European Union External Action

EU-NGO Human Rights Forum: speech by the HR/VP Josep Borrell

Brussels, 03/12/2019 - 23:15, UNIQUE ID: 191203_10
HR/VP speeches

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Thank you for inviting me, I am very happy to participate in your work. It is true, it is my second day in office. Yesterday was the first one. I had the opportunity to participate in the opening of the Climate Change Conference the COP 25 in Madrid, immediately after I went to Paris for the mourning of the French soldiers killed in Mali. This is my third activity. As you can see, it is a varied menu.

It was a sad day yesterday, because the mourning of these French soldiers was a ceremony that showed us that the soldiers were killed defending not only France’s security but also the European security in countries where to talk about human rights is to talk about something inexistent.

Today we are going to talk about it and I am very happy to have this opportunity because when I went to the hearings I said that human rights will be an important part of the foreign policy of the European Union. And today when we talk about human rights, we also have to talk about it from the perspective of environmental issues.

Normally when we talk about human rights we think about a dictator who puts people in jail but now we have to deal with human rights in a broader scope. And the consequences of climate change are also a threat to human rights all over the world, because human rights and environmental challenges are closely interlinked and affect people and their fundamental rights all over the world. We are not only talking about indigenous people in the Amazon whose livelihoods are under serious threat. We are also talking about it, but extreme weather events all over the world are also affecting an increasing number of people globally and mainly the most vulnerable in society.

European citizens are very much aware that one of the biggest challenges we face is climate change, but it is not affecting us from the perspective of human rights. Geopolitically, on the contrary, it is true. It affects the living conditions of millions of people, [for example] in the Sahel. When people who will be obliged to abandon their land because their land is no longer able to produce, from an agricultural point of view, they will become migrants and they will come to Europe and it is a vicious circle that affects them. They have human rights, both as people who are obliged to leave their countries and also later, as migrants coming to ask asylum. Maybe the idea of asylum seekers for climate reasons is starting to emerge: 'I am asking for protection, not because at home there is a bloody dictator who will kill me, but just because I cannot live and I have to go away in order to look for security.'.

That is why it is so important that the European Commission has started working on this European Green Deal that we will be approving I hope in the next weeks. And this will turn the European Union into a big political agent as a listener, as a spender, as a provider of investment capital at home and abroad, as a standard setter; in general as a global actor.

And at the upcoming European Council, in a couple of weeks, the Heads of state and government should finalise our guidance in order for us, European Union, to set up a long term strategy on climate change. And this will require a strong engagement from international partners and civil society. International partners, because we account for - we Europeans - just 8 or 9 percent of the [global] CO2 emissions. And even if by miracle tomorrow we stop producing a single kilogram of CO2, the problem will this still be the same because there will still be the 92 percent which are being produced out of the wealthy European countries. And this creates strong problems of social justice all over the world, global justice.

How can we ask people that have never seen a bulb, an electric bulb that their development has to be constrained due to the fact that there is no room in the atmosphere for more CO2 emissions. There are about 1000 million people who have never seen an electric bulb. Not to talk about refrigerators, heaters, cars, everything that we have at home and we use as part of our way of living. This is going to create a big problem of justice: to whom does the atmosphere belong? Who is authorised to use it as storage of CO2? Yes, we are not producing a lot, but in the past we have produced too much. And the problem comes from the fact that in the past in our part of the world, we have been using this public good, which is the amount that the atmosphere is able to stock of these gases. So we have to pursue climate change inspired by a strong justice basis and this is why it is very much related to human rights.

But we can go closer to real life things and to talk about the people in the civil society that work on the protection of human rights and fight for a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. Environmental human rights defenders - yes there are environmental human rights defenders. - I know some of them from my past activities - are true champions working on the ground, often in the face of great adversity at personal cost. And we should continue to do everything we can in order to protect them and to ensure them that they can be working in a safe and enabling environment, free from obstruction and insecurity.

