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Human Rights Defenders have a significant role to play

01 March 2022

By Eunice Nyangani (MDT), ZELA Youth Network

On the 1st of March 2022, Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA) with support from Norwegian Church Aid organized a training on Environmental Human Rights Defenders (EHRDs). The Capacity building saw EHRDs being trained about climate change issues and use of the law for protection.

Members of the ZELA youth network from Manicaland, Paralegals from Mutoko, Shurugwi and Manicaland attended the meeting.

Our first facilitator was ZELA’s Programmes Manager, Nyaradzo Mutonhori. She started by allowing the paralegals to share their stories of experience and why they want to be part of the training. There were many reasons provided by the EHRDs, but the main point was for them to advocate on issues of environmental impacts and take the litigation measures were possible. She gave us the definition of Environmental Human Rights Defenders (EHRDs), the importance of EHRDs and how they can protect the environment in the face of climate change. She also talked about the United Nations (UN) organ which represents the EHRDs rights. She also referenced John Knox, the first United Nations special rapporteur on human rights and environmental issues, including the UN declaration of EHRDs and the defenders can conduct their work effectively and efficiently.

We shared with her the threats faced by EHRDs and the causes of violence which are as follows; Competition over natural resources, Power Inequality, no rule of law, corruption to mention a few. Lastly, she also mentioned about how the State protects EHRDs, including allowing citizens to have access to environmental information, active evolvement in public participation. In addition, letting the communities access remedy and approach the courts when their rights have been violated. She concluded by stating reasons why we have National, Regional, and international policies.

ZELA’s Legal Officer, Manele Mpofu was our second presenter, firstly he introduced the Climate change policies and plans in Zimbabwe, causes of climate change eg deforestation, emissions of gases. The effects of it such global warming, heat waves, natural disasters etcs.  We can address these issues by adapting to climate change and mitigation measures. Lastly, he talked about National action plan and the Gender action plan. The key objective is to facilitate integration. The UNFCCC is part of the Paris agreement which aims to limit global warming. National Determined Contribution is when each country submits its five-year plan. Zimbabwe in 2015 committed to reduce emissions by 30% also in 2020 it committed to reduce emissions by 40%.

Mpofu concluded by allowing participants to share their situational reports focusing on their respective areas by answering five questions. The first being, what is happening in our areas, what are the stakeholders we engaged, what are the threats that we are facing, what are the risks in the future and our interactions with mining companies. We also attached the evidence in form of pictures and audios.

My recommendations

  • To be fully capacitated with the knowledge about and roles of EHRDs and the litigation process.
  •  The need to be supported with resources for us to conduct our work effectively eg, gadgets for documentation and gathering evidence.

In conclusion, I appreciate this educative training and I believe that it will help other members of the community including embracing mitigation measure to reduce the risks  and impacts of climate change. Many thanks to ZELA and partners.

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