Around 60% of the environmental activists who were killed in 2017 lived in Latin America, making it the deadliest region in the world for those who struggle to protect the environment, according to an analysis by the the nonprofit Global Witness and the Guardian.
But a shift away from this grisly reality may be on the horizon.
On Mar. 4, 24 countries throughout Latin America and the Caribbean signed a groundbreaking treaty that compels governments to protect environmentalists, according to the nonprofit the World Resources Institute.
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The pact comes after six years of negotiation and, in a sudden reversal, puts the region at the vanguard of the global fight against environmental destruction, WRI argues.
It’s called The Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean, also known as LAC P10.
LAC P10 will only bring about change, WRI stresses, if laws are implemented, governments become more transparent about environmental records, and criminals are prosecuted when they target environmentalists.
“Countries and civil society groups across Latin America and the Caribbean have taken a historic stand to safeguard the backbone of environmental protection: people,” Carole Excell, Acting Director of WRI’s Environmental Democracy Practice, who participated in the pact, said in a press release.
“One more person dying to protect the environment is too much,” she added. “It’s time for countries to defend the defenders.”
Globally, environmentalists are killed for opposing the construction of dams, deforestation, mining, pollution, and much more, Global Witness has found through their research.
Honduras’ extreme corruption has made it the deadliest country per capita for environmental defenders, a status it has held for the past decade, according to Global Witness.
In 2016, 14 people were killed in the country for standing up for environmental causes, and most of these murders were traced to agribusiness and hydropower companies.
Brazil, meanwhile, has the highest absolute murder rate, with 49 land defenders who were murdered in 2016. Most of the activists killed in the country belong to indigenous groups who try to protect the Amazon, according to Global Witness.
LAC P10 directly challenges this status quo by requiring states to “guarantee a safe and enabling environment for persons, groups and organisations that promote and defend human rights in environmental matters”
It also says that environmental advocates have the right “to life, personal integrity, freedom of opinion and expression, peaceful assembly and association, and free movement.”
Countries are called on to investigate the murder of activists, provide reliable, ongoing information about environmental issues to the public, and create new bodies to oversee the implementation of the new rules.
“It is crucial for the very survival of our species,” Costa Rica’s president, Luis Guillermo Solís, said in a statement, according to the Guardian. “The right to a healthy environment is a human right.”
Global Citizen campaigns on the United Nations’ Global Goals, which call for broad environmental protections and enhanced rights for indigenous people. You can take action on this issue here.