Eye on the Amazon

Great News for Earth Defenders!

Photo credit: Santiago Cornejo

Finally, we have some good news to report: Latin American and Caribbean countries are lining up to ratify a new treaty requiring stricter protections for the environment and for Earth Defenders! In recent months Amazon Watch worked to publicize the Agreement's importance and organized our supporters to push for its ratification – a big THANK YOU to those of you who took action with us!

And we also just learned that Ecuador's president granted a pardon to Pepe Acacho, a Shuar leader sentenced to eight months in prison related to road blockades during a wave of protests in 2009 against a law allowing mining projects on Indigenous territory without their consent. As was well documented, no credible evidence was ever presented against Acacho, and witnesses against him were tied to either the government or the mining industry.

The Escazú Agreement – named for the Costa Rican city where it was drafted – is a ground-breaking treaty that establishes the right to a healthy environment for all people and lays out the conditions that countries must create in order for people to enjoy that right – like avoiding the kind of criminalization to which Pepe Acacho was subjected.

It requires governments to make it easier for communities to access information on proposed industrial development projects that would affect them, and then it guarantees those communities more say in the decision-making processes for approving such projects. It also expands requirements for access to justice in environmental issues.

One of the provisions we're most excited about is the expanded protections for Earth Defenders that the Agreement requires. As Amazon Watch supporters know very well, threats, attacks, and criminalization of Earth Defenders in the Amazon and around Latin America are a common occurrence. For example, the home of Salomé Aranda of the Moretecocha community in the Ecuadorian Amazon was attacked by unknown assailants in May, after Aranda criticized Italian oil giant ENI for its plans to expand drilling into new fields in the region.

The Ecuadorian government's response to the attack against Salomé was almost non-existent, but once the Escazú Agreement goes into effect, it will be required to do better. The Agreement stipulates that countries must create an “enabling environment” for Earth Defenders “by recognizing and protecting them.” This is the first time an international agreement requires protection for environmental activists – it's a big deal!

Countries had their first opportunity to sign the Agreement on September 27th, and so far fourteen of the 33 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have done so. That includes three of the four countries where Amazon Watch's work is currently focused: Ecuador, Peru, and Brazil. The threshold of signatories required to convert the agreement into a binding treaty is twelve, so it has already been reached! Of course, the more countries that sign and ratify Escazú, the wider the protections will be. Citizens of the countries that have yet to sign can urge their governments to sign here.

We also must acknowledge that the mere ratification of a treaty is only the first step; it must then be implemented. But for now, let's celebrate this – and Pepe Acaho's pardon – as important victories for Earth Defenders and the environment!

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