Canada appears to back the Escazu Agreement for environmental defenders, but key countries have not ratified the deal

Published by Brent Patterson on

On March 5, Special Rapporteur Mary Lawlor presented to the UN Human Rights Council on the threats against and killings of human rights defenders.

During that session, Canada’s Ambassador to the UN Leslie E. Norton stated: “Some states have established specific protection mechanisms to prevent risks and attacks against HRDs and to intervene when need be. Canada wants to stress these important milestones such as the Escazu Regional Agreement in Latin America and the Caribbean.”

This may have been the first public expression by Canada of support for this agreement.

It follows hundreds of people sending an email to the Prime Minister via this PBI-Canada urgent action calling on Canada to support the agreement.

Significantly, the Escazú Agreement is the first legally binding treaty to include specific provisions to protect environmental defenders.

Article 9 includes the obligation for States to: “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.”

Article 9 also mandates States 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.”

Now that 12 countries have formally ratified the Escazú Agreement it will enter into force on Earth Day, April 22, 2021.

And while Mexico deposited their ratification of Escazu with the UN on January 22 of this year, neither Guatemala nor Colombia have ratified agreement.

Honduras has not signed it.

Last month, Front Line Defenders released this report that documented that at least 331 HRDs were killed for carrying out their peaceful human rights work in 2020 and that 69 per cent of those killed worked on land, environmental or indigenous peoples’ rights, while 26 per cent were working specifically on Indigenous peoples’ rights.

The most recent Global Witness report also found that 64 land and environmental defenders were killed in Colombia, 14 in Honduras and 12 in Guatemala in 2019.

That report further highlighted: “In Honduras killings rose from four in 2018 to 14 last year, making it the most dangerous country per capita for land and environmental defenders in 2019. It is the country with the greatest percentage increase in lethal attacks against activists.”

PBI-Canada continues to call on Canada to utilize its diplomatic channels to call on Honduras, Colombia and Guatemala to ratify the Escazu Agreement. And as attention turns to whether or not the agreement is effectively implemented, we further call on Canada to advocate for its full implementation in Mexico.

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