Treaty to help land activists

On March 4, 2018, 24 Latin American and Caribbean nations signed a treaty ensuring that environmental and land activists in the region will have protection from industries attempting to develop their land.

The treaty is called the Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean, or the LAC-P10. The agreement hopes to provide protections for those who attempt to defend their land.

All over the world, those who protest land and environmental development are murdered for their efforts. According to environmental activist advocacy group Global Witness, in 2017 nearly 200 activists were killed for speaking out against development of the land they occupy. The Guardian reports that areas like Central and South America, the Philippines and India are centers for threats towards activists.

Large industries throughout the world often exploit land, sometimes illegally, and threaten the people occupying it when protesters object to development. Alarm against the frequent murdering of activists compelled the creation of the treaty.

“A legally binding agreement is critical for us to protect our land and environmental defenders who will now have greater access to the rights enshrined in this convention,” said Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis to The Guardian. “It is also crucial for the very survival of our species. The right to a healthy environment is a human right.”

The treaty has been in development for six years, beginning after the UN’s Rio+20 conference on sustainable development in 2012.  According to Amnesty International, the treaty implements access to information regarding development projects for citizens, protects activists from threats and attacks due to protesting and promises to punish those who attempt to harm activists. The treaty also allows activists access to public information about developments, the ability to participate in decisions made about land and freedoms to protest and move and associate without fear of retaliation.

The pact is already eliciting hope and interest from the public.

“Yeah, push it,” said senior Noah Putnam. “I support whatever bills they have to protect protesters.”

While the new laws allow hope for the future, applying the legislation regularly will be critical towards its success.

“It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s not the place to stop,” said senior Rashad Clark. “It’s easy to get complacent when laws are put into place and say, ‘well, that’s it.’ … It has to be consistently enforced.”

While the new regulations aim to help people, the implementation may involve some basic first steps.

“Going forward, it is best for those who regulate the environment to take the time to get to know the humans in the environment who will be subjected to the regulation,” said Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies Mary Hope.

The creation of the treaty was an initial effort to identify the needs of those citizens, but eradication of the problem will require more work and attention from people around the globe.

“Well, first of all, it seems this issue needs a much brighter light shone upon it,” said Hope. “Conflict resolution practices cannot be effectively implemented when such a crisis may be happening, especially if it is happening and nothing is being done about it.”

Though activists have been silenced, many agree that progress will only continue if the public offers support.

“It’s important to be diligent,” said Putnam. “Submitting to fear is not going to help the situation.”

LAC-P10 hopes that diligence will eventually make a difference for people and make defense of one’s land and freedom that everyone can have.