Escazú Agreement: States must fulfill their commitments to protect environmental defenders

Friday, 12th April 2019

The parallel event "Beyond Escazú: Protecting Environmental Defenders", held on 5 March in Geneva within the framework of the 40th Session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC), was configured as a key space to make visible the critical situation faced by defenders of land and the environment in Guatemala and the work promoted by the ILC to address the problem before important international actors.


During the meeting, it became clear that although several Latin American states have taken an important step towards the protection of human rights defenders by adopting the Escazú Agreement[1], there is still a long way to go. In this regard, David Boyd, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights (HRD) and the Environment, stated that "the greatest challenge is to implement the words written in the Escazú Agreement. The commitments made in the Agreement must be fulfilled.

For this reason, it is urgent that the members of the HRC, composed of 47 States -guarantors of the protection of human rights-, be able to elaborate a more robust regulation for the protection of human rights defenders and, in this way, be able to really and effectively combat the spiral of violence suffered by these important actors.

In addition to representatives of UN agencies and States, civil society organizations participated in the meeting. Leiria Vay, representative of the Committee for Peasant Development (CODECA) and focal point of the Regional Initiative for the Protection of Defenders of the Land and Territory, presented the situation in Guatemala and the multiple violations of the rights of defenders that are taking place. "Defending human rights in my country is a high-risk task. The situation of human rights defenders is getting worse by the day, because their struggle has total repression as a response," he said.

He also explained that "the criminalization of the defenders is due to the agrarian conflict that is linked to the reconcentration of lands and to the extractive projects that are carried out in the territories inhabited by the indigenous peoples without their consultation.

This event was also important for the Defenders Initiative because it allowed for dialogue with relevant international actors such as the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Michel Forst, to whom he shared the report of the International Mission "Losing one's Life to Defend the Land", on the violations of the rights of defenders in Guatemala.


[1] El Acuerdo de Escazú, adoptado en marzo de 2018 por 24 Estados de América Latina y Caribe, es el primer tratado regional que articula obligaciones específicas para proteger a los defensores del medioambiente.