THE UN Special Rapporteur on Environmental Defenders, Michel Forst, has issued a statement which strongly criticises the government’s “increasingly severe crackdowns on environmental defenders in the United Kingdom, including in relation to the exercise of the right to peaceful protest.”

Michel Forst was appointed to his current role in 2022, after six years spent as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders. He said: “We are in the midst of a triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution. Environmental defenders are acting for the benefit of us all. It is therefore imperative that we ensure that they are protected.”

Following his visit to the UK on 10-12 January, Forst said: “I learned that, in the UK, peaceful protesters are being prosecuted and convicted under the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, for the criminal offence of ‘public nuisance’, which is punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment.”

“I was also informed that the Public Order Act 2023 is being used to further criminalise peaceful protest. In December 2023, a peaceful climate protester who took part for approximately 30 minutes in a slow march on a public road was sentenced to six months imprisonment under the 2023 law… it is important to highlight that, prior to these legislative developments, it had been almost unheard of since the 1930s for members of the public to be imprisoned for peaceful protest in the UK. I am therefore seriously concerned by these regressive new laws.”

Forst also referred to cases of Just Stop Oil and Insulate Britain supporters being silenced in court, saying: “I was also alarmed to learn that, in some recent cases, presiding judges have forbidden environmental defenders from explaining to the jury their motivation for participating in a given protest or from mentioning climate change at all. It is very difficult to understand what could justify denying the jury the opportunity to hear the reason for the defendant’s action.”

Highlighting the use of injunctions to target nonviolent campaigners, he continued: “I am deeply troubled at the use of civil injunctions to ban protest in certain areas, including on public roadways. Anyone who breaches these injunctions is liable for up to two years imprisonment and an unlimited fine.”

“The fact that a significant number of environmental defenders are currently facing both a criminal trial and civil injunction proceedings for their involvement in a climate protest on a UK public road or motorway, and hence are being punished twice for the same action, is also a matter of grave concern to me.”

A spokesperson for Just Stop Oil said: “We take action because we know that the climate crisis represents the greatest threat to human rights that the planet has ever seen. Already, people in the global south have been marked as ‘expendable’ in the pursuit of bloated oil profits. Sudanese people are being forced from their homelands by floods and drought, while fatalities from deadly ‘wet bulb temperatures’ are spiking in India. In the UK, the prison ship Bibby Stockholm is a disgraceful violation of human rights that’s harming people fleeing climate collapse. It’s a detention centre for asylum seekers where Leonard Farruku recently took his own life thanks to the unlivable conditions he experienced.”

* Read Michael Forst’s full statment here.

* More information on Micheal Forst’s role here.

* Sources: Just Stop Oil  and United Nations Economic Commission for Europe