The Caribbean countries are being urged to respect and defend defenders of the environment and land. Businesses are also being asked to respect human rights in all activities as the global community observes International Mother Earth Day (Friday)
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the Latin American and Caribbean branches of the Office of the United Nations Human Rights High Commissioner (OHCHR), and the IACHRs Special Reporteurship on Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights, made a joint statement that defenders play an important role in protecting human rights and the environment.
They, especially women, peasant, Afro-descendant leaders, and their communities, continue face persistent violations of rights, the groups stated in the statement. Noting that these risks are especially high when defenders express concern about the effect of certain business activities onto land and territory, they said that this is not the case.
According to OHCHR global estimates, nearly three out of four murders of defenders for human rights and the environment take place in Latin America and Caribbean.
It also stated that there have been instances where environmental defenders were threatened, intimidated, stigmatized, and smear campaigned against their communities.
These three organizations also expressed concern about the inappropriate use judicial and administrative actions as a tool for criminalizing and suppressing the work of environmental defenders. They even target whole groups without ensuring individual accountability.
They claimed to have received information about the alleged involvement in murders, threats, or criminalization of people who were opposed to their business operations in defense of the environment.
It is the states that are responsible for investigating and preventing human rights violations against environmental defenders, as well as for punishing those found guilty and providing full reparations for all affected.
It is urgent that states adopt and implement, in consultation with human rights defenders effective measures to stop these violations and promote and enforce corporate accountability for respecting human right.
They stated that businesses play a vital role in socio-economic development.
They stated that several business stakeholders in Latin America, the Caribbean and elsewhere have already taken initiatives to incorporate responsible corporate behavior into their businesses.
The OHCHR, the IACHR, and the Special Rapporteurship on Economic, Social, and Environmental Rights stated that they are urging states to adopt policies to promote respect for and protect the rights and interests of environmental defenders. They also encourage culture change in the business sector to recognize the work of defenders.
All of these would reflect the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and a report Business and Human Rights Inter-American Standards published in the IACHRs Special Reporteurship on Economic, Cultural, and Environmental Rights.
It is important to stress that the Escaz Agreement is an effective instrument to prevent conflicts by improving access to information, participation, and justice on issues relating to the environment. The Escaz Agreement has been a significant milestone in that it emphasizes protection of defenders and their roles: its spirit reminds me that, in order to protect the natural environment, we must first protect the people who defend it.
All the states that ratified the Escaz Agreement were commended by the three organizations. This was a sign of their leadership and commitment to finding new tools at the national, regional and global levels.
They are also encouraging countries to join the agreement and urging them to work for its timely, effective implementation.