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Environmental Rights - Uruguay shows leadership by ratifying Escazú Agreement (& 3rd state-party)

On 17th July 2019, Uruguay passed its domestic law (Ley 19773) authorising the country's ratification of the Escazú Agreement. As Ana Cepeda, our Legal Intern in Environmental Rights and Governance, explains, this is a key moment for the protection and advancement of Environmental Rights in Latin America and the Caribbean.

This development means that only a further eight ratifications are needed to reach the eleven required for the Treaty to enter into force. (Bolivia having been the second & Guyana the first countries to ratify). It is understood that Peru is similarly also now already advancing its required internal arrangements. To date, there are now a notable 17 signatories.

The urgent need to protect environmental rights defenders highlighted by the recent annual report from Global Witness

The urgent need for the entry into force of the Escazú Agreement is brought into sharp focus by the recent Global Witness Report, which highlights the alarming statistic that - of those cases known and reported - , 164 environmental activists were killed in 2018 alone. In reality, the numbers are anticipated to be much higher.

As awareness of the ecological crises grows globally, this will require to be translated into concrete actions to protect Nature. This means every country in the world urgently needs to promote, advance and uphold the rights of those who genuinely defend our common home, often at great personal risk.

Brazil and a number of other key countries in Latin America are consistently named amongst the worst offenders for serious breaches of these rights. Such breaches are often associated with highly economically significant activities, such as the mining sector. For this reason, as well as others, it is especially important that the other countries in Latin America now show the same leadership as Uruguay, Bolivia and Guyana by swiftly completing the ratification of the Escazú Agreement so it enters into force as soon as possible.

Opportunities for continued learning in both directions - Escazú and its 'big sister', the UNECE Aarhus Convention

As highlighted, the Escazú Agreement also provides key opportunities for continued learning in both directions for countries here in the UNECE region, which are party to its longer-standing, 'big sister' - the Aarhus Convention. Adopted in 1998, and having celebrated its 20th birthday last year, many of the fundamental provisions of the Aarhus Convention are now mirrored by the Escazú Agreement. The UNECE Aarhus Convention is, of course, central to the same rights of access to information, public participation and environmental justice here. Many of the pillars are equally supported by provisions of international and regional human rights laws.

Of specific note, however, several provisions of the Escazú Agreement go further than the Aarhus Convention and explicitly contain some newer, emerging and more novel principles of international law in the field of the environmental, which are central to guide its interpretation; noteably, "non-regression", "progressive realisation" and "maximum disclosure". This may, in due course, provide opportunities for shared and common interpretations once the Escazú Agreement's Implementation and Compliance Committee is in place.

Many benefits for environmental decision-making

In the current UK Brexit context, in comparing the provisions of the UNECE Aarhus Convention and the CEPAL Escazú Agreement, we again take this opportunity to highlight not only the strict legal provisions of the Convention(s), but also some common examples of the many benefits of upholding their requirements in environmental decision-making processes.

We hope that the publication of this short update will help to promote wider understanding and awareness of the Escazú Agreement here in Europe, and how those who are interested in finding out more information can do so.

We strongly urge the remaining countries in Latin America which are party to the Escazú Agreement to now swiftly complete the ratification processes for people and our planet.

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