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GENEVA, November 9, 2020 – UN human rights experts* welcome the adoption of the landmark Escazú agreement and are now urging States in Latin America and the Caribbean to sign and ratify as quickly as possible a ground-breaking environment treaty for the region.
The Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean was adopted on 4 March 2018 in Escazú, Costa Rica, and will be open for signature on 27 September at the UN General Assembly in New York.
The treaty is the first of its kind in the world to include specific binding provisions for the protection and promotion of people, groups and organisations that promote and defend human rights in environmental matters. It was negotiated under the auspices of the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (UN ECLAC) and is the only binding treaty stemming from the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20).
“This landmark regional treaty not only guarantees good governance and basic democratic rights but is also an enabler for environmental protection and sustainable development,” the 27 UN experts said in a joint statement.
“There is a special emphasis on people and groups in vulnerable situations and measures to try to help those most in need. We welcome the focus in this treaty on overcoming the barriers and difficulties that hinder the full enjoyment of human rights related to the environment, which is especially crucial in Latin America and the Caribbean,” they added. They also praised the treaty’s explicit recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples, as well as the acknowledgement of the cultural diversity of Latin America and the Caribbean and of their peoples.
The Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, David R. Boyd, drew particular attention to Article 1 of the treaty, which recognises everyone’s right to live in a healthy environment.
The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst, said: “This agreement is a major leap forward in the protection and safeguarding of human rights defenders in environmental matters. By establishing specific binding provisions, Latin American and Caribbean States are not only recognising the acute and alarming situation faced by environmental defenders in countries of the region, but are also taking concrete steps to reaffirm their role and respect, protect and fulfil all their rights.”
Provisions in the treaty aimed at ensuring access to information and justice, in the various languages used in each of the countries, and fostering public participation and cooperation were also welcomed by the UN experts.
“In keeping with international human rights obligations, the regional agreement sets important standards that will be fundamental in addressing some of the world’s most pressing challenges such as climate change, land degradation, water pollution, natural disasters and the depletion and unsustainable use of natural resources,” the experts stressed.
The experts added that States should adopt, in their strategies for achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, an approach that encompasses the whole of society. They also pointed out that an essential aspect of States’ international human rights obligations is to ensure protection, respect and support for individuals who raise concerns about adverse human rights impacts, including climate-induced displacement and in the context of development projects where business is involved.
“This approach would allow everyone, particularly those in more vulnerable situations – including older persons, access to timely and reliable information, so that they could participate meaningfully in decisions affecting their lives, and seek redress and remedy when their rights have been infringed.
“By signing and promptly ratifying this ground-breaking treaty, Latin American and Caribbean States will reinforce their strong commitment to environmental protection and human rights and, above all, will send out an unequivocal message in favour of multilateralism, solidarity, equality and regional integration, while encouraging partnerships with other regions,” the experts said.
In following up on the agreement, States should also ensure that business activities and investments do not come at the cost of adverse environmental and human rights impacts. In this context, the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights provide the globally agreed framework for the respective duties and responsibilities of States and business enterprises, so as to prevent and address business-related impacts on human rights. In implementing the agreement, States should also be mindful of the varied and disproportionate impact of environmental matters on women and girls, and the specific challenges faced by women human rights defenders, and ensure that all actions taken incorporate a gender perspective.
The regional agreement is open for signature by the 33 countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, and requires a minimum of 11 States to become operational.
(*) The UN experts: Mr. Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Mr. David R. Boyd, Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment; Mr. Baskut Tuncak, Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes; Mr. Obiora C. Okafor, Independent expert on human rights and international solidarity; Mr. Dainius Pūras, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; Ms. Victoria Tauli Corpuz, Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples; Mr. Léo Heller, Special Rapporteur on human rights to water and sanitation; Ms. Hilal Elver, Special Rapporteur on the right to food; Mr. Clement Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association;The Working Group on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises: Mr. Surya Deva, Ms. Elżbieta Karska, Mr. Githu Muigai, Mr. Dante Pesce and Ms. Anita Ramasastry; Mr. Livingstone Sewanyana, Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order; Mr. Saad Alfarai, Special Rapporteur on the right to development; Mr. David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Ms. Karima Bennoune, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights; Ms. Cecilia Jimenez-Damary, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons; Mr. Felipe González Morales, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants; Ms. Elizabeth Broderick, Ms Alda Facio, Ms. Ivana Radačić, Ms. Meskerem Geset Techane, Ms. Melissa Upreti, Independent Experts on the issue of discrimination against women in law and practice; Ms. Koumbou Boly Barry, Special Rapporteur on the right to education; Ms. Rosa Kornfeld-Matte, Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons; Ms. Catalina Devandas Aguilar, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities.
The Special Rapporteurs, Independent Experts and Working Groups, are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
This year is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN on 10 December 1948. The Universal Declaration – translated into a world record 500 languages – is rooted in the principle that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” It remains relevant to everyone, every day. In honour of the 70th anniversary of this extraordinarily influential document, and to prevent its vital principles from being eroded, we are urging people everywhere to Stand Up for Human Rights: www.standup4humanrights.org.