address these challenges, the EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy and the EU Gender Action Plan, set out a range of specific measures to support and protect human rights defenders and in particular, women defenders and environmental defenders.


Using the EU Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders, our Delegations and Member States Embassies all around the world are active on a daily basis to protect human rights defenders through trial monitoring, prison visits, meetings with defenders at risk, statements and many other actions.  Special attention is given to women human rights defenders.


This is also priority of the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights, which has funding of €1.5 billion from 2021-2027.  In addition, more than 20,000 women human rights defenders have been supported by the EU funded Mechanism between 2015 and 2020.


Yet in these difficult times, we must do more.  And I can assure you that the EU will continue to work with all actors, civil society, government, the private sector and others to ensure that all defenders, especially women environmental human rights defenders, can carry out their work free hindrance or insecurity.


Defenders are drivers of change who sound the early warnings before violations or abuses of human rights actually happen.  And women environmental human rights defenders are critical for ensuring equality, peace, justice and a better future for us all


I look forward to the discussion that we will have today.


Thank you.