Today, land and natural resources management is one of the most critical challenges the world is facing. Land and natural resources management - take a look at deforestation and many other phenomena - is one of the most critical challenges that we have to face. And that is why we have agreements and we have forest law enforcement, governments and trade voluntary partnership addressing the problem of land rights at national level. And it is very critical. We are doing something to support it. In about 40 countries , we are spending about €240 million to protect the human rights fighters facing environmental challenges.

And I am not talking just about indigenous people who in the collective imagination of the Western civilization are the ones who are fighting, being the guardians of the environment. We know them, but there are much, much more risks and there are many people who are being involved in these kind of fights, suffering from intimidation, harassment, detention and even losing their life. And I can say some examples.

Recently in Latin America one of the most well-known human rights defenders from the environmental side who was killed in Honduras, Berta Caceres, maybe some of you have heard about her. I am happy to know that some days ago a court sentenced four men to 50 years in prison for the murder of Berta. In my previous life I had to answer many questions in the Spanish parliament asking me: 'what are you going to do to protect the family of Berta? What are you going to do in order to ask for justice for the people who killed Berta?'. This is a good example of how people like her coming from the ground, from the indigenous population have become defenders of human rights from the point of view of the environment.

I think this is a new dimension of human rights defence. And what I can tell you is that we have to introduce this dimension in the human rights fight. In 2018 we have listed 321 human rights defenders that were targeted and killed for their work. The highest number on record so far. It is quite a big number. 321 human rights defenders from the environmental perspective. More than three quarters of those were just fighting on environmental issues.

And since 2015, European Union has been supporting 30 000 human rights defenders. That is not bad. That is not enough. But to help and to support 30 000 people all over the world which where engaged in defending human rights from an environmental perspective, I think is something that we should value. And we have done that through the European instrument for democracy and human rights. And I hope that in the new financial perspective, this budgetary line will increase, because we really need it, because the problems of human rights and environment will increase in the near future.

I do not want to come here to preach and to say that the European Union is the solution for everything. I don't want to express my happiness because we do a lot. I prefer to say that we are not doing enough. That we are doing things, but not enough, certainly not. And whatever we do, whatever we are able to perform on, facing this problem, will be much more effective if we work together, the administrations and the civil society. The civil servants and ordinary people who are engaging through the work of the NGOs all over the world, by many ways enabling access to information, supporting land governance.

We have signed some agreements with more than 40 countries addressing violations of human rights by companies and corporate entities and all of you have in mind examples of where and how this happens. This does not happen mainly in the European geography, happily we have passed this stage of development, but it happens in many countries with which we have trade agreements. And I think that trade agreements can be used as a powerful tool in order to get an answer from these countries in order to face these problems. How the product has been produced, where the product has been produced, what is the environmental and human rights cost of the things that we consume…

More and more it is an answer that has to come from civil society to push the political organisations to take care of these issues. If there is no pressure from civil society, if there is no pressure from people like you, at the end, at the negotiation table these kind of things tend to be forgotten, tend to be replaced by other important and pressing economic interest. So I know very well when we are negotiating, you have to take into account many different things. And the more political power weight behind one objective, the more you pay attention to it.

Other [matters], which are much more important from a human point of view, we do not have a defender behind them. You must play this role. And that is why the European Union and in particular the European Union External Action Service would be very happy if we can work together to contribute to a better defence of the human rights defenders on the environmental field.

We are going to have a lot of work. Yesterday in Madrid I listened to a lot of nice speeches. Everybody claiming how important it is to fight against climate change and protect the rights of nature. We are in a fight against the nature, we have to make peace with nature. That's good. The only thing is that all that has a cost and someone has to pay it. And one of the most important things that we will have to face in the future is who is going to pay for it.

I am always saying that for people like me it is quite easy to think about what is going to happen in the next 20 years and to be worried by the end of the world, that will happen 20 years from now. But there are many poor people that cannot afford to be afraid or worried for what is going to happen 20 years from now. They are too much worried about the next 20 days to be worried about the end of the world. The end of the month is much more important for them than the end of the year. That is why it is a matter of social justice at the global scale. And I thank you for your engagement and your work in order to make the ecological transition fair, because if it is not fair, it will not happen.

Thank you.

Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-181285

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