Challenges to Environmental Groups’ Advocacy Rights

Global Trends in NGO Law, Volume 7, Issue 1 (March 2016)

As concerns over the environment have intensified over the past decade, so too have the levels of global environmental activism. With increasing awareness of climate change, rising pollution levels, resource scarcity, and habitat destruction, among other concerns, civil society groups with environmental agendas have not only proliferated, but also grown more active, outspoken, and visible in recent years.

In response, states have employed a variety of techniques to interfere with the ability of environmental activists and groups to effectively exercise their internationally guaranteed rights to association, assembly, and expression. These techniques include the use and abuse of existing legislation, the passage of new restrictive laws, and the use of extra-legal strategies, including public vilification and violence, to effectively silence or deter the work of environmentalists.

State and private actors, at times working in tandem, have harnessed the legal and policy frameworks governing civil society to their advantage, impeding the work of environmental groups advancing agendas at odds with their own development or investment goals. Increasing concerns about the plight of environmental activists is leading to a heightened awareness of the need to better enforce their guaranteed rights, and to better defend the personal security of individual activists and the organizational existence of environmental groups.

This issue of Global Trends will examine common techniques used by governments and corporations to undermine the ability of environmental groups and activists to exercise freely their rights to assemble, associate, and express themselves. In some cases, the law, including criminal law, is used or manipulated to curtail the rights of environmental groups; in other cases, the law is eschewed, ignored, or inequitably applied. In other instances, extra-legal methods are used, such as vilification, stigmatization, surveillance, intimidation, and in some cases, even violence. We also briefly examine some promising trends and initiatives that emerged in our research, which could potentially counteract some of the negative strategies explored below.