December 9th, 2020
As the European Union Special Representative for Human Rights, it is a pleasure to address you today at this second meeting of the signatories of the Escazú Agreement. It is an honour to do so on International Human Rights Defenders Day, the day when the international community celebrates individuals across the world, most of them far from the spotlight, who defend their rights and the rights of others.
The imminent entry into force of the Escazú Agreement marks an historic moment for the people of Latin America and the Caribbean. This pioneering instrument is not only the region’s first environmental treaty, it is the first treaty in the world to contain specific recognition and pledges on the protection of environmental human rights defenders. I warmly welcome the significant achievement, as it is not possible to preserve the environment without also protecting those who defend it.
This year, the terrible reality of the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us very clearly the universality, indivisibility and interdependence of human rights. And human rights and the environment are interlinked. Environmental harm undermines the enjoyment of human rights and the exercise of human rights helps to protect the environment. The achievement of most, if not all of the Sustainable Development Goals are connected to the right to a safe, clean and healthy environment.
The signing and ratification of the Escazú Agreement by so many nations is a testament to the thousands of indigenous people, young people and environmental defenders who have championed its ratification since its adoption in 2018. It also demonstrates the commitment in the region to achieving an inclusive, sustainable development that protects both people and the planet.
The European Union remains committed to work hand in hand with all Latin American and Caribbean countries in the implementation of the agreement. We can offer the experience of the implementation of the Aarhus Convention, to which the EU and all its 27 Member States are parties. It pursues similar objectives to the Escazú Agreement.
These Agreements are not just about the environment. They go to the heart of the relationship between people and governments. They deal with accountability, transparency and meaningful participation in decision making. This is why all areas of the European Green Deal, from climate action to zero pollution, require citizens’ active support at all stages of the transitions. Workable solutions can only be found through the active participation of all concerned.
Just last month, the European Union adopted the new EU Action Plan for Democracy and Human Rights as proactive roadmap for our external work over the next five years. As a reflection of the prioritisation of environmental protection in all aspects of EU action, the new Action Plan stresses the interlinkages between global environmental challenges and human rights and recognises the pivotal role of human rights defenders in this area.
Even during the pandemic, where human rights defenders have been at risk, we have raised those concerns with governments. And we have continued to advocate for the release of all human rights defenders in detention.
I congratulate you on this second meeting and I look forward to witnessing the fruits of the Escazú Agreement through its implementation. It is a new impulse to our dialogue and will deepen our shared values and strong cooperation on democracy and human rights; for the benefit of our people and our planet.