A United Nations expert has denounced the actions of the UK government in suppressing environmental protests.
The United Nations special rapporteur has stated that strict measures have been implemented in Britain to suppress environmental protests. These measures include harsh legislation, limitations on evidence in court, and the use of civil injunctions, which are severely infringing on basic rights and liberties.
Michel Forst, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on environmental defenders, stated on Tuesday that in the face of the triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution, it is important to protect environmental protesters who are acting in the best interest of everyone.
During a recent two-day trip to the UK, Forst discovered concerning details about the treatment of nonviolent demonstrators.
Restrictions placed on accused individuals in a specific court in London have prohibited them from clarifying their reasons to the jury. In the Inner London crown court, nonviolent demonstrators have been barred by a legal ruling from discussing the issue of climate change, struggles with affording fuel, or even the American civil rights movement in their testimony to the jury.
Forst stated that it is challenging to comprehend why the jury would be prevented from hearing the defendant’s motive and how they could make an informed decision without it. This is especially troubling in light of the urgent pleas from environmental activists for the government to address climate issues.
He stated that the enforcement of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, which includes new public nuisance laws with a 10-year penalty, and the utilization of the Public Order Act 2023, is making peaceful protests a criminal offense.
First, the example of a nonviolent demonstrator who was imprisoned in December for half a year is mentioned. They had been walking slowly down a street for 30 minutes during a climate protest, and were charged under the recently implemented public order law.
Forst stated on Tuesday morning that it is notable to mention how rare it was for individuals to be jailed for nonviolent protests in the UK before these laws were enacted. He expressed deep concern over the introduction of these backwards laws.
Furthermore, Forst highlighted the strict bail requirements placed on environmental activists who engage in non-violent protests. These demands may involve wearing monitoring devices until the trial, limitations on travel, and prohibitions on communication with fellow activists.
According to Forst, certain individuals who advocate for environmental protection have been instructed to wear ankle monitors and abide by a curfew from 10pm to 7am. Others are subjected to GPS tracking. Due to the lengthy process of the criminal justice system, these defenders may remain on bail for up to two years until their trial takes place.
“The stringent conditions for release on bail greatly affect the personal lives and mental well-being of environmental activists. I strongly doubt the justifiability and appropriateness of imposing such conditions on individuals engaged in nonviolent demonstrations.”
He denounced the prevalent implementation of civil orders to halt nonviolent demonstrations, as well as the negative rhetoric in the media and political spheres surrounding climate activists.
He stated that the harmful conversation could also be used by the government to justify implementing stricter and harsher actions against those who defend the environment.
During my visit, I personally observed that this is exactly what is currently occurring in the UK. This has a strong inhibiting impact on the activities of civil society and the practice of basic freedoms.
Forst said he was speaking out because of the gravity of his concerns about the widespread restrictions on peaceful protest. His investigations are ongoing as he considers formal complaints about treatment that have been submitted to him.
He urged for a positive conversation with the Conservative government in order to safeguard individuals who are working towards environmental protection from being unfairly targeted, punished, or intimidated.
The United Nations has designated a special representative under the Aarhus agreement, to which the United Kingdom is a participating country.
According to Tim Crosland from Plan B, the convention holds legal weight in the UK and the special rapporteur’s report suggests that the Government is breaking the law.
“He stated that if the events described by the UN rapporteur occurred in Russia or China, we would be shocked.”
The ultimate goal of the British Government is to suppress any political resistance against their destructive actions towards the environment by using forceful tactics – such as imprisoning peaceful protestors and disregarding the right to a just trial. In the process, they not only harm the environment and the country’s global standing, but also jeopardize our democratic system.
Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International UK’s chief executive, said: “The UN special rapporteur offers a damning indictment of the repressive crackdown climate activists in the UK face for exercising their right to peacefully protest.
The British government appears to be focused on instilling fear rather than addressing the urgent issue of climate change.