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Earthjustice Presents 2004 'Human Rights and the Environment' Report to UN

Right to environmental health becoming international standard
April 6, 2004

Taro farmers
Photo by Tom Turner
Oakland, CA/Geneva — 
The International Program of Earthjustice, a US-based environmental law NGO, submitted its annual issue paper on "Human Rights and the Environment" today at the 60th session of the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva.

Download the Report Here (.pdf)

The report supports the broadening of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Adverse Effects of the Illicit Movement and Dumping of Toxic and Dangerous Products and Wastes on the Enjoyment of Human Rights.

The 2004 "Human Rights and the Environment" report presents a review of recent developments and case studies in the area of human rights and the environment at the international, regional, and domestic levels. The report also provides a comprehensive list of domestic constitutional provisions relating to human rights and the environment.

"Nations and legal systems around the world are working to establish and protect the right to a clean and healthy environment as a basic human right," said Marcello Mollo of Earthjustice, author of this year's report. "The UN Commission on Human Rights can, and should, advance the right to a healthy environment until it is seen as an international standard worthy of inclusion in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights."

Some Highlights of this Year's Report:

  • The World Health Organization published a report entitled, "The Right to Water," in which an entire chapter is dedicated to an explanation of water as a human right. The report recognizes that the lack of safe water is a cause of serious illness and that contaminated water harms human health. The report also acknowledges a connection between healthy environmental conditions and the human right to health.

  • In November 2003, an independent review of extractive industries commissioned by the World Bank was released. The review recommended that the World Bank stop financing oil and coal projects in developing nations. The review also recommended that the World Bank phase out oil production projects and start investing in renewable energy resource development, emissions reducing, and clean energy projects. Extractive industries are known to cause significant environmental damage with long-lasting effects on human rights conditions in affected areas.

  • The Canadian Supreme Court applied the polluter-pays principle and upheld an order by the Quebec Minister of the Environment directing Imperial Oil to undertake a soil contamination study. The court found that the minister's power to order studies like that required of Imperial Oil applies the polluter-pay principle, which it found "firmly entrenched in environmental law in Canada" and also recognized at the international level, for example, in the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development.

  • In January 2004, the Chilean Court of Appeals ruled that the National Forestry Corporation (CONAF) failed in its duty to protect rare alerce trees from illegal logging and wrongfully withheld information about its enforcement efforts. A Chilean citizen had requested that CONAF explain its efforts to control illegal exploitation of the alerce on his private property. CONAF denied his request, stating that disclosure would compromise its investigations. The Court of Appeals rejected CONAF's argument, stating that the principles of transparency and citizen control of public agencies required disclosure.

  • Of the 191 nations in the world, there are now 109 national constitutions that mention the protection of the environment or natural resources. One hundred of them recognize the right to a clean and healthy environment and/or the state's obligation to prevent environmental harm. Fifty-three constitutions explicitly recognize the right to a clean and healthy environment, and 92 make it the duty of the national government to prevent harm to the environment.

The Case for Linking Human Rights and Environmental Protection

This report shows the repeated and increasing recognition of a human rights-based approach to environmental protection as a prevailing international legal norm.

International, national, and non-governmental institutions now dedicated to protecting human rights should recognize the connection and provide mechanisms to address the human rights implications of environmental problems.


Contact:
Marcello Mollo or Martin Wagner, Earthjustice +1-510-550-6700