On the 4th of March 2018, governments, NGOs, academia and other stakeholders from the Latin American and Caribbean region signed the Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean in Escazú, Costa Rica. The Regional Agreement is an international legally binding document on different obligations of states towards citizens from their countries on environmental matters. The document puts an emphasis on the fundamental right to participation in decision-making processes on environmental matters and explicitly underlines the importance of human rights defenders in Article 9. This article stipulates the positive obligation of each State Party to “guarantee a safe and enabling environment for defenders”, to “take adequate and effective measures to recognize, protect and promote all the rights of human rights defenders in environmental matters” and to “take appropriate, effective and timely measures to prevent, investigate and punish attacks, threats or intimidations” against defenders.
How the Escazú Agreement came to be
The Escazú agreement, or the Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean, protects the universal right to participation in environmental matters. Its ideas originate in Rio Declaration on Environment and Development in 1992 and the Aarhus Convention from 1998. Especially Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration was an essential step towards the development of the Escazú agreement:“Environmental issues are best handled with participation of all concerned citizens, at the relevant level. […] States shall facilitate and encourage public awareness and participation by making information widely available. Effective access to judicial and administrative proceedings, including redress and remedy, shall be provided.” The Aarhus Convention from 1998 (or fully named the Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters), adopted the main principles of the Rio Declaration into a legally binding document, enforceable on 35 countries and the European Community (Pánovics, 2021). Although the term human rights defender is not explicitly used in the Aarhus Convention, Article 8 of the Aarhus Convention states: “Each Party shall ensure that persons exercising their rights in conformity with the provisions of this Convention shall not be penalized, persecuted or harassed in any way for their involvement. This provision shall not affect the powers of national courts to award reasonable costs in judicial proceedings.” Moreover, the Aarhus Convention gave way to the creation of a rapid response mechanism in 2021, which creates the mandate of the new UN Special Rapporteur on environmental defenders.
What the Escazú agreement contains
The Escazú agreement is the first document to explicitly mention the term “human rights defenders” (HRDs or defenders) in an internationally binding agreement. This is important, as it provides visibility to human rights defenders and is easier identifiable as a protective document for defenders. Article 9 on Human Rights Defenders and Environmental Matters stipulates three obligations for States towards the protection of human rights defenders:
- “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.”
- “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.”
- “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.
On the 6th of August 2018, Protection International (PI), together with several civil society organizations, supported the signing of this agreement by cosigning a letter in which we called upon governments to sign the agreement and to adopt rapid and effective measures to implement its provisions. In December 2022, PI attended and contributed to the first virtual and public meeting of the working group on the Escazú agreement. The protection of environmental defenders under the Escazú agreement was the main focus of the meeting.
A year after its adoption, the Escazú agreement was signed by 21 states and ratified by four. The agreement has been signed by 24 States and ratified by 13. The most recent ratifications were by Chile in June 2022 and by Colombia in October 2022. The official overview of ratifications here is mostly updated, but does not include Colombia in the list yet.
|Signed & ratified:||Signed:|
|Antigua and Barbuda (2018, 2020)||Belize (2020)||Chile (2022)|
|Argentina (2018, 2021)||Brazil (2018)|
|Bolivia (2018, 2019)||Costa Rica (2018)|
|Colombia (2022)||Dominica (2020)|
|Ecuador (2018, 2020)||Dominican Republic (2018)|
|Guyana (2018, 2019)||Grenada (2019)|
|Mexico (2018, 2021)||Guatemala (2018)|
|Nicaragua (2019, 2020)||Haiti (2018)|
|Panama (2018, 2020)||Jamaica (2019)|
|Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (2019, 2019)||Paraguay (2018)|
|Saint Kitts & Nevis (2019, 2019)||Peru (2018)|
|Saint Lucia (2018, 2020)|
|Uruguay (2018, 2019)|
Read more on the Escazú Agreement on the following platforms:
- The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) has developed a platform on the Escazú agreement, tracking signatories, ratifications and publications linked to the agreement.
- The Observatory of Principle 10 (Observatorio del Principio 10) by ECLA tracks the implementation of the principle 10 of the Rio Declaration and the Escazú agreement, notably the development on protection policies for human rights defenders.
- An explanation of the Escazú Agreement for children by UNICEF.
Updated on 01/12/2022