Groundbreaking treaty protects environmental activists in Latin America

After eight years of planning, a key treaty between Latin American and Caribbean countries finally went into effect last week. Called the Escazú Agreement, the groundbreaking international legislation is the first international treaty in the region and serves to both preserve the environment and protect those who fight for it. 

In addition to improving public access to environmental information and encouraging public participation in environmental policymaking, the treaty also requires participating countries to protect environmental human rights defenders and prevent and investigate crimes against those who advocate for the natural world. 

Facilitated by the United Nations, the treaty is critical for activists as Latin America was home to more than half of the environmentalists killed worldwide in 2018. This is particularly devastating among Indigenous communities where loggers, petroleum workers, dam builders, miners, and members of organized crime exploit and kill activists to utilize their land for profits. 

In terms of environmental information, the treaty requires participating counties to publish non-technical versions of proposed environmental projects and policies as well as provide easy access to pollution information and environmental regulations, especially for marginalized communities. 

So far, the treaty has been officially ratified by 12 countries including Mexico, Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua, but 33 countries have expressed interest in the agreement. Environmental organizations and political leaders hope to get corporate support for the treaty in order to strengthen its impact. 

Marcos Orellana, the United Nations special rapporteur on toxics and human rights told Grist, “This is very important because the agreement from its inception has been conceived as an instrument to strengthen capacities at all levels for environmental democracy.”

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