• IUCN

2021 To Be A Groundbreaking Year For Environmental Defenders And Whistleblowers

by Scott Hajost and Peter Briccetti

2021 has been a significant year for promoting international environmental protection and whistleblower enfranchisement. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has taken a number of important steps that will encourage governments and other actors to view whistleblowers as valuable allies in the fight for conservation and environmental protection. In January, members of IUCN approved four resolutions that serve as a roadmap for countries working to design international systems to protect whistleblowers and use them to fight international wildlife trafficking and environmental crime. IUCN Members in January also approved the new IUCN Program 2021-24, which calls upon IUCN to promote whistleblower protection and reward laws. At the same time, members also approved new IUCN Commission Mandates including that of WCEL- the World Commission on Environmental Law which includes protection of whistleblowers and environmental defenders as a priority.


At the recent IUCN World Conservation Congress in Marseilles, France, members voted to adopt Motion 39 “Protecting environmental human and peoples’ rights defenders and whistleblowers.” This motion urges governments to adopt and uphold laws aimed at protecting environmental defenders and whistleblowers, while also encouraging the IUCN Director General to, among other things, develop an “IUCN policy and action plan on environmental human rights defenders and whistleblowers.” In collaboration with defenders and whistleblowers, Motion 39 also requests that the IUCN Commission on Education and Communications (CEC), the World Commission on Environmental Law (CEL) and the Commission on Environmental, Economic and Social Policy (CEESP) “initiate a campaign to promote and support the work of environmental human rights defenders and whistleblowers as a way of protecting them from threats and attacks and showing the importance of their work.” No doubt, this motion will help to convey to governments around the world the importance of whistleblowers and environmental defenders, so that they will better protect them from harm.


As discussed in an article published on WNN, environmental defenders and whistleblowers do different essential tasks in the protection of wildlife and prosecution of environmental corruption, and share dangers to their careers, quality of life, and even their lives. While whistleblowers and environmental defenders usually begin their journey towards defending the environment from different places, they end up in similar unfortunate situations. These four resolutions, Motion 39, and the new Program of IUCN demonstrate that IUCN is doing all that it can to protect and enfranchise both groups.


Scott Hajost, Senior Wildlife and Climate Policy Advisor at the National Whistleblower Center (NWC), was instrumental to the incorporation of whistleblower language in these resolutions, the new IUCN Program, and the new WCEL Mandate. A staunch environmental advocate, Hajost represented NWC at the 2021 Marseilles Conference and worked there and in advance of the Congress to promote adoption of Motion 39. Environmental Defenders and whistleblowers were both highlighted topics at the Congress, gathering media attention.


Hajost says the process of adopting Motion 39 went remarkably smoothly, with little to no resistance or debate. While there was an opportunity to vote on it electronically earlier in the year, it was referred to an in-person vote at the Marseilles Conference because of its importance. While there was some “fine tuning on human rights law and indigenous peoples text,” in the virtual contact groups, Hajost says that the Motion “sailed through the voting in the plenary with no debate.”


In addition to the motions, the Marseille World Conservation Congress approved the Marseille Manifesto, a document outlining IUCN’s approach and recommendations for combating climate change, conserving biodiversity, and countering the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic while protecting valuable and marginalized groups. The Manifesto explains IUCN’s commitments to protecting these communities in its “Respecting and harnessing the perspectives and agency of all citizens” section, prominently highlighting an IUCN commitment to protect environmental defenders.


One of the important takeaways from the Marseilles Congress is that IUCN and its partners are doubling down on the essential work of protecting and supporting all citizens and communities that are already protecting the environment in whatever ways they are able. While highlighting indigenous groups and women in particular as especially vulnerable groups, the Manifesto states in no uncertain terms that “Around the world, those working to defend the environment are under attack.” A big part of IUCN’s strategy in the coming years will revolve around promoting further protections for all who seek to defend the environment.


Read Motion 39 here.

Read the Marseilles Manifesto here.

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