By Fabio Agrana
Latin America has become one of the most dangerous regions for environmental activists and defenders, who pay with their lives to protect the environment, experts in Panama said today in Panama in the framework of the International Day of Human Rights.
In this scenario, Central America also has environmental conflicts that have claimed the lives of some activists, as the case of Honduran Berta Cáceres, murdered in March 2016, said the specialists during the ceremony commemorating the date organized by the Human Rights Network of Panama and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Guatemalan Marlene Alejos, who is the Regional Representative for Central America of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, told Efe that in Central America there is "reversal in human rights in many areas."
Alejos referred to the case of some countries where human rights activists and a number of environmental defenders have paid with their lives to defend environmental rights, which "really tells us about the status of the situation".
The UN official stressed that this same reality is experienced in Latin America with "a number of deaths that unfortunately is very high."
Alejos agrees with Chile's Andrea Sanhueza, researcher for Chile of the Alliance for Open Government and also member of the Negotiating Committee of the Escazú Agreement, who noted that Latin America is the deadliest region for environmental activists and defenders.
"Latin America is the most dangerous region in the world, where people are killed, precisely because they take care of their territories and their lands, their water," Sanhueza told Efe.
Sanhueza said that this is a reality recorded by the NGO Global Witness, which "registers in its recent report the threats, deaths and murders of environmental defenders", and, she said, "unfortunately Latin America ranks as the most dangerous with countries such as Brazil, Peru and Colombia."
She stressed that in 2016 "most environmental defenders were killed in the context of mining projects", while the Global Witness report of 2017 highlights that "the greatest number of deaths is associated with agro-industrial projects."
According to the report of Global Witness, cited by Sanhueza, 2017 was the year with the most registered deaths of people defending the land and the environment, with agribusiness as the business sector most linked to the murders.
At least 207 activists lost their lives in 22 countries, almost four per week, being the worst year of record, according to this stocktaking, which highlights that 60 percent of the murders registered took place in Latin America.
Brazil registered more murders than any other country in history, with 57 homicides in 2017.
In Mexico and Peru, homicides increased dramatically, from 3 to 15 and from 2 to 8, respectively. Nicaragua registered the highest number of homicides per capita, with 4 murders.
Sanhueza considered that in this reality, the Escazú Agreement, signed in March 2018 in this locality of Costa Rica, is valid. The initiative equates environmental rights with human rights at a legal level and is in the ratification phase to make it binding.
"This agreement envisages a set of obligations for States to protect environmental defenders, and also to guarantee in a better way that people can be part of environmental issues that will impact them," said Sanhueza.