GENEVA, Switzerland — UN rights experts have urged governments in Latin America and the Caribbean to adopt a strong agreement on environmental rights, including rights to information, participation and access to justice
“It is now crucial for governments in the region to act in solidarity and to accept legally binding rules to protect both human rights and the environment,” the experts said.
The appeal comes as Latin American and Caribbean states meet in the Chilean capital, Santiago, for their eighth round of negotiations under the auspices of the UN Economic Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).
The negotiations are seeking to implement Principle 10 of the 1992 Rio Declaration, in which states all around the world committed to promote access to information on the environment, to foster participation in decision-making processes affecting it, and to provide access to justice in environmental matters.
“I commend the efforts by states during the past years of negotiations. They have come a long way and made a lot of progress. But time is pressing. They should finish their work by concluding a strong, legally-binding treaty for the region,” stressed one of the experts, the UN special rapporteur on human rights and the environment, John Knox.
A majority of states in the region have already signed a declaration affirming their commitment to achieving a binding law promoting the full application of Principle 10.
“The adoption of the proposed new environmental treaty would be an important milestone for the region. It would be a tangible expression of solidarity and realization of States’ commitment to human rights and to environmental protection,” the experts said.
“We would welcome if the agreement would clarify that states should incorporate in environmental impact assessments not only potential health impacts on people, but as well other social impacts, including impacts on the rights to food, work, housing, safe drinking water and sanitation,” the experts stressed.
“I hope the treaty will strengthen the right to information, participation and access to justice in relation to large energy, infrastructure and extractive industry projects in the region funded by private, bilateral or multilateral financial institutions,” added Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky, independent expert on foreign debt and human rights.
The agreement is particularly important, the experts noted, because the region is one of the most dangerous in the world for environmental human rights defenders. In 2016 alone, more than 100 environmental defenders were killed in the region.
“To protect the environment, we must protect the human rights of people who work to defend the environment,” Knox emphasized. “This agreement would be a leap forward in that crucial effort.”