Latin America and the Caribbean are plagued by increasingly deadly conflicts over natural resources. According to Global Witness, 1,044 environmental activists were murdered between 2010 and 2019, with Colombia and Brazil seeing the highest number of killings. In 2018 alone, 83 of the 164 environmental defenders killed around the world were from Latin America. The Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Access to Justice on Environmental Issues in Latin America and the Caribbean, known as the Escazú Agreement, is Latin America and the Caribbean’s first-ever legally binding treaty on environmental rights.
Widescale ratification of this agreement will provide unprecedented special protections for environmental defenders, including: a safe environment for people and organizations under threat; widescale recognition, protection and promotion of environmental defenders’ rights; and formal measures to prevent, investigate and punish attacks, threats or intimidation against environmental defenders.
During a two-year campaign, WRI and regional partners from The Access Initiative (TAI) – of which WRI serves as secretariat – encouraged countries to ratify the Escazú Agreement. WRI’s Environmental Democracy Index highlighted the deficiencies in current laws, called attention to countries with just environmental protections and justified the need for improved standards under the Agreement. In building a race to ratification, WRI and TAI focused on three groups of countries: countries interested in using their influence to drive action on Escazú; signatory countries who had not yet led outreach to civil society; and countries where it was important to keep the Escazú debate alive.
To increase awareness and advocacy around the importance of the agreement, and with support from the Government of Costa Rica and the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, WRI launched youth Champions of Escazú in five countries to support the campaign.
WRI worked with The Elders, an independent group of global leaders focused on restoring peace, justice and human rights, and promoted The Elders’ positive incentive campaign that recognized countries’ ratification efforts.
Between 2018 and early 2021, 12 governments in Latin America and the Caribbean ratified the Escazú Agreement – Mexico, Argentina, Antigua & Barbuda, Guyana, St. Vincent, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Panama and Uruguay. The Agreement comes into full force on April 22, 2021.
This groundbreaking agreement includes some of the strongest legally binding provisions to protect environmental defenders, ensure that vulnerable populations can fully exercise their environmental rights and strengthen public participation in environmental decision-making. These ratifications are a historic milestone in the journey to not only protect the lives of environmental defenders, but to increase accountability and transparency in Latin America and the Caribbean.