Land and environmental rights defenders are the single most persecuted group of human rights defenders. In 2019, 40% of all human rights defenders killed were working in this field.
The outbreak has only posed more problems for ethnic minority and peasant communities fighting for access to land and territory. Where previously human rights defenders have tentatively relied on the rule of law to represent the claims of communities to land, increasingly regressive legislation is making this more and more difficult. Join our discussion to find out what the legal community can do to prevent this, and the way forward for protecting environmental rights in times of crisis.
Our star panel features Kate Cook on the role and responsibilities of lawyers advising corporations and the importance of the UN Guiding principles on Business and Human Rights, and lawyer and environmental defender Donald Hernandez about his experience of protecting the rights of indigenous and peasant communities from corporate abuse in Honduras. Sekar Banjaran Aji gives us her perspective on the future of environmental protection from an Indonesian perspective in her capacity as a policy researcher.
We speak to Simmons & Simmons lawyers Richard Dyton and Victoria Channing about best practice for pro bono work, with a focus on the toolbox developed in partnership with PBI UK to equip human rights defenders with the knowledge and understanding needed to confront adverse corporate practices.
Richard Dyton is Head of International Projects at Simmons & Simmons and specialises in PPP/PFI concessions and non-contentious construction law in the UK and internationally, with a particular focus on the energy and infrastructure sectors. Richard joined Simmons & Simmons in 1995, and became a partner in 1997. In addition to being a member of the Society of Construction Law, Richard is also an accredited adjudicator at the Institution of Civil Engineers. He holds an MSc in construction law and arbitration from King's College, London.
Victoria Channing is a commercially focused legal professional with an MBA and experience of practising overseas and in-house. Having previously worked as a commercial litigator at Simmons & Simmons, she now runs the firm’s international pro bono practice, spanning 22 offices across Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
Donald Hernandez is a Honduran lawyer who works tirelessly to pursue justice for environmental defenders, and protect the rights of marginalised communities against powerful interests. Donald works with the communities living on affected lands, helping indigenous groups and campesinos to understand their rights under national and international law. This includes ILO Convention 169, which states that indigenous peoples must be involved in decision-making for new projects. As a lawyer for the Honduran Centre for Community Promotion and Development he represents over 30 other defenders, who have been criminalised for protecting their lands.
Kate Cook has specialist and wide-ranging expertise in environmental law. She also practises generally in public international, European Union and human rights law. She has appeared as counsel before the International Court of Justice in cases relating to environmental issues and genocide. Her recent work includes advising states, NGOs and international organisations on climate emergency issues and advising UN agencies and NGOs on a range of fisheries related issues.
Sekar Banjaran Ali is a researcher, specialising in advocacy within the framework of Business and Human Rights. She also works as a public lawyer, providing legal services to vulnerable people (women, children, indigenous peoples and other marginalized groups) affected by corporate activities. She believes that companies need to be embraced to respect human rights and protect the environment in the interests of sustainability.