Americas: Region must not miss opportunity to lead on environmental protection

Today, 26 September, is the deadline for countries to sign the Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean (Escazú Agreement). For it to come into force, at least eleven countries must ratify it, therefore only one more is needed in addition to the ten countries that have already done so.

"This agreement emerged from the need to urgently address the climate emergency that we are facing. When the treaty was opened for signatures exactly two years ago, hope also emerged that Latin America and the Caribbean could make history with a groundbreaking norm that could contribute to the protection of the environment and those who defend it. Countries in the region must not miss this important opportunity," said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International.

We celebrate the fact that 23 countries, representing more than two thirds of the region, have signed and that ten states have responded urgently, as the environmental crisis requires, by ratifying the agreement. Countries such as Costa Rica or Santa Lucía are on the brink of joining – it is in the hands of their legislative authorities – and of becoming the final ratification needed to open up the possibility of implementing necessary policies for environmental protection in the region and the world.

"Despite the fact that the Escazú Agreement coming into force could be a significant advance in the policies of the states in the region in the face of the climate emergency and crisis of violence against environmental defenders, the slowness of some states to ratify it shows the lack of interest in taking measures to create a more participative, accessible and fair environmental policy that still exists in some countries in the region."

Civil society organizations from all over Latin America and the Caribbean have formed coalitions and worked together with an almost unprecedented effort in coordination, with significant participation from young people, to call on states in the region to sign and ratify the agreement.

Despite the fact that the Escazú Agreement coming into force could be a significant advance in the policies of the states in the region in the face of the climate emergency and crisis of violence against environmental defenders, the slowness of some states to ratify it shows the lack of interest in taking measures to create a more participative, accessible and fair environmental policy that still exists in some countries in the region
Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International

The Escazú Agreement is the first regional environmental treaty in Latin America and the Caribbean. Its purpose is to set new standards for protection of the environment and human rights that guarantee access to information, citizen participation and access to justice on environmental issues in the region. In addition, it is the first international treaty to include specific measures for the protection of environmental rights defenders.

"The importance of this type of regulation for the region is undeniable. Colombia, Brazil, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico are among the most dangerous countries in the world for defenders of human rights and the environment. Although there has been progress in the discussions on the agreement in Colombia and Mexico, in Brazil, Guatemala and Honduras the delay is such that it seems to show a lack of political willingness," said Erika Guevara-Rosas.

"At Amnesty International we reiterate the importance of the implementation of international standards to strengthen the protection of the environment and those who defend it. We urge the states in the region to lead the way in building a more participative, accessible and fair environmental policy in the Americas, adhering to the Escazú Agreement as soon as possible."

Representatives of the United Nations have now said that the COVID-19 pandemic must be considered a wake-up call to rethink our relationship with the environment, therefore rather than an excuse this crisis must serve as further motivation to progress with the protection of our planet.

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Of the 23 countries that have signed the agreement, only ten have ratified it: Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Guyana, Nicaragua, Panama, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Uruguay.

A further 12 countries have signed the agreement but have still not ratified it: Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Granada, Guatemala, Haiti, Jamaica, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, the Dominican Republic and Saint Lucia.

On the list of countries that have neither signed nor ratified it are Chile, El Salvador, Cuba, Honduras, Bahamas, Barbados, Dominica, Surinam, Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela.

At Amnesty International we reiterate the importance of the implementation of international standards to strengthen the protection of the environment and those who defend it
Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International

In its latest report "Defending Tomorrow" the international organization Global Witness puts Colombia, Brazil, Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala in first, third, fourth, fifth and sixth place respectively for numbers of killings of human rights and environmental defenders in 2019.

For more information or to arrange an interview, contact Duncan Tucker: duncan.tucker@amnesty.org