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UN Experts Hail Landmark Environmental Treaty in Latin America and the Caribbean

Press release by the Office of the High Commissioner of the United Nations on Human Rights.
Press Release |
10 November 2020
Human Rights Council, Geneva.

GENEVA (9 November 2020) - UN human rights experts* welcomed the impending entry into force of the first environmental human rights treaty in Latin America and the Caribbean, known as the Escazú Agreement, lauding it as a ground-breaking pact to fight pollution and secure a healthy environment.

"In the face of proliferating environmental conflicts and persistent intimidation, harassment and detention of environmental human rights defenders, the Escazú Agreement offers hope to the countless individuals and communities in the region that suffer from pollution and the negative impacts of extractive industries," said the UN Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights, Marcos Orellana.

"The Escazú Agreement commits parties to guarantee the right to a healthy environment," added David Boyd, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment. "It provides citizens and communities with the tools needed to hold States accountable for protecting and fulfilling this fundamental right."

The Escazú Agreement includes strong protections for indigenous peoples and environmental human rights defenders, at a time when they are subject to unprecedented levels of violence.

The experts expressed hope that the treaty could serve as a model for other regions to improve cooperation and mobilise efforts for better governance of natural resources and environmental protection through transparency, accountability and community engagement. By ensuring people's rights to information, participation, and access to justice, the Agreement affirms a strong rights-based approach to environmental governance.

The experts also voiced concern over disinformation campaigns that have obfuscated public debate in certain countries of the region.

"We urge those countries who have yet to ratify or adhere, to join regional efforts and demonstrate best practice for a more just and sustainable region," the experts said.

The Escazú Agreement will enter into force 90 days following the 11th ratification. The experts commended the 11 countries that ratified the agreement: Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Guyana, Nicaragua, Mexico, Panama, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Kitts & Nevis, and Uruguay.

"The remaining nations in the Latin America and Caribbean region should move quickly towards ratifying the Escazú Agreement in order to maximise the treaty's effectiveness in protecting human rights in the face of today's interconnected climate, biodiversity, and pollution crises," the experts said.

The Special Rapporteurs' recommendations were endorsed by: Saad AlfarargiSpecial Rapporteur on the right to developmentPedro Arrojo-AgudoSpecial Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation;Karima Bennoune, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rightsElizabeth Broderick (Chair), Elena Dorothy Estrada Tanck, Meskerem Geset Techane, Ivana RadačIć, Melissa Upreti (Vice Chair), Working Group on discrimination against women and girlsAlice Cruz,Special Rapporteur on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members, Olivier De SchutterSpecial Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rightsMichael Fakhri,Special Rapporteur on the right to food; Felipe González Morales,Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrantsCecilia Jimenez-DamarySpecial Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced PersonsIrene KhanSpecial Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of expression; Chris Kwaja (Chair-Rapporteur), Jelena AparacLilian BobeaRavindran Daniel, and Sorcha MacLeod,Working Group on the use of mercenaries;Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defendersNils MelzerSpecial Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishmentTlaleng Mofokeng, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental healthSiobhán Mullally, Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and childrenFionnuala D. Ní Aoláin, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorismClément Nyaletsossi Voule,Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of associationTomoya ObokataSpecial Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequencesObiora OkaforIndependent Expert on human rights and international solidarityGerard QuinnSpecial Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilitiesAnita Ramasastry (Chair), Dante Pesce (Vice-chair), Surya Deva, Elżbieta Karska, Githu MuigaiWorking Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprisesLivingstone SewanyanaIndependent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international orderLeigh Toomey (Chair-Rapporteur), Elina Steinerte (Vice-Chair), Miriam Estrada-CastilloMumba Malila, Seong-Phil HongWorking Group on Arbitrary Detention


Marcos A. Orellana, the Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights, was appointed by the Human Rights Council as of July 2020. Dr Orellana is an expert in international law and the law on human rights and the environment. His practice as legal advisor has included work with United Nations agencies, governments and non-governmental organizations, including on wastes and chemicals issues at the Basel and Minamata conventions, the UN Environment Assembly and the Human Rights Council. He has intervened in cases before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes and the World Trade Organization's Appellate Body. His practice in the climate space includes representing the eight-nations Independent Association of Latin America and the Caribbean in the negotiations of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, and serving as senior legal advisor to the Presidency of the 25th Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. He has extensive experience working with civil society around the world on issues concerning global environmental justice. He was the inaugural director of the Environment and Human Rights Division at Human Rights Watch. Previously he directed the trade and the human rights programs at the Center for International Environmental Law, and he co-chaired the UN Environment Program's civil society forum. He teaches International Environmental Law at the George Washington University School of Law and International Law at the American University Washington College of Law. Previously he has lectured in prominent universities around the world, including Melbourne, Pretoria, Geneva, and Guadalajara. He was a fellow at the University of Cambridge, visiting scholar with the Environmental Law Institute in Washington DC, and instructor professor of international law at the Universidad de Talca, Chile.

David R. Boydthe Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, was appointed for a three-year term commencing August 1, 2018. He is an associate professor of law, policy, and sustainability at the University of British Columbia. Mr. Boyd has a PhD in Resource Management and Environmental Studies from UBC, a law degree from the University of Toronto, and a business degree from the University of Alberta. His career has included serving as the executive director of Ecojustice, appearing before the Supreme Court of Canada, and working as a special advisor on sustainability for Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin. He has advised many governments on environmental, constitutional, and human rights policy and co-chaired Vancouver's effort to become the world's greenest city by 2020. He is a member of the World Commission on Environmental Law, an expert advisor for the UN's Harmony with Nature Initiative, and a member of ELAW, the Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide.

Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council's independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures' experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

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