Putting Rights First in the Green Transition II

Last week, the EEB, along with Amnesty, CATAPA and RAID, brought together environmental defenders from all over the globe to better understand how the green transition can be pursued while including communities and respecting their rights. As the EU’s impending due diligence legislation faces a crucial vote in Parliament today, the significance of this discussion is paramount, write

The current scramble for raw materials for industrial uses, including for the digital and green transitions, is already creating disproportionate burdens on many communities in Europe and the Global South.

As the triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution worsens, proposed solutions to tackle rising temperatures risk re-establishing the societal relations that got us here in the first place. To achieve climate and environmental justice, we must first understand which communities and people will be most affected by energy transitions and what role human rights plays in corporate activities. How we avoid these injustices will be determined by whose voices are most frequently heard, whether citizens and communities are aware of their rights, and whether laws are made to ensure corporations and states prioritise the rights of people and the planet.

To broaden our understanding of environmental justice in Europe and the Global South, the EEB, CATAPA, Amnesty and RAID organised an event that brought together environmental and human rights defenders from all over the globe, to engage on topics of circular economy and degrowth, build on the concept of the Right to Say No—a legal framework that can support communities’ participation in decisions about mining projects on the land or territory they live and depend on—and continue the discussion about what policies are needed in future to secure environmental justice in Europe and beyond. 

This edition of the event gathered environmental and human rights defenders from Peru, Belgium, Colombia, Ireland and the DRC. Community leaders all, they travelled to Brussels, the city where the Critical Raw Materials Act (CRMA) was devised, to show the human face of the impacts of mining, and tell of the biodiversity and health costs, community impacts and human rights’ abuses that come attached. Specifically, they delivered first-hand accounts of the impacts of gold, copper and cobalt mining.

What is the CRMA?

In March 2023 the European Commission launched the proposal for a Critical Raw Materials Regulation. The Regulation aims to secure the supply of raw materials (mining, processing, refining) by boosting domestic extraction and diversifying its supply from third countries as to not be as dependent anymore on China, who has, in the past decades, positioned itself as the main producer of raw materials, as well as the main processor and refiner. The EU’s independence drive raises concerns about the impacts on the environment and on local communities and Indigenous Peoples in the areas where these projects are envisioned. It is clear that a transition away from fossil fuels cannot succeed unless it is just, and unless we also take into consideration the environmental costs that extractive industries bear.


Representatives from Treasure Leitrim joined us to talk about their struggle against the granting of prospecting licences to a Canadian mining company working on gold extraction, despite the widespread community opposition to the such activity. This was a general trend reported by the different communities represented, in what is a clear indication that the public’s right to participate in environmental decision-making is being neglected or even subverted all over the world.

We were also joined by community members from Save Our Sperrins, a group dedicated to protecting the Natura 2000 protected region of the same name in the North of Ireland, which has been listed as one of the top 10 most attractive places in the world for mining companies. They told us that environmental defenders who raise concerns about the gold-mining prospection have been the targets of death threats, have been arrested for peaceful civil disobedience, criminalised, and driven over by cars belonging to the mining company.
The tales we heard from Ireland of repression, intimidation and criminalisation of environmental defenders and peaceful protesters echoes the many accounts denounced by the UN Special Rapporteur for Environmental Defenders under the Aarhus Convention, Michel Forst, in his recent position paper.


Environmental defenders from Colombia, representing Colectivo Ambiental Falan Y Frías and the regional Committee Ambiental en Defensa de la Vida, similarly shared horrific tales of the effects of the gold mining industry in their homes. 

Carolina Monje, a land defender and activist for communities’ Right to Say No to extractivism, spoke of the struggle of her community to protect the health of the environment and their cultural and historical heritage for current and future generations, as well as their right to self-determination. As pointed out by Yblin Roman, from the SIRGE (Securing Indigenous Peoples’ Rights in the Green Economy) Coalition, a large amount of mining projects and operations are targeting indigenous peoples’ lands and threatening not only the health of the environment but fundamental and cultural rights which are internationally recognised. The right to free prior and informed consent (FPIC), enshrined in international law by the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) is systematically disregarded and violated by public authorities all over the world, Europe being absolutely no exception. Without the consistent and widespread upholding of FPIC, there can be no just transition.

Wilder Alguilar, environmental leader and farmer from Falan, who is dedicated to protecting human rights and biodiversity of his community, told us how insidious and criminal the tactics’ of mining companies can truly be. They will go to any lengths including buying off community leaders or accusing environmental defenders of terrorism and killing them with impunity. After Wilder brought a legal complaint about the mining company’s activities which breached human rights, his son was murdered in what can only be described as direct retaliation. His family has yet been unable to obtain justice for this crime.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo

Mr. Donatien Kambola is a prominent Congolese human rights defender and activist and the coordinator of the Institute for Good Governance and Human Rights (IBGDH), who represents communities forcibly displaced by cobalt and copper mining operations in the southern province of Lualaba. He has been targeted for his activism with threats and intimidation, but remains committed to pursuing justice for communities harmed by the expansion of mines throughout the DRC’s copperbelt and to making space for civil society and journalists to carry out their vital human rights work.

Common threads

Many of the testimonies shared common threads. Some, related to mining impacts, highlighted serious gendered impacts, where activities compromised the safety of women and girls. Others spoke of the refusal of states to implement international law in the case of the threats to environmental defenders. There was a consensus between the communities that a green transition perpetuating the system of endless growth was a false solution. All demanded their right to say no.

Due diligence needed now

A robust EU due diligence law, which considers the human rights, climate, and environmental impacts of companies must be part of the solution to these interlinked problems. Ensuring companies exercise due diligence will help to bring about a sustainable economy and planet that works for people – not against us. Today, the 24th of April, the European Parliament will vote to finally approve the due diligence law in Strasbourg. No corporate capture should jeopardise the approval of this law, which should be adopted without further caveats!