Pioneering LatAm pact aims to protect environmental activists

By Patricia Nieto Mariño

Santiago, Apr 22 (EFE).- Latin America and the Caribbean’s Escazu Agreement entered into force on Thursday, coinciding with Earth Day, and is being hailed as a pioneering document for the protection of environmental activists.

A region extremely rich in natural resources, Latin America leads the world in attacks against environmental defenders and also faces other threats that include uncontrolled urbanization, livestock overexploitation and the expansion of illegal mining.

The pact was spearheaded by the Santiago-based Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean and was cleared to take effect after the necessary congressional ratifications were obtained from Mexico and Argentina in January.

It is particularly noteworthy for a unique clause that states that its member countries “shall take appropriate, effective and timely measures to prevent, investigate and punish attacks, threats or intimidation that human rights defenders on environmental issues may suffer in the exercise of the rights contemplated in the agreement.”

ECLAC Executive Secretary Alicia Barcena said the agreement is “extremely important for the region,” calling it a “pact with a society that’s calling for a new form of economic and social organization.”

The agreement has entered into force three years after it was signed in the Costa Rican city of Escazu and 5 years after the death of Berta Caceres, a Honduran indigenous woman who was murdered in 2016 for campaigning against a hydroelectric dam on a river regarded as sacred by her people.

Latin America is the deadliest region for environmental defenders, according to the non-governmental organization Global Witness, which said it accounted for 148 of the 212 murders of these activists worldwide in 2019.

Colombia topped the list with 66 homicides, while Brazil, Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala and Venezuela all were among the seven countries with the highest number of these murders.

The pact is a “historic step” forward but a long road still lies ahead, according to Amnesty International’s campaigner for human rights defenders in the Americas, Graciela Martinez, who stressed that “some very dangerous countries for environmentalists such as Honduras, Guatemala and Colombia” must also join the agreement.

Besides Argentina and Mexico, the other countries that have ratified the pact are Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, Ecuador, Guyana, Nicaragua, Panama, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Lucia and Uruguay.

Brazil heads the list of nations that lost the greatest quantity of primary forest in 2020, according to a recent report from Global Forest Watch, while Peru and Colombia occupy the fifth and sixth places, respectively.

Even so, neither of those three countries has yet signed the Escazu Agreement, which was initially inked by 24 nations but has only been ratified by 12.

“We think there’s a business lobby … that’s thinking that this accord will impede them from moving forward with their activities, and they shouldn’t see it like that,” Barcena said.

Chile and Peru – both of whose economies are heavily reliant on mining, an industry often in the sights of environmentalists – had been active participants in the Escazu Agreement dating back to 2014 but later backtracked due to internal politics.

Metal extraction is the most lethal activity in environmental terms and a serious threat to ecosystems and communities, according to a 2020 report from the World Resources Institute. EFE


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