The Action Plan for defenders must be built based on the implementation of the environmental democracy framework of the Escazú Agreement, which proposes an interconnection of the three rights of access, and the recognition and protection of environmental defenders as a fourth pillar.
The Action Plan must propose clear guidelines that allow the Parties to move forward with their obligation of recognition and protection set forth in Article 9, and to also cater to the real needs of defenders, including indigenous leaders and local communities in their territories. Experience in our region shows us that protection systems often fail because their design process lacks the active participation of and dialogue with potential recipients.
Defenders are a central actor in the Plan’s construction framework, so their participation must be guaranteed in all scenarios and phases of construction, guaranteeing a multicultural approach that meets the needs of ethnic peoples and local communities. The Plan’s construction must contemplate a scenario with effective early warnings aimed at protecting defenders in situations of emergency and risk at the regional level.
It is necessary to work on prevention with a focus on interoperability, to know where to intervene and how to do it. 1 The Plan’s construction must promote the coordination of state authorities with actors from all levels of power from Party States, and especially with the entities in charge of the protection of defenders, to guarantee a greater effectiveness and legitimacy of any proposed measures.
This document presents contributions for the thematic index of the Escazú Agreement’s Action Plan on Environmental Defenders, which will serve as a starting point for the scenario of public monitoring and citizen oversight to be exercised by the public within the framework of the Agreement’s implementation.
1. Context of Environmental Defenders in Latin America
Civil society has identified common trends related to the context of repression and violence faced by defenders in Latin America. In the first place, it has been identified that common violations include that of the right of access to public information, participation in environmental decision-making processes, access to environmental justice and the free, prior and informed consent of ethnic peoples. This promotes decision-making behind closed doors, or one that fails to guarantee effective participation and inclusion of the role and voice of defenders as established in the Escazú Agreement.
Thus, when communities organize to protect their territories and resources from harmful activities, they are subject to threats and violent attacks, many times by companies acting in coordination with public security forces. Latin America presents the highest figures for murders of environmental defenders. During 2015 – 2019, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) has identified that, on average, 4 indigenous defenders have been murdered each month in Latin America. The urgency of the situation is reflected in the latest Global Witness report, when it states that: “200 land and environmental defenders were killed in 2021 […] More than three quarters of the registered attacks occurred in Latin America. In Brazil, Peru and Venezuela, 78% of the attacks occurred in the Amazon.”
In cases where physical violence is not used, both States and companies deploy more subtle tactics to silence communities. This includes legislation that criminalizes peaceful protest, the use of legal actions and other forms of judicial harassment, disinformation campaigns, infiltration of communities and social movements, illegal surveillance and smear campaigns. Other people close to the defenders, such as their loved ones, communities, and legal representatives are also often subjected to reprisals, for which it is essential to take them into account for protection. Likewise, there are differentiated attacks against women, LGBTIQ+ people, children and youth, racialized peoples, among others.