Building Judicial Expertise to Protect the Mesoamerican Reef Region

Participants during a field trip on day two of the conference in Puerto Barrios, Guatemala.

ELAW was recently invited to participate in a conference organized by partners at the Alianza de Derecho Ambiental y Agua (Alliance for Environmental Law and Water, ADA2.) Attorney Alejandra Serrano Pavón traveled to Guatemala City and Puerto Barrios, Guatemala, for the two-day conference organized in collaboration with Marfund, Ocean5, the Environmental Justice Forums of Peten and Izabal, the School of Judicial Studies of Guatemala, the Training Unit of the Public Ministry, and the National Council of Protected Areas.

Judicial officials came together from across the Mesoamerican Reef region, including from Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala to share skills and knowledge to apply the law to protect the Mesoamerican Reef. During portions of the conference, they were joined by Prosecutors from the Public Ministry and the Attorney General’s Office and representatives of the National Council of Protected Areas of the North-East region of Guatemala.

Jeanette says, “I am convinced that a key pillar of ADA2’s work should be focusing on environmental legal education for judges and prosecutors who are responsible for applying the environmental legal system to cases.”

A speaker from Healthy Reefs Initiative set the tone for the conference by sharing a report on the health of the Mesoamerican Reef (MAR) ecoregion, which is the largest reef system in the Atlantic, shared along the coastlines of Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, and Belize. After a decade of steady improvement, the MAR has seen declining health over the past five years.

The Motagua River, which runs through Guatemala City and flows into the Caribbean at the Guatemala-Honduras border has been identified as one of the largest sources of industrial pollution and solid waste damaging the Mesoamerican Reef. This presentation highlighted the critical importance of enforcing environmental protections in Guatemala and across the region to protect the MAR.

Other topics included: the human right to a healthy environment; environmental challenges in the protected areas of Izabal; environmental principles in regional law; judicial resolutions on the application of environmental legislation across the region; national and international legislation related to the protection of biodiversity and the Red List of threatened species in Guatemala; andenvironmental crimes with case studies. One study provided a deep dive into forest management in Guatemalan legislation and the approach to strategic investigation of environmental crimes using technical expertise, proper management of evidence through chain of custody, and protection of the crime scene.

Two judges reflected on their participation in the conference:

“In a society in constant transformation, spaces for dialogue must be opened, which allow us to reach agreements and shift paradigms to allow development of knowledge that strategically affects the protection of the environment as a human right for current and future generations. This can only be possible if we coexist in a healthy environment through sustainable human development. I appreciated gathering with so many esteemed colleagues to collaborate on these issues.” – Carlos Gustavo Quiroz C., Sentencing Court Judge
Tegucigalpa MDC. Honduras

“The application of environmental principles in court rulings supports and gives content to the Human Right to a Healthy Environment and has promoted a decade of jurisprudence in environmental matters in Mexico. The principle of non-regression is particularly important since it obliges us not to backslide on the thresholds of environmental protections already reached. This implies that the decrease in environmental protection unjustifiably and significantly affects the environment for future generations.”

–Angelica del Carmen Ortuño Suárez
Second District Court Judge
Quintana Roo, Mexico

We congratulate Jeanette de Noack, Director of ADA2, for bringing together a strong group of allies to raise awareness and grow knowledge of environmental law and issues among the judiciary in the region. Jeanette reports that attendees have expressed interest in hosting similar events with more judges in Mexico and Honduras. This event has also helped launch work in Guatemala to build a robust coalition to clean up the Motagua River and improve the health of the MAR.

We look forward to continuing our collaboration with Jeanette and other partners across the MAR region to improve the health of the reef!

Bern Johnson
Executive Director
Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide