Where does the Canada stand on the Escazú Agreement for environmental defenders in Latin America?
Canada has free trade agreements with at least seven countries in Latin America (including Colombia, Honduras and Mexico) and billions of dollars of direct investment in the region (for instance, $22.5 billion in Mexico, $5.12 billion in Colombia, $96 million in Honduras and $18 million in Guatemala).
About 41 per cent of the large mining companies in Latin America are Canadian. 70 per cent of foreign-owned mining companies operating in Mexico are based in Canada. And Canada has also been one of the largest investors in the oil and gas sector in Colombia.
Despite or perhaps because of this, it does not appear that Canada has made a public statement on the Escazú Agreement.
On January 7, Genevieve Glatsky explained in Mongabay: “An unprecedented and innovative legal mechanism is making its way through Latin America in an effort to protect social leaders in the world’s deadliest region for environmental activists.”
She adds: “The Escazú Agreement guarantees access to environmental information, ensures public participation in the approval process for environmental projects, and requires states to take measures to protect environmental and human rights defenders.”
Peace Brigades International accompanies environmental defenders in Mexico, Colombia, Guatemala and Honduras.
Mexico has ratified the agreement (but not yet formally deposited their ratification), Colombia and Guatemala have not ratified the deal, and Honduras (with the highest per capita number of environmental defenders killed) has refused to sign it.
Glatsky adds: “In Colombia, massive protests against President Iván Duque prompted the conservative leader to sign the agreement in December 2019, becoming the last country to join Escazú. But both houses of Congress must now approve it, before it then faces a Constitutional Court review, a process that has been delayed by the pandemic.”
Mary Lawlor, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, supports the agreement.
Lawlor says: “The agreement isn’t against development, it’s for sustainable community-led development that respects human rights, including the right to a healthy environment. It in no way undermines the sovereignty of nations in Latin America, it rather strengthens the protection of the rights of the people themselves.”
Peace Brigades International first endorsed the Escazú Agreement in September 2018 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.”
Given the level of Canadian involvement in mining and oil and gas operations with environmental implications in Latin America, PBI-Canada is calling on the Canadian government to publicly express its support for the legally binding Escazú Agreement.
To date we have not received a response to our inquiries and can find no public statement of Canadian government support for the agreement.
To read the full article by Genevieve Glatsky, please see: For Latin America’s environmental defenders, Escazú Agreement is a voice and a shield.