Memories from the launch of the GNHRE Implementing Principles for The Escazú Agreement

Written by Héctor Herrera

You can watch the recording of the launch event here.

The launch of The GNHRE Implementing Principles for The Escazú Agreement was an official side-event of the first meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP) of the Escazú Agreement, on April 22, 2022: Earth Day. The whole event was moderated by Ms. Natalia Urzola (Chief Coordinating Officer, GNHRE). In the opening remarks Dr Dina Lupin (Director, GNHRE) welcomed the audience and saluted the COP of the Escazú Agreement as a historical moment which included the launch of the GNHRE Principles as official side event. Dr Lupin acknowledged the work behind the debate and the drafting of The GNHRE Implementing Principles under the leadership of Mr. Daniel Noroña, Dr Maria Antonia Tigre (Deputy Director, GNHRE), Ms. Natalia Urzola, and the comments and suggestions of Dr Gastón Medici-Colombo, Felix le Roux, Pablo Serra-Palao, Lavinia Bhaskaruni and other members of the GNHRE. Following, Mr. Héctor Herrera (Latin America Director, GNHRE) evoked the special occasion of the Earth Day, recalled the positive achievements of the movement for the protection of the environment and participation, and invited the audience interested on this to participate in the GNHRE as an open and collective space where academics and practitioners connect and share knowledge and experience to promote the understanding and the protection of the environment and the human rights.

Next, Dr Maria Antonia Tigre explained the process of The GNHRE Implementing Principles for The Escazú Agreement which started in the middle of 2021, reflecting on how to understand the challenges and support the implementation of The Escazú Agreement. The process started with a Blog Symposium with twelve different posts (available in this LINK) and also a virtual summit held on October 7th, 2021 (available in this LINK) with some amazing speakers such as David R. Boyd, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment or Lina Muñoz Ávila, professor at the Universidad del Rosario in Colombia. There was a debate about the issues to focus on and then a task force was created, an incredible group of people, which in a several-months period drafted the GNHRE Implementing Principles for The Escazú Agreement (GNHRE Principle).

Following, Mr. Daniel Noroña did an overview of the content of the GNHRE Principles. These GNHRE Principles are founded on the idea that the interpretation of the Escazú Agreement must be focus on the expansion of human rights and the certainty that the interpretation arising from the States will follow that line and basically have a full human rights approach. The GNHRE Principles are divided in seven sections focused in different issues regarding different articles and sections of the Agreement. The GNHRE Principles come as tool for policymakers, judicial authorities, civil society, and different stakeholders in the process of implementing the dispassion of the Agreement. The Introduction of the GNHRE Principles provide a general overview, a state of the art, and a brief diagnosis of the region. The GNHRE Principles reiterate that beyond the Agreement, the States are already bound by International Human Rights Law, in that sense the GNHRE Principles and the Agreement are an extrapolation of previous international Human Rights Law and Interamerican Human Rights Law specially. Any interpretation of the Agreement cannot interpret positions that will hinder the effective application of rights, in that is called the use the use of the Principles of Non-regression and the progressive realization of the rights. This also furthers the content of the Escazú Agreement by invoking aspects of the Vienna Action Plan of Human Rights, such as the application of the Principles of Indivisibility and Interdependence. 

The next section of the GNHRE Principles pertains the Right to a Healthy Environment and recognizes and guarantees that protecting this Right is vital for the implementation of the Agreement, basically stating that the core of the Escazú Agreement is the Right to a Healthy Environment, especially the procedural part of the Right to a Healthy Environment. Is also important to note that the Principles further what is already stated and certain other definitions, also providing the amplitude of a Human Rights approach, also based on Gender Equality, and how that also relates to the importance of how to apply differentiates measures to the implementation of the Agreement. It refers also to the access to information, paying attention to the rich jurisprudence on this matter of the Inter American Human Rights System. It refers to the need of an inclusive, transparent, and fair participation process and in all decision-making processes. It refers to the needs to enforce the standards of the free, prior, informed consent from indigenous populations and also indicates the obligation to secure participation. The GNHRE Principles are advancing the interpretation of the Agreement pertaining on how the States are not the only ones obliged to give this information, but for example, it puts obligations towards businesses. The GNHRE Principles also refer to access to Justice and peaceful conflict resolutions, and in order to achieve this goal recommends strengthening the  capacities of the Judicial System Staff and Personnel.

The next point refers to the environmental defenders which goes into Principles 20 to 22, and this means environmental defenders play the crucial role of protecting the environment and being the first line of defense. For example, resting on data and creating systems looking for systemic solutions. Also highlighted, is the importance of National Human Rights institutions as vital partners to monitor the obligations, which is connected to the part of access to Justice. This is also connected with having a strong rule of law, independent investigations and prosecutors who do their job, including due diligence to investigate threats to environmental defenders. From Principles 23 to 31 is the part regarding cooperation looking for a regional security for environmental defenders including and going beyond international organizations, for example in the exchange of information. Finally, it is remarked the GNHRE Principles text is constantly evolving, but the foundations are strongly built.

Dr Gastón Medici-Colombo commented on the GNHRE Principles on two ideas. The first idea relates to the synergy between the Escazú Agreement and Human Rights Law, specially the Interamerican Regime, which have been developing human rights standards connected to environmental protection for a while, including for example the Inter-American Court of Human Rights Advisory Opinion on the Environment and Human Rights. The second idea relates to the continuing relevance of the Aarhus Convention experience, for example in the participation in environmental matters or regarding the Compliance Committee in its composition and functioning or the possibility of the public to submit direct communications to trigger compliance procedures. Finally, the work of the Compliance Committee will be a relevant precedent as for the case of the Arhus Convention for the development of the rights. 

Following, Dr Claudia Ituarte-Lima (Latin America Deputy Director, GNHRE) presented comments regarding the United Nations Secretary-General Call to Action for Human Rights and its connections with the Escazu Agreement. Dr Ituarte-Lima started referring to the story of success, solidarity, and multilateralism during the COP in Santiago, Chile. The Escazú Agreement is a key tool to address  the triple crises of biodiversity loss, climate change, and pollution which goes beyond national borders and affects everyone. So, in the first place the Agreement calls to reimagine and promote multilateralism combining top-down and bottom-up processes to address these triple crises in innovative and participatory ways. In the second place, Escazu Agreement is a tool for   environmental Rule of Law in a context where States parties of Multilateral Environmental Agreements such as the Convention on Biological Diversity face significant challenges on complying with commitments they have set for themselves. The Escazú Agreement COP1 adopted the rule of its  Compliance Committee, where the environmental rule of law is at its heart. Third,  intersectionality in the implementation of the Agreement is crucial, for example it is important that policymakers specially address challenges faced by indigenous women, children, local communities and other groups experiencing intersecting  forms of vulnerability while at the same time acknowledging and supporting the vital agency of these groups in making the realization of the right to a healthy environment a reality for all.

For the next steps, the GNHRE Principles will continue to be diffused among people working on Escazu Agreement implementation. Once the experts of the Escazu Agreement Compliance Committee are elected, the GNHRE Principles will also be discussed with them. The following steps will be shared in the GNHRE website and social media.

Images from the COP from the ECLAC Staff: