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Amalia Patricia Del Valle

The Escazú agreement and environmental defenders

- One in 10 defenders killed in 2019 were women.

The Escazú agreement and environmental defenders

On April 22 of this year, the Escazú Agreement entered into force, the date on which International Mother Earth Day coincides. The Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean, better known as the Escazú Agreement, is a historic advance in the rights of environmental defenders atmosphere. Its importance lies in being the first instrument for the protection of the "rights of human rights defenders in environmental matters in the world."

One of the essential articles is Article 9 Human rights defenders in environmental matters:

Each Party shall guarantee a safe and conducive environment in which individuals, groups, and organizations that promote and defend human rights in environmental matters can act without threats, restrictions, and insecurity.

Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean (Chile: ECLAC) article 9, paragraph a1

Latin America: a region of death for women defenders

According to Global Witness, Latin America is the region most affected by the murders of land defenders since 2012. In 2019, violence against individuals and groups in favor of improving the environment reached a level never seen before. seen before. The murder of 212 people worldwide, defenders of the land and the environment, was registered throughout the year; an average of more than four murders per week. Four of the five countries—Colombia, the Philippines, Brazil, Mexico, and Honduras—with the most violent deaths against defenders are Latin American countries1. These figures are only part of the cruel reality of being an environmental activist.

Source: Environmental Justice Atlas. ''World Map of Environmental Justice''. s.f.

Although it is essential for the region its entry into force is not enough; it is necessary to follow its implementation. In addition, the Agreement does not have a gender perspective. Without this lens, the Agreement creates a great void and ignores the situation of vulnerability that women who defend our land find themselves in. On repeated occasions, mention is made of people or groups in vulnerable situations, but only indigenous peoples and ethnic groups are placed in these conditions. However, it must be recognized that these conditions of "race" and ethnicity are juxtaposed with those of sex-gender. Compared to male activists, women land activists face threats specific additions due to being women 2. In Latin America, the experience of being a Mapuche, Afro-Colombian, Tarahumara or Garífuna activist in defense of the environment is a situation of excessive risk.

In the latest Global Witness report an essential distinction is made: More than 1 in 10 murdered defenders were women. Often these are the backbone of their community, and tend to take on more responsibility for childcare and elderly relatives, while trying to earn a living and work as activists. Women who take action and speak out may also face threats specific to their gender, including sexual violence. If other members of your household are defenders, they may also become victims 3. In this way, it is recognized that women land defenders sometimes play a double role: they are caretakers and activists.

The women who lost their lives while defending her

As previously mentioned, Latin America represents a highly dangerous region as a scenario for land activists. This danger materializes in cruel threats, attacks and murders towards the activists. In the cases of murders of women environmental activists, they are usually leaders of environmental organizations, but they can also be leaders of their homes. Rosalinda Pérez was the leader of a group of 33 women in the community, she participated in the formation process of the National Union of Guatemalan Women (UNAMG) and President of Microcredits, a self-managed development project. When she was shot 9 times, she left behind 9 daughters and 4 sons. With these murders, they try to break ties on different levels.

The cycle of violence does not end with the bloody murder of these leaders, but rather their relatives, partners and daughters continue to be immersed in this circle. Such is the case of Berta Zúñiga, daughter of Berta Cacéres, who has suffered an assassination attempt, along with other members of the Civic Council of Popular Indigenous Organizations (COPINH) (Front Line Defenders) 5. An attempt is being made to break the legacy that these women They have left different people in their communities with the same mechanisms of repression and threats, but these people continue to believe in the ideals of those who are no longer with us.

Despite efforts to track the activists' journey, injustice has been an obstacle to honoring them. Many homicides still go unpunished. In general, environmental activism has been an empty space for justice. However, Article 8 Access to justice in environmental matters of the Escazú Agreement urges the parties to guarantee the right of access to justice in environmental matters.

Likewise, Article 9 Human rights defenders in environmental matters dictates:

Each Party shall take appropriate, effective, and timely measures to prevent, investigate, and punish attacks, threats, or intimidation that human rights defenders in environmental matters may suffer in the exercise of the rights contemplated in this Agreement.

Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean (Chile: ECLAC) article 9, paragraph c6

Although this article and particular paragraph does not guarantee the cessation of violence against activists, it is a guideline for national and even international efforts to seek the protection of their defenders.

Final thoughts

The Escazú Agreement represents a step towards the integrity of the lives of land defenders at the regional level and an international advance in environmental activism on the part of women. The crucial effort to consolidate this binding tool is not to be detracted from, however, its lack of a gender perspective is pointed out. How the first Agreement on the rights of defenders of environmental rights would have marked an essential milestone if it had a gender approach. The responses made from the South to the South must have an intersectional approach, taking into account the axes of subordination—above all, gender—of international actors.

There is still a long way to go. Latin America is a region plagued by megaprojects, extractivism and environmental deterioration produced and articulated in much of the global north. However, our America is still fertile ground for a better future. In the midst of the rise of ecofeminisms, community ties between peoples, organizations between women, the Agreement becomes another response against ecocidal capitalism.


    1. CEPAL. <>, (Chile, CEPAL, 2016),

    2. Global Witness. Defender el Mañana. (Global Witness, Inglaterra, 2020),

    3. Ibidem

    4. Iniciativa Mesoamericana de Mujeres Defensoras de Derechos Humanos, <>. Iniciativa Mesoamericana de Mujeres Defensoras de Derechos Humanos, 22 de enero de 2016,

    5. Front Line Defenders, <>, Front Line Defenders, 3 de julio del 2017,

    6. CEPAL. <>, (Chile, CEPAL, 2016),

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Del, Amalia. “El acuerdo de Escazú y las defensoras del medio ambiente.” CEMERI, 9 sept. 2022,