Americas: Treaty to protect environmental human rights defenders is a vital step forward

The signing of the first legally binding agreement to protect access rights in environmental matters in 24 Latin American and Caribbean countries is a major victory for environmental human rights defenders in the region, said Amnesty International today.

“This historic agreement is a vital step towards ensuring access to information, participation and justice in environmental matters, but it also sets an important standard to hold states accountable for the safety and protection of the brave environmental human rights defenders who have put their lives on the line for years. This is an unprecedented example for the whole world to follow,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, director of Amnesty International in the Americas.

This historic agreement is a vital step towards ensuring access to information, participation and justice in environmental matters, but it also sets an important standard to hold states accountable for the safety and protection of the brave environmental human rights defenders who have put their lives on the line for years
Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International

“But simply signing a treaty is not enough. Countries in the region must take concrete measures to put an end to the threats and often fatal attacks against environmental human rights defenders.”

According to the NGO Global Witness, at least 197 defenders were killed last year for standing up for land or environmental rights. Latin America was the world’s deadliest region for this group of defenders, accounting for an estimated 60% of all the killings globally.

Signed in San José, Costa Rica, by representatives of 24 countries on 4 March, the treaty implements Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration from the 1992 Earth Summit, by establishing protections for the rights of access to information, public participation and access to justice in environmental matters.

“Respect of these rights is crucial to ensuring that environmental decisions reflect the views, needs and rights of those most impacted by them, and that human rights violations relating to the environment do not remain unaccounted for.”

The agreement also imposes specific obligations to protect environmental human rights defenders from threats or attacks; to investigate and punish any aggressions against them; and to guarantee their rights to life, personal integrity, peaceful assembly, and freedom of movement, expression and association.

All 33 states in Latin America and the Caribbean will have the opportunity to sign the agreement at the UN headquarters in New York from 27 September 2018 to 26 September 2020.

Amnesty International urges all countries in the region to sign and ratify the treaty, and to adopt timely and effective mechanisms for its implementation.