11 july. ECOSOC Chamber (United Nations Conference Building)
HLPF 2018: Environmental Democracy for Sustainable Societies
In the framework of side event at the 2018 high-level political forum on sustainable development, Natalia Gomez Peña- Representative of the public in the Negotiation Process
of the Escazú Agreement, spoke about Principle 10 negotiations, peace in Colombia and the explosion in the violence against community leaders.
Good evening distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen.
In august 2016, when the negotiating committee met in the Dominican Republic, I
had the honor to speak for civil society in the opening ceremony. At that time, I
reflected on how the Principle 10 negotiations and the peace talks in Colombia
both expressed the aspirations of millions of people for peace and democracy. It
was a time of high hope for me, and for many Colombians like me, who have never
known their country in peace.
In 2016 the peace accords in Colombia were concluded, but they have not been
adequately implemented. The Escazú Agreement should not run the same fate.
In the last two years since the peace accords, Colombia has seen an explosion in
the violence against community leaders, human rights defenders and
environmental advocates. More than 280 leaders have been killed since 2016.
Sadly, the bloodshed is not unique to my country. Attacks, killings and threats to
environmental defenders are multiplying in the region. So often, those who stand
up in defense of the right to a healthy environment pay the ultimate price.
But although we may be afraid at times, we will not remain silent. Instead, our
voices will come together to express our hopes for a better future for all.
That is why the Escazú Agreement is so important. Because the region needs tools
to foster real democratic governance. We need tools to be informed about
development projects and the environmental risks we face. We need tools to know
about the health of our rivers, our forests, our communities, our children. Because
democracy rests on meaningful and inclusive participation where the voice of
women, young people, rural communities be heard. That was the promise of
sustainable development in 1992: that environmental decisions that affect us would
be taken with our involvement. Without it, the Agenda 2030 will come and go as
another missed opportunity.
The Escazú Agreement guarantees the rights to environmental information and
participation. It also guarantees access to justice for violations of environmental
rights. What’s more, Escazú is the first international treaty contemplating specificprotections for environmental defenders. And it contains specific standards to
safeguard the rights of people in the most vulnerable situations.
But we all know the agreement is just a piece of paper until it enters into force and
translates into impact in the lives of millions of people in the region.
Back in Rio+20, countries and civil society began working together to construct an
agreement on environmental democracy. Born out of this active dialogue, Escazú
sets an example of meaningful ways civil society can participate in international
negotiations. For example, the public elected six representatives that coordinated
civil society’s input, who have reunited under the umbrella of the Access Initiative
Network. The public could request the floor at any time, and so our interventions
were not token minutes at the end, when no one is listening. In a world where civic
space seems to be more restricted every day, Escazú Agreement has set a key
precedent to open the space to direct citizen participation.
Now that the agreement is concluded, we are entering a new phase. In it, the good
practices for the participation of the public will remain vital to the agreement’s
success. Indeed, the Conference of the Parties contemplated in Escazú will have
an opportunity to strengthen the modalities for public participation in the
But there will be no Conference of the Parties if the agreement does not enter into
force. We therefore urge countries in the region to sign it when it opens for
signature on September 27. Now is the time to deliver real steps for real change. It
is particularly important that countries experiencing violent environmental conflicts
and high numbers of attacks against defenders sign and ratify the treaty in
Becoming a party to the Escazú Agreement will signal real political commitment
with sustainable development and with the 2030 Agenda. International cooperation
should reward that commitment and support action under the Escazú Agreement.
As we gather here today, defenders in our region are still facing violence. Impunity
is widespread. Indigenous and rural communities are still experiencing obstacles to
exercising their right to participate. Mothers still lack information on contaminants
that affect their children’s health. But we can change that. Escazú can change that.
And the time to act is now. Our region must mobilize and work together to make
the promises of Escazú Agreement a reality for everyone.