Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hon. Carl Greenidge signed the Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation, and Justice in Environmental Matters on behalf of Guyana along with countries of Latin America and the Caribbean. The signing of what has been termed the latest ground-breaking environmental agreement took place last month at the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting in New York. Known as the ESCAZU Agreement, aims to combat inequality and discrimination, and to ensure the right of every person to a healthy environment. Essentially, it places equality at the core of sustainable development.

The importance of access rights was highlighted at the UN Conference on Environment and Development in 1992 in Rio De Janiero, Brazil where 178 countries declared “ that environmental matters are best handled with the participation of all concerned at the relevant level; at the national level, each individual shall have appropriate access to information concerning the environment that is held by public authorities, including information on hazardous materials and activities in their communities, and the opportunity to participate in decision-making processes.”

Protection of environmental defenders

The commitments related to the protection of environmental defenders are set forth in Article 9 of the Escazú Agreement. The article, titled “Human Rights Defenders on Environmental Issues,” specifies that each country “guarantee a safe and propitious environment in which individuals, groups and organizations that promote and defend human rights in environmental matters can act without threats, restrictions and insecurity.”

It also indicates that adequate and effective measures will be taken to recognize, protect and promote all the rights of human rights defenders in environmental matters. It commits to appropriate, effective and timely measures to prevent, investigate and punish attacks, threats or intimidation.