IACHR Press Office
Bogotá / Guatemala City / Mexico City / Panama City / La Paz / Tegucigalpa / Santiago / Washington, D.C. (April 22, 2022) – On the International Mother Earth Day, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the Latin American and Caribbean branches of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and the IACHR’s Special Rapporteurship on Economic, Social, Cultural, and Environmental Rights call on States to respect and protect defenders of the environment, land, and territory and call on businesses to respect human rights in all their activities.
Defenders play a crucial role in the protection of human rights and the environment. However, they—particularly women and peasant, indigenous, and Afro-descendant leaders and their communities—continue to face persistent violations of their rights. The IACHR, the OHCHR, and the Special Rapporteurship on Economic, Social, Cultural, and Environmental Rights note that these risks are particularly high when defenders express their concern about the impact of certain business activities on land and territory.
According to estimates made by the OHCHR on a global scale, almost three out of four murders of defenders of human rights and the environment happen in Latin America and the Caribbean. There have also been instances of physical assault, threats, intimidation, stigmatization, and smear campaigns, among other types of attack, against environmental defenders and their communities, as well as specific gender-based attacks on women who are environmental defenders.
The IACHR, the OHCHR, and the Special Rapporteurship on Economic, Social, Cultural, and Environmental Rights are further concerned about the inappropriate use of judicial and administrative measures as a tool to criminalize and silence the work of environmental defenders, even targeting whole groups without ensuring individual accountability. The IACHR, the OHCHR, and the Special Rapporteurship on Economic, Social, Cultural, and Environmental Rights received information about the alleged involvement of certain firms in specific murders, threats, and instances of criminalization against people who opposed their business operations in defense of the environment.
It is States who are primarily responsible for preventing and investigating all human rights violations committed against environmental defenders, punishing anyone found guilty of them, and providing comprehensive reparations for anyone affected. States must urgently adopt and implement—in consultation with defenders—effective measures that stop these rights violations and promote and enforce corporate responsibility for respecting human rights.
Businesses play a crucial role, in their contributions not only to socioeconomic development, but also to strengthening protection for and recognition of the role of defenders, seeking to protect them, fostering consultation to identify the impact of their own projects, providing redress for any harm done, and ensuring non-recurrence, among other actions to protect civic space. Several business stakeholders in Latin America and the Caribbean have already launched initiatives to start integrating responsible corporate behavior into their activities.
The IACHR, the OHCHR, and the Special Rapporteurship on Economic, Social, Cultural, and Environmental Rights therefore call on States to ensure that companies around the region adopt policies to foster respect for and to protect the rights of environmental defenders; to encourage culture change within the business sector to recognize defenders’ work; to implement due diligence processes concerning human rights, by considering the impact of their activities on communities and on defenders and taking the relevant prevention, mitigation, and redress measures; and to provide complaint and reparation mechanisms for cases of rights violations, among other actions. All this would reflect the United Nations’ Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the report Business and Human Rights: Inter-American Standards published by the IACHR’s Special Rapporteurship on Economic, Social, Cultural, and Environmental Rights.
It is worth stressing that the Escazú Agreement is a powerful instrument to prevent conflict by improving access to participation, information, and justice on environmental issues. The Escazú Agreement is a milestone, because it stresses protection for defenders and their role: its spirit reminds us that, to protect the environment, we need to start by protecting the people who defend it.
The IACHR, the OHCHR, and the Special Rapporteurship on Economic, Social, Cultural, and Environmental Rights commend all the States who have ratified the Escazú Agreement, showing their commitment and leadership in the search for new tools in this field at the national, regional, and global levels. At the same time, the three institutions urge States party to the agreement to work toward its effective, timely implementation, and they urge States who are yet to sign or ratify the agreement to do so.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN Human Rights) is part of the United Nations Secretariat and its mandate was established through General Assembly resolution 48/141. UN Human Rights, led by the High Commissioner, is mandated to promote and protect all human rights for all and throughout the world. It is the leading UN entity on human rights and is present in more than 60 countries.
The Special Rapporteurship on Economic, Social, Cultural, and Environmental Rights is an autonomous office of the IACHR. It was especially created to brace the Commission's compliance with their mandate to promote and protect economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights in the Americas.
A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.