Aura Lolita Chavez Ixcaquic

Inspiring environmental defender nominated for international Freedom of Thought prize

Standing up to protect the environment is an increasingly dangerous thing to do. According to the NGO Global Witness, the number of environmental activists killed has risen in a time span of ten years only from 1 to now 4 per week.

Numerous awards already exist to honour environmental defenders, with the Goldman Environmental Prize and the Right Livelihood Award as more well-known examples. This year, the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, commonly known as the Sakharov Prize, also nominated an environmental defender: Aura Lolita Chavez Ixcaquic.

Lolita Chavez is a member of the Council of Ki’che Peoples (CPK) in Guatemala. This organisation fights to protect natural resources and human rights from the expansion of mining, logging, hydroelectric and agro-industry sectors in the territory.

Latin America is a particularly dangerous place to be an environmental activist. The massive database of the Atlas of Environmental Justice maps details of over 2200 environmental conflicts. Right now, 286 cases involve deaths, with half of them situated in Latin America.

More that awarding one person, all people like Aura Lolita Chavez Ixcaquic need protection. Maybe the binding UN Treaty on Business and Human Rights could contribute to that. A first draft for this UN treaty – which was recently made public – will be discussed during the upcoming IGWG session taking place October 23-27th in Geneva. NGOs from different sectors are following the IGWG conclusions closely and are rather upbeat about the possible outcome of the meeting.

On 26 October the European Parliament has an opportunity to give a very timely award to an earth protector and on 27 October the UN could take a step towards protecting earth protectors. Are policymakers ready to send such signals to those corporations that think they can get away with murder while wrecking the one ecosystem we all depend on?

The Sakharov Prize honours individuals and groups of people who have dedicated their lives to the defence of human rights and freedom of thought.  This prestigious award given by the European Parliament is named after Russian scientist and dissident Andrei Sakharov. The prize was established in December 1988 and since then a shortlist of nominees is drawn up annually by the Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Committee on Development, with the winner announced in October. The prize is accompanied by a monetary award of €50,000. The first prize was awarded jointly to South African Nelson Mandela and Russian Anatoly Marchenko.