Reflection on the African Environmental Defenders Initiative

By Eva Maria Okoth

… publication of the Narrative Report 2019-2021

The African Environmental Defenders Initiative started out as an Emergency Fund following its launch on 10 December 2019 during the commemoration of the International Human Rights Day.

Initially, this fund targeted African land and environmental defenders who were facing threats and harassment due to their work and were affiliated to an organization belonging to the International Land Coalition (ILC) network.

The Fund laid down a strong foundation for the establishment of Natural Justice’s broader African Environmental Defenders Initiative which has since evolved into a holistic approach to protecting grassroots community defenders using a combination of both proactive and preventive measures to respond to incidents of violations and threats to defenders based on their needs.

The successful expansion of the initiative was a result of collaborative efforts with different organizations working with communities and identifying as defenders of defenders.

Expansion of the Fund

In 2021, Natural Justice together with additional partners to the fund including the ICCA Consortium and the African Activists for Climate Justice project partners including: the Pan-African Climate Justice Activists, Oxfam Novib, the African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET), and the African Youth Commission, secured additional financial resources to allow for the expansion of the scope of the initial fund established together with the ILC in 2019.

The result of this is that the fund could now provide emergency assistance to a wider array of environmental defenders; most importantly, any land and environmental defenders across Africa who are facing an emergency due to their activism.

From 1 March 2020 until 14 October 2021, the Fund received 45 applications and was able to support 27 of them. The Fund has provided various types of urgent assistance including short-term legal representation, temporary relocation costs, medical and psychological support and, in some cases, the purchase of security infrastructure, as well as the provision of humanitarian assistance in the form of basic needs.

Generally, this support has given defenders the courage to continue engaging in activism, drawing confidence from the solidarity the fund has shown in the face of challenges and threats. The Fund has therefore filled a very crucial gap in the African continent.

Proactive Response Strategies

Beyond the emergency response, Natural Justice now provides legal empowerment and capacity building trainings; communications and campaigns support as well as evidence-based research and advocacy to push for law and policy reforms.

The legal empowerment and capacity-building training are intended to help increase the agency and resilience of community defenders to conduct their work safely. The campaigns and advocacy efforts have also presented opportunities for Natural Justice to stand in solidarity with community defenders facing threats because of their work and amplify their voices in spaces where they are hardly acknowledged for the significant role they play.

The defender’s initiative remains a work-in-progress as we look forward to supporting African grassroots defenders in the most effective and meaningful way and linking them so they can share their experiences in the coming years.

You can access the Narrative Report celebrating the Fund’s two year anniversary here

10 December 2021

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