September 26 deadline approaches to sign world’s first treaty that protects environmental defenders

Published by Brent Patterson on

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Photo: Fridays for Future Colombia.

The Escazú Agreement has been described as the first treaty in history to include specific provisions to protect environmental defenders.

The legally binding treaty was negotiated under the supervision of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

Escazú needs to be ratified by at least 11 (of the 33) countries in Latin American and the Caribbean to come into effect, but to date none of the countries where PBI accompanies at-risk human rights defenders have ratified the treaty.

Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico have signed the deal (but not ratified it), while Honduras has not signed.

Countries can sign and ascend to the agreement afterwards, but the text does notably include a signatory deadline of September 26, 2020.

Beyond this, there is an immense urgency to implementing the deal.

In 2019, 304 human rights defenders were killed worldwide including 106 in Colombia, 31 in Honduras, 23 in Mexico and 15 in Guatemala. Overall, 40 per cent of those killed worked on land, Indigenous peoples and environmental rights.

Article 9 (page 29) of the agreement states:

  1. Each Party shall guarantee a safe and enabling environment for persons, groups and organizations that promote and defend human rights in environmental matters, so that they are able to act free from threat, restriction and insecurity.
  2. Each Party shall take adequate and effective measures to recognize, protect and promote all the rights of human rights defenders in environmental matters, including their right to life, personal integrity, freedom of opinion and expression, peaceful assembly and association, and free movement, as well as their ability to exercise their access rights, taking into account its international obligations in the field of human rights, its constitutional principles and the basic concepts of its legal system.
  3. Each Party shall also take appropriate, effective and timely measures to prevent, investigate and punish attacks, threats or intimidations that human rights defenders in environmental matters may suffer while exercising the rights set out in the present Agreement.

    In September 2018, Peace Brigades International endorsed the Escazú Agreement as “a means to guarantee a safe environment in which individuals, groups and organizations that promote and defend human rights related to the environment can act without facing threats, restrictions, attacks or danger.”

    Additionally, PBI-Colombia has tweeted its support for the agreement, while PBI-Mexico has signed this public statement in support of Escazú.

    PBI-Canada calls on the Canadian government to use its missions and diplomatic channels to encourage the ratification of the Escazú Agreement.

    A second meeting of the signatory countries to the Escazú Agreement has now been scheduled for this coming December 9-10.

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