Today, on Earth Day, the Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean, commonly known as the “Escazú Agreement,” enters into force.
The Agreement is a giant step towards deepening socio-environmental democracy and achieving sustainable, participatory, and just development in the region. Not only is this the first regional environmental treaty to incorporate specific provisions protecting environmental human rights defenders, but it also includes concrete provisions for advancing rights to information, participation and justice in environmental matters.
Latin America is the most dangerous place for defenders of the environment. We bear constant witness to the brutal assassinations of people, mostly indigenous peoples, who are targeted due to their actions in defense of land, nature, the right to a healthy environment, and present and future societies. In the Peruvian Amazon, three indigenous leaders were assassinated in three weeks during February and March of this year: Herasmo García Grau, Yenes Ríos Bonsano, and Estela Casanto Mauricio. In Ecuador, Andrés Durazno — who fought against a mining project in the Andes — was assassinated last month. In Mexico, 18 environmental defenders were killed in 2020. In Colombia, more than 400 human rights defenders were assassinated between 2016 and 2020.
This Agreement, resulting from a collective multilateral process of more than 5 years, has the potential to serve as a turning point for power dynamics within the region. It provides concrete tools for people seeking to know their rights; learn information regarding the processes that affect them; actively participate in the decisions impacting their lives, culture, and nature; and secure effective access to justice and comprehensive protection mechanisms.
By enabling people to make use of the Escazú Agreement, legal empowerment methods can place a powerful tool for justice in the hands of environmental defenders, grassroots groups, indigenous, peasant and Afro-descendant networks, social movements, and all of those on the front lines defending the land, life, and our planet.
Many people, groups, and organizations — many Legal Empowerment Network members included — who have participated in this process and will continue working for the effective implementation of the Agreement. We [Namati] hope that this prompts a normative change at the global level, inspiring other regions to follow these steps so that environmental justice becomes the rule rather than the exception.