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Regional consultation on the relationship between environmental protection and groups in vulnerable situations in Latin America and the Caribbean

26 - 27 July 2013, Panama

1. Introduction

The regional consultation on the relationship between environmental protection and groups in vulnerable situations in Latin America and the Caribbean - which took place in Panama City on 26 and 27 July 2013 - is one of a series of multi-stakeholder consultations the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the United Nations Independent Expert on Human Rights and the Environment are convening with Governments, international organizations, human rights bodies, environmental and human rights civil society, and legal experts.  Each consultation seeks to address a particular thematic issue with the objective of identifying, promoting and exchanging views on good practices in the use of rights-based approaches to environmental issues. These consultations form part of a larger good practices project being implemented by UNEP, OHCHR, and the Independent Expert.

The Panama consultation focused on the relationship between the protection of vulnerable groups and the sustainable use of natural resources in the region. This consultation process began with a consultation in Nairobi on 22-23 February 2013 that focused on procedural rights and duties, followed by a consultation in Geneva on 21-22 June 2013 on the relation between environmental protection and substantive rights and duties. 

The Panama consultation builds on the outcomes of the previous consultations and will help to inform the final report the UN Independent Expert is mandated to submit to the Human Rights Council in March 2015 pursuant to HRC resolution 19/10.[1]

2. Definition of good practices

The term “good practice” is preferred to “best practice,” because it recognizes that in many situations, it will not be possible to identify a single “best” approach. The term “practice” is defined broadly, to include laws, policies, case law, jurisprudential shifts, strategies, administrative practices, projects, and

so forth, as long as the practice is replicable and/or symptomatic of an emerging trend. To be a good practice, the practice should integrate human rights and environmental standards in an exemplary manner. This integration could occur through the application of human rights norms to environmental decision-making and implementation, for example through the use of rights of access to information, participation, and remedies. The integration could also occur through the use of environmental measures to define, implement, and (preferably) exceed minimum substantive standards set by human rights norms. Either way, the practice should be exemplary from the perspective of human rights and from that of environmental protection.

Although there are many examples of how to select good practices, the good practices project applies a broad scope to what constitutes a good practice.  First, a good practice constitutes any practice that has helped realise or implement existing international, regional, or national human rights legal obligations related to the environment, including both procedural and substantive obligations as well as a right to a healthy environment.  For the purposes of this consultation and the wider good practices project, human rights legal obligations do not refer only to generally binding international legal obligations on all states, but also to those that bind a smaller number of States that have accepted them through regional agreements or that have adopted them in their own constitutions or other laws.  Importantly, there has to be some evidence that the good practice actually is achieving or working towards achieving its desired objectives and outcomes

Second, a good practice would also include any practice that goes beyond established legal obligations related to the environment.  This might include, for example, efforts that seek to assist communities to participate in environmental decision-making beyond what environmental review laws may require, or even local laws that go beyond national legal obligations. 

In general, good practices can be implemented by a wide range of actors, including all levels of government, civil society, the private sector, communities, and individuals.  In addition, good practices are not limited only to legislation, but may also include case law or other jurisprudence, policies, strategies, projects, and other efforts.

The objective of identifying and documenting good practices is to allow actors the opportunity to share experiences from their own countries and communities so that others may be able to learn and replicate similar practices.

3.  Summary of findings: good practices on the relationship between environmental protection and groups in vulnerable situations in Latin America and the Caribbean

The Panama consultation gathered 26 representatives from Governments, civil society, international organizations, and academia from the region (see attached list of participants). Key issues addressed during the consultation included: the definition of vulnerability in the context of environmental protection and harm; procedural and substantive rights on the protection of the environment and vulnerable groups; and a rights-based approach to environmental protection in the context of transboundary environmental harm. After one day of discussions in plenary, participants were divided in break-out groups to identify good practices that related both to procedural and substantive rights that protect vulnerable groups in the context of environmental harm and management (see attached agenda).

The consultation provided a unique opportunity for participants to discuss the relationship between the protection of the environment and vulnerable groups in Latin America and the Caribbean. During the discussions, the following good practices were identified by the participants. In the process of identifying such practices and analysing the practical aspects of the interaction between the two fields of human rights and the environment, the consultation also identified challenges and problems in the balancing of the protection of vulnerable groups and the protection of the environment, as well as lessons learned in respect of such interaction. Wherever relevant, the gender dimension of the experiences was also highlighted. A short description of the good practices collected during the consultation is presented in the next section.

3.1. Good practices on vulnerable groups

A number of good practices were identified by participants with respect to the protection of indigenous people and their participation in environmental management, in particular through the establishment of prior informed consent procedures and mechanisms to guarantee access to and control over natural resources in indigenous territories.  The good practices indicate a progressive recognition of the importance of indigenous peoples in the protection of natural resources and their fair use.  These practices include: the 2006 Amerindian Act regulating access and control over natural resources in the Amerindian territories of Guyana;[1] Law no.10 of 1997 on access to natural resources in indigenous territories in Panama;[2] Law no. 70 of 1993 of Colombia on the rights of Afro-Colombians;[3] the 2005 Framework environmental law no. 28611 of Peru[4] establishing protected areas and prior informed procedures for indigenous peoples; Decree no. 2372 of 1 July 2010[5] establishing a system of national protected areas in Colombia; and Supreme decree no. 001 of 2012 of Peru on the right to prior informed consent for indigenous peoples as recognized in ILO Convention no. 169.[6]

The establishment of community-led sustainable forest management plans in Belize was identified during the consultation as an example of good practice in the field of involvement of indigenous communities in the sustainable management of natural resources.  The communities of Conejo and Santa Teresa in Belize - through funding from American people through the United States Agency for

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