On the eve of a precedent-setting negotiation, we express our strong support for the efforts by governments in Latin America and the Caribbean to agree on a regional instrument on rights of access to information, participation, and justice in environmental matters.
This negotiation is one of the most important steps ever taken to protect and promote environmental democracy at the international level, and it will provide a model for such steps in other regions and countries.
Emerging from a proposal at the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development, the new agreement is being negotiated by 20 member States of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, representing more than 500 million people. The next negotiating session is October 27-29 in Panama Citya1.
The countries are discussing ways to implement Principle 10 of the 1992 Rio Declaration, which affirmed that “Environmental issues are best handled with participation of all concerned citizens,” that “each individual shall have appropriate access to information concerning the environment that is held by public authorities” and “the opportunity to participate in decision-making processes,” and that “Effective access to judicial and administrative proceedings, including redress and remedy, shall be provided.”
Principle 10 is universally acknowledged, and the obligations on States to provide access to information, participation, and remedy have strong bases in international human rights law as well, as is described in the 2014 mapping report of the then-Independent Expert on human rights and the environment, A/HRC/25/53.
Nevertheless, implementation of Principle 10 at the national and local level is often incomplete or ineffective. A robust, legally binding regional instrument would provide invaluable support for such implementation, including by protecting environmental human rights defenders, including indigenous activists and leaders and women human rights defenders, who are at high risk of harassment and even death in many countries.
Sustainable development and human rights are interrelated. Rights of access to information, participation, and justice are at the fulcrum of the relationship. When the people most affected by environment and development policies—including indigenous peoples, whose livelihoods and cultures often depend on access to their lands and resources, and women, who are often the primary caregivers in the family—can exercise their human rights to information, participation in decision-making, and remedy, then the policies are most responsive, fair and effective.
A strong regional instrument on access rights will further enhance robust domestic laws implementing multilateral environmental agreements and domestic policies in other areas, including climate change, chemicals and waste management, and biological diversity.
While most of the countries have expressed their intention to conclude a legally binding instrument, they have not yet adopted a formal decision on the question. We urge the negotiators to decide to adopt a treaty or other binding legal instrument, as the best way to promote the effective implementation of access rights and sustainable development and to ensure that the instrument strengthens capacities in public institutions and in civil society.
In addition, a legally binding instrument can provide legal tools to secure the effective enjoyment of access rights. An adequate legal framework is indispensable to give effect to access rights, and a treaty enables adoption and enforcement of adequate internal laws.
Moreover, a legally binding instrument can channel development and technical assistance to strengthen institutional capacities, by providing the structural mechanisms for North-South development assistance and South-South regional cooperation, including through a dedicated Secretariat. Such an instrument may also establish a mechanism to oversee compliance with the obligations established in the treaty, and thus to monitor and facilitate its implementation.
We also applaud the transparent negotiating process. Modalities for the participation of the public have included the ability of the public to speak at any moment of the discussions, subject to the Chair's discretion. This arrangement is an international good practice regarding stakeholder engagement in inter-governmental processes. In addition, the process has contemplated a number of activities for capacity-building, lessons sharing, and education regarding sustainable development and access rights, including workshops jointly organized by governmental agencies and civil society.
This statement has been endorsed by the following UN Special Procedures:
Mr. John Knox, Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment;
Mr. Baskut Tuncak, Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes;
Mr. Dainius Pūras, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health;
Mr. Léo Heller, Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation;
Ms. Hilal Elver, Special Rapporteur on the right to food;
Mr. David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression;
Mr. Maina Kiai, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association;
Mr. Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders;
Mr. Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights;
Ms. Virginia Dandan, Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity;
Mr. Alfred de Zayas, Independent expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order;
Mr. Chaloka Beyani, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons;
Ms. Leilani Farha, Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living;
Ms. Victoria Lucia Tauli-Corpuz, Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous people;
Ms. Eleonora Zielinska, current Chair of the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice.
1. The 20 countries engaged in the negotiation are Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, and Uruguay. More information about this initiative is at http://www.cepal.org/en/topics/principle-10.