Guatemala, a high-risk country for environmental defenders, has not ratified the Escazú Agreement

Regina Pérez writes in Prensa Comunitaria about the Escazú Agreement and what it means for environment and land defenders, who continue to face serious threats in their daly lives.

In Guatemala, according to Front Line Defenders (FLD), 15 human rights defenders were murdered in 2020, most of them environment and land defenders and, in spite of this, Guatemala has not ratified the Escazú Agreement.

The Escazú Agreement is the first environmental human rights treaty in Latin America and the Caribbean and was approved in March 2018 after a negotiation that lasted about six years.

On this Earth Day, 22nd April, the Agreement comes into force. Guatemalan activists are in agreement that this Regional Agreement would have positive effects in establishing clearer and broader standards on environmental protection, access to information and recognition of human rights defenders of land, territory and the environment.

This regional agreement for Latin America and the Caribbean, includes the world’s first binding provision on human rights defenders on environmental issues, in a region where they frequently face attacks and intimidation.

Guatemala has the fifth highest number of killings of defenders in Latin America, according to FLD’s 2021 analysis.

Andrea Ixchíu, Mayan K’iche’, territorial defender, journalist and filmmaker, points out that there is permanent and increasing violence against defenders of territory and the environment. “In addition to the murders registered last year, hundreds of attacks on human rights defenders have also been reported,” she said.

So far, 24 countries have signed the Agreement, including Guatemala, but have not ratified it, while the Agreement entered into force after 12 countries did ratify it.

José Villatoro, an activist from Huehuetenango who is part of the Escazú Now Guatemala Network (Escazú Ahora Guate), points out that the importance of Guatemala ratifying the Agreement is that it is one of the countries with the highest number of murders of land and environmental defenders, and that ratification obliges states to implement it.

Guatemala is a mega-diverse country with 14 life zones, 9 biomes, 7 terrestrial eco-regions, 46 natural communities and 13,386 species, 1,988 fauna, 10,137 flora and 1561 aquatic species but that that biodiversity faces constant threats, including deforestation, with Guatemala having one of the highest rates in Latin America.

According to UDEFEGUA, of the 1,055 cases of aggression registered in 2020, 244 were against defenders of territory, environmentalists, campesinos and development organisations dedicated to the defence of territory and natural resources.

Of these 224, 11 were assassinations and there were 16 attempted assassinations.

There were also 75 acts of criminalisation, of which 41 were unfounded legal complaints, 11 illegal detentions and 23 acts of defamation. There were two violent extra-judicial evictions and two violent judicial evictions.

You can read the full piece, in Spanish, including more in depth treatment of the criminalisation of environment defenders, here, Guatemala, país de alto riesgo para defensores ambientales, sin ratificar Acuerdo de Escazú.

According to CIVICUS, the Escazú Agreement incorporates several innovative elements. First, it has a specific provision on environmental human rights defenders. Second, it enshrines a rights-based approach toward indigenous peoples and vulnerable populations, and third, it responds to the spirit of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights regarding companies’ specific obligations to respect human rights in the context of their activities.

You can read more on the agreement, in English, on the CIVICUS website, here, ESCAZÚ: ‘The work of civil society made a huge difference’.

You can also read more on Latin America more widely, on Mongabay, here, For Latin America’s environmental defenders, Escazú Agreement is a voice and a shield.

Categories: Corruption, Criminalisation, Culture, Environment, Evictions, Gender, Genocide, Guatemala, Human Rights, Indigenous peoples, Justice, Land, Legal, Mining, Report, Resource Extraction, Solidarity in Action, Violence

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