Global Coalition accepts UN Human Rights Prize


New York, 15 December, 2023 — Today the Global Coalition of Civil Society, Indigenous Peoples, Social Movements, and Local Communities for the Universal Recognition of the Right to a Clean, Healthy, and Sustainable Environment accepted the prestigious 2023 United Nations Human Rights Prize in a ceremony in New York. This month also marks the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Lawyers’ Rights watch Canada is proud to be a part of this incredible group of NGOs and of the amazing work that has been accomplished in a spirit of global co-operation.

The coalition is recognized for its vital role in advocating for the universal recognition of the right to a healthy environment by the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in 2022. The UN Human Rights Prize is awarded once every five years to several recipients at a time. This year is the first time since its inception in 1966 that it has been granted to a global coalition.

The prize was presented at a ceremony with UN leadership, including General Assembly President Dennis Francis, Secretary-General António Guterres, and High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk. The award was accepted by a delegation of representatives illustrating the diversity of the coalition’s members.

The ceremony took place alongside a workshop with advocates from around the world and UN and State representatives to assess progress since the recognition of the right to a healthy environment and to discuss next steps to build on that progress and ensure the effective promotion of the right.

Read reactions to the announcement from the members of the coalition here.

At the ceremony, the following acceptance speech was delivered by a representative of the coalition:

We, Civil Society, Indigenous Peoples, Social Movements, and Local Communities in coalition for the Universal Recognition of the Human Right to a Clean, Healthy, and Sustainable Environment are honored to receive this prestigious prize acknowledging our vital role towards the UN recognition of this human right.

This incredible achievement was only possible thanks to the tireless collaborative efforts of thousands of people from 143 countries who joined for this historic milestone. A process that started fifty years ago by visionaries gained momentum in 2020 when we called the UN to finally recognize this human right.

First, this prize highlights the importance of truly collaborating to advance the imperative protections of our planet and our rights. No single organization, movement, or person would have been able to make it on their own, but together, our global and diverse coalition made it possible. We are humbled and proud that our efforts are recognized, evidencing to the world that working together is possible and worth it.

Cooperation is just as needed for States, none of whom can, on their own, solve today’s multiple planetary crises of biodiversity loss, climate change, and pollution, aggravated by increasing inequalities. We call on States to effectively collaborate towards the solutions needed.

Second, this prize reinforces the historic recognition of the right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment as a human right. That requires protecting the dignity of all persons, individually and collectively, substantively and procedurally, from human-made environmental degradation and climate change impacts. Affirming also the interdependence and indivisibility of human rights and the urgency to protect them from environmental threats, including systemic risks, irreversible degradation, and loss and damage.

The UN recognition clarifies international human rights law and is now a powerful instrument for States to fulfill their obligations, enhance environmental justice, and guarantee all rights, especially of those in more vulnerable situations.

As we witness increasing ecosystem degradation and lives lost due to pollution and climate change, this universal right can guide us toward stronger policies and practices, based on gender and intergenerational equity and the empowerment of all persons and communities. It can help in better protecting those defending the environment, including Indigenous Peoples, children, women, peasants, and other people working in rural areas.

We are profoundly grateful for the recognition of our collective efforts, inspiring governments, businesses, and institutions to fulfill their responsibility and effectively protect our universal right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment. This is our priority, one we invite you to commit to. Thank you!