Earthjustice uses U.S. courts and international tribunals to hold corporations and governments accountable for human rights violations resulting from environmental devastation. Through petitions to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, for example, we are helping to protect the way of life of the Arctic Inuit people from the harmful effects of global warming, and to protect the health of children and local community members from the harmful effects of pollution from an aluminum smelter in La Oroya, Peru.
In addition, Earthjustice has taken advantage of the opportunity to submit Universal Periodic Review (UPR) reports to the United Nations Human Rights Council. The UPR process was set up to review the status of human rights in the 192 UN member-states. Earthjustice has urged the Council to consider the right to a healthy environment, the right to participate in decisions that affect the environment, as well as rights to food, water, health, shelter, a means of subsistence, an adequate standard of living, and cultural heritage. We have also used the UPR process to encourage the Council to recognize and act on the important issue of the impact that climate change has on the most fundamental human rights.
- In the small island states of Comoros, Fiji, Kiribati, Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Seychelles, Samoa, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu, we urged the Council to recognize the responsibility of the biggest global warming polluters to proportionally share responsibility for violations of human rights due to climate change impacts, including sea level rise, worsened storms and droughts, and the potential crisis of people displaced by climate change.
- In the United States, we urged the Council recognize the acute impacts that climate change is having and will have on the human rights of individuals and communities in the United States and around the world. We highlighted the special obligation of the United States, in light of its disproportionate historic and current emissions of pollutants that cause climate change, for climate-related human rights violations in the United States and around the world.
- In Bolivia, our joint submission with the Bolivian NGO Agua Sustentable highlighted the impacts of global warming-induced glacier melting in Bolivia, and drew attention to the resulting threat to human rights such as the rights to a means of subsistence and to freshwater resources. In 2011, Earthjustice and 19 other NGOs petitioned the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to consider the threat that climate change poses to the human right to freshwater, highlighting the example of the glacier-dependent community of Khapi, Bolivia. As a result of the hearing, the Commission joined a growing list of influential international bodies in recognizing that climate change affects the most fundamental human rights. The Commission's press release of April 2011 noted:
The Commission also received alarming information on the already serious impact of anthropogenic climate change on the enjoyment of human rights, especially in mountain regions where the widespread loss of glaciers and snow pack and rising temperatures are diminishing access to water, harming food production, and introducing new diseases. The Commission urges States to keep human rights at the forefront of climate change negotiations, including in designing and implementing measures of mitigation and adaptation.
- In Turkmenistan, we urged the Council to take action to ensure the rights of environmental activists who are not free to operate openly there.
- In Kazakhstan, we urged the Council to take action to ensure that the government provides access to information, avenues for public participation and access to justice to its public when making environmental decisions.
Universal Periodic Review Submissions by Earthjustice and Others (alphabetical order)
Comoros, Union of
Fiji Island, Republic of
Kazakhstan, Republic of
Kiribati, Republic of
Maldives, Republic of
Marshall Islands, Republic of
Micronesia, Federated States of
Nauru, Republic of
Palau, Republic of
Samoa, Independent State of
Seychelles, Republic of
Vanuatu, Republic of
Environmental Rights: Annual Reports to the United Nations
We also work closely with the United Nations to establish universal recognition of the right to a healthy environment. As part of this effort, we have submitted reports to the UN Human Rights Council detailing some of the most significant developments, at the domestic, regional and international levels, that demonstrate the growing awareness of the right to a healthy environment. The report also includes case studies about issues in various countries that clearly illustