Latin America: Principle 10 breakthrough for environmental democracy

Latin America: Principle 10 breakthrough for environmental democracy - Protection

An area of deforestation on the border of the Amazon rainforest burned down to produce charcoal and to grow soybeans or raise cattle. The Ministry of Labour's grupo movel (mobile unit), who work to end the use of unfree labour in the region, are developing a pioneering activity to assign responsibility for the slavery cases reported on such farms to the pig iron producing companies, as the charcoal is made to be sold exclusively to these extremely profitable companies.

ARTICLE 19 welcomes the approval of the final text of the Principle 10 agreement by government representatives from 24 Latin American and Caribbean countries during a meeting held in San José, Costa Rica, from February 28 to March 4 2018.

Named the “Escazu Agreement” after the province in which San José is located, the agreement concludes six years of meetings and negotiations and aims to establish parameters for access to information, access to justice, and social participation in environmental issues.

Together with other regional, civil society organisations, ARTICLE 19 has followed the negotiations since inception with the aim of pushing for an agreement consistent with international legal standards.

Countries that have adopted the agreement are now expected to send their signatures during the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly in September. Ratification of 11 countries is necessary for the agreement to enter into force.

“We welcome the approval of the agreement as a very positive outcome. It should advance progress for environmental democracy in Latin American and Caribbean countries. It is also a historical event because it is the first environmental treaty for the region”, says Paula Martins, Director-executive of ARTICLE 19 Brazil/South America.

Binding and unreserved agreement

One of the main strengths of the agreement is its binding nature: it will have the status of law for the countries that sign it. This decision is crucial for the planned measures to be implemented effectively and was one of the major points of contention and debate during the final round of negotiations in Costa Rica.

Another achievement concerns the absence of “reservations” in the agreement, which means that all agreed articles need to be adopted by their signatories without exception, in line with requirements set out by  international human rights standards.

The “Escazu Agreement” is also the first international treaty that determines specific actions to be carried out by states, aimed to protect environmental defenders.  Included within these is the obligation for states to adopt measures to hold perpetrators of attacks against defenders and to ensure a safe environment for the promotion of human rights in environmental matters.

Equally important was the definition of who should provide information on environmental issues, an obligation that would hold  accountable public agencies and private companies receiving public funds or performing public functions.

ARTICLE 19 believes that the Principle 10 agreement could provide an important instrument for reversing serious environmental problems in Latin America and the Caribbean, such as pollution and deforestation, many of which are caused by the industry sector and others that generate major social-environmental impacts, such as hydroelectric and mining.

In the case of Brazil, it is especially important that the agreement provides specific measures for the protection of environmental defenders. In 2016 the country recorded the murders of 49 activists.

ARTICLE 19 will continue to follow the agreement’s ratification and implementation to ensure that the rights to access to information, access to justice, and social participation in environmental matters are respected.