02 Oct 2018 Story Environmental rights and governance

Latin American and Caribbean countries sign historic treaty giving environmental rights the same status as human rights

Alicia Bárcena, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) stated during the opening ceremony that 27 September 2018 “is a historic day for environmental equality in the region”.

Within 24 hours of its opening, fourteen nations signed the Escazú Agreement; with one more signing the next day. This treaty enacts binding provisions for States to equip their citizens with information, judicial corrections and spaces for public participation in environmental matters concerning them. The Escazú Agreement’s official name is the Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Justice in Environmental Matters.

“The fact that fourteen countries have already signed today is extraordinary” stated Epsy Campbell Barr, the Vice President of Costa Rica.

The agreement is not only the first environmental treaty for the Latin America and Caribbean region. It is also:

  • At the forefront of environmental democracy with only one other regional treaty on environmental democracy: Europe’s Aarhus Convention
  • The only treaty to have emerged from Rio+20
  • The first time a legal agreement includes an Article on environmental human rights defenders (Article 9)

The Latin America and Caribbean region is home to numerous multifaceted conflicts involving communities opposing business and government interest that threaten their environment,livelihoods and ancestral lands. Global Witness reports that Latin America and the Caribbean has consistently the highest number of murders of environmental defenders in the world.


The Escazú Agreement’s objective is to solve these problems following Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration: rights of access to environmental information, public participation in the environmental decision-making process and access to justice in environmental matters.

“This approach would allow everyone, particularly those in more vulnerable situations, including older persons, access to timely and reliable information, so that they could participate meaningfully in decisions affecting their lives, and seek redress and remedy when their rights have been infringed,” stated UN human rights experts in a press release.

The Regional Agreement was adopted on 4 March 2018 in Escazú by 24 nations and almost two thirds of them have already signed the treaty.

In an emotional ceremony at United Nations Headquarters in New York on 27 September 2018, Heads of State and ministers from the following countries signed the Agreement: Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Guyana, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Saint Lucia and Uruguay. The Dominican Republic and Haiti added their signatures to the legal instrument later the same day and Paraguay signed on the following day.

Negotiations for the Treaty began in 2012. UN Environment supported the process starting in 2013, with the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, including through developing a number of resource materials and interventions.

The regional agreement is open for signature by the 33 countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, and requires a minimum of 11 States to ratify it so that it can enter into force. UN Environment encourages the other Latin America and the Caribbean countries to sign and ratify the treaty, to contribute to sustainable development and the protection of the right of every person of present and future generations to live in a healthy environment.

To learn more about UN Environment’s work on environmental rights please contact Paula Waibochi