Brazil, Colombia and Mexico top the list of countries where the most people die defending a patch of earth, a mountain, or a river. The region where most environmental activists die annually is taking action with a new landmark agreement. The “Escazu Accord” is only the second regional agreement on environmentalists’ rights in the world.
Latin America is the most dangerous region in the world for environmental activists. Brazil, Colombia and Mexico top the list of countries where the most people die defending a patch of earth, a mountain, or a river. NGOs have documented hundreds of murders per year of regional activists whose work threatens the interests of governments and businesses.
Now, Latin America is hoping to end violence against environmental activists with the approval of the landmark “Regional Agreement for the Access of Information, Public Participation and Access to Justice on Environmental Issues in Latin America and the Caribbean.”
The “Escazu Accord” is based on fulfilling Principle 10 of the UN Rio Declaration on Environment and Development and grants protection to human rights defenders on environmental issues. The agreement asks states to guarantee a safe and auspicious space in which people, groups and organizations that promote environmental issues can carry out their activities without fear, restrictions or danger.
Carmen Capriles, General Coordinator of the Bolivian NGO Reaccion Climatica, told DW that her organization hopes the agreement will “help drastically reduce the murder rate of environmental defenders in the region” through its state-led commitment to recognize the work of activists and ensure their protection.
The accord will provide activists with more access to environmental information to better assess each situation that they work in. Carole Excell, acting director of Environmental Democracy Practice at the World Resources Institute (WRI), said that this can help communities gain access to data on things like water pollution or mining concessions in their localities.
In terms of the accord and its effects, Excell hopes “this means that fewer natural resources will be exploited and fewer communities will find themselves at risk.”
Historic and Innovative
Excell praised civil society and Latin America and Caribbean governments for taking such a “historic stance” on safeguarding what she believes is the pillar of environmental protection: people.
“The agreement would affect up to 500 million people and shows the region’s global leadership. It is only the second regional agreement in the world on environmental rights, after the European convention in Aahrus in 1998.”
Rubens Born of the Brazilian NGO Fundacion Esquel, which took part in the negotiations, highlighted the innovations within the accord. Under the agreement, individuals and legal entities will have the power to bring conflicts or disputes to a court of law.
“It is the first binding agreement worldwide that includes an article that compels countries to prevent, legally prosecute and sanction any threats, coercion and violations against environmental human rights defenders,” Born told to DW.
It was precisely this binding aspect that caused the most controversy during the talks, as it ran counter to the interest of several countries like Colombia and Brazil, despite both having the highest rates of violence against activists.
A long road ahead
The agreement will go into effect immediately and now awaits several more steps, including the signing, ratification and implementation of the text. For Capriles, this part is the biggest challenge because it depends on the will of the countries to “elaborate norms that will allow for the full implementation of the accord.”
Nonetheless, Capriles and her organization believe that “the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (CEPAL) will be key in ensuring that all countries adhere to their commitments.”
One year after the agreement is ratified, the regional organ of the UN will convene a new conference and establish regular meetings between signatories to oversee the implementation of the accord.
Carole Excell of WRI believes that, while the agreement represents a step forward, “the work has barely begun.” The fact that even “one more person would die protecting the environment is too much.”
“It is time for countries to step forward,” she says, and come to the defense of the defenders.
Declaration in honor of environmental defenders
Commemorating the two years of the death of Berta Cáceres
Ninth Meeting of the Negotiating Committee – Principle 10
Escazú, Costa Rica, March 3, 2018
Thank you very much Mr. Chair, honorable delegates, representatives of the public and dear colleagues.
Today, two years ago, less than a thousand km from where we stand, in Esperanza, Honduras, a life was taken, a life of struggle and dreams, a life whose only crime was to fight for indigenous rights and nature, a life that to date has not seen justice, a life that became thousands of lives, Berta Cáceres lives and she became millions.
In these cold rooms, we forget that our continent is a continent of water and coasts, of mountains and forests, a continent that every day fights for democracy, a continent where inequality manifests itself in scenic images of poverty mixed with exuberant landscapes of natural wealth, a continent rich in resources but poor in quality of life, a continent that quickly depletes its resources in the name of development.
This panorama invites us to continue the struggle of hundreds of environmental defenders who have given their lives for the rights and defense of nature in the region, committed to the species and spirits that inhabit each ecosystem, fighting corruption and ignorance, trying to guarantee a decent future for the population, especially for those forgotten communities that maintain a collective memory of pre-colonial times and that are threatened by a ferocious extractivism that does not allow regeneration or recovery, putting at risk the sustainability at a long term of a lot that we know today and we take for granted such as the white glaciers of the Andes, the green Amazonian jungles, the beautiful jaguars or the veins that unite us in the form of rivers, like river Beni o el river Gualcarque along our territories.
Today, World Wildlife Day, as we celebrate the life of Berta, we are here recognizing our historic responsibility to achieve an Agreement that guarantees us access rights to information, participation and environmental justice for all the inhabitants of Latin America and the Caribbean without discrimination. Today we celebrate that this Agreement becomes a tool through the recognition of environmental defenders so that tomorrow many of us, committed activists, will not be criminalized or discredited and our rights guaranteed.
We highlight the efforts that the delegations have put into this Agreement especially to recognize people or groups in vulnerable situation and ensure that women, young people, indigenous peoples, especially those fighting against extractivism, against mega dams, against illegal trafficking of species and genetic resources among other struggles, so they can access the mechanisms that guarantee an effective participation in the decision-making about their territories and their natural resources that ultimately leads them to develop communities of life in a dignified way, if that is achieved, future generations and not only of humans, will thank you, otherwise we will perpetuate the destruction and the enslavement that are leading us to poverty and extinction.
Now I invite you to offer a minute of silence for Berta and all the activists in Latin America and the Caribbean whose lives were taken.
Thank you very much!
(delivered by Carmen Capriles)
The Escazú Convention Agreement on Principle 10
Latin America: Principle 10 breakthrough for environmental democracy
Two dozen Latin American countries sign agreement to protect environmental defenders
Latin America and the Caribbean Adopts Its First Binding Regional Agreement to Protect Rights of Access in Environmental Matters
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Tribute: Berta Cáceres, an outspoken voice for nature that was silenced
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