The following report from the Centre for International Environmental Law (CIEL, ciel.org) outlines the importance of the use of law in the struggle to defend those who defend their land, environment and rights. We are grateful to CIEL for allowing reproduction of this summary through their Creative Commons License.
Last month, the landmark Escazú Agreement entered into full force. It’s the first regional environmental agreement in Latin America and the Caribbean, and the first-ever agreement to include specific provisions for the protection of environmental human rights defenders.
It specifies the rights of defenders, including their right to freedom of expression, free movement, and peaceful assembly. It includes transformational measures that obligate States to ensure every person can access information on environmental matters, while guaranteeing public participation in decision-making and access to justice.
These provisions are especially critical now, because the number of defenders killed in the region and worldwide has steadily increased over the last few years. According to a report by Front Line Defenders, 264 human rights defenders were killed in the Americas in 2020. That’s an average of five people killed every week.
The pandemic has only made matters worse: criminalisation, harassment, and reprisals against human rights defenders intensified last year. A Colombian organisation, Programa Somos Defensores, reported that in the first six months of 2020, there was a 61% increase in the number of defenders killed in Colombia compared to the same period the previous year. And the current situation of fragility and conflict in the country has intensified the violence against all residents. The Escazú Agreement has the power to reverse this trend and save lives.
But a game-changing milestone like this doesn’t happen overnight, and it doesn’t happen in isolation. Together with partners, CIEL has been an advocate for environmental democracy in Latin America and the Caribbean for three decades. Now that the Agreement has come into force, we must make sure it is meaningfully implemented. For the treaty to work, governments and companies must recognise the rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities to be properly informed and consulted about development projects that will impact them and participate in decisions about what happens to their environment. CIEL has been advocating for this through monitoring and community accompaniment for decades, and with partners, we’re ready to put this new treaty to work for people and the planet.