Latin America and Caribbean Countries Sign Treaty To Protect Those Who Protect the Land

2 years after Berta Cáceres was the alleged victim of an extrajudicial killing in Honduras for her environmental protests, 24 countries just approved a treaty which vows to protect both the environment and the activists who work to defend the land around them.

The lush Amazon rainforest.

That agreement is called the Latin American and Caribbean countries declaration on Princple 10 (LAC-P10). It was pushed along thanks to major leadership by Chile, Costa Rica and Panama, and was just signed off by the following countries: Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Columbia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

As the treaty says, it requires that even while it recognizes that the individual signatories to this agreement still have their own sovereign authority to manage the law locally, those states must now “guarantee a safe and enabling environment for persons, groups and organizations that promote and defend human rights in environmental matters”. It also identifies the right for all to have a healthy environment, and compels those countries approving the treaty to set up transparency oversight organizations to track and report on compliance with the rules set within it.

In 2017, close to 200 environmental activists were killed defending the rights of nature around them. Of those, 60% of the killings happened in Latin America. A full 49 of those activists came from one country alone, Brazil, a place where national corruption has put the rights of corporations ahead of those of the indigenous peoples and the lands they call their home. It is therefore fitting that Latin American and the Caribbean should be the place where a treaty like this should come to reality.

President Luis Guillermo Solis of Costa Rica called the new agreement “a turning point” for the region. “It is also crucial for the very survival of the species,” he said about the treaty.

In Brazil, a statement was released by Fundação Grupo Esquel Brasil and the Article 19 campaign saying that, “A legally binding agreement is critical for us to protect our land and environmental defenders who will now have greater access to the rights enshrined in this convention.” They went to say that, “The treaty may help Brazil to reverse the trend of regressive environmental laws.” With this new agreement and the nation’s own vigorous attempt to reassert the rights of the people and the land in a place formerly riddled by corruption, many have hope for the first time of some major positive changes for all.

In a recent interview, Carole Excell, the World Resource Institute environmental democracy director, said that the treaty represents “a historic stand to safeguard the backbone of environmental protection”. Excell went on to say that, “I cannot understate how critical it is for communities to have access to environmental information, like data on local water pollution or nearby mining concessions. LAC-P10 is designed not only to protect environmental defenders, but also to make it easier for people to get information, participate in decision-making that will affect their lives and hold powerful interests to account.”

It is a powerful vision Excell and the others are describing. With this new treaty in place and some time to see it take hold, perhaps those almost 200 who died fighting for environmental rights last year – as well as heroes like Berta Cáceres who died before them – will finally see justice for the lands and waterways they saw as both precious and critical to the future of all of nature’s creations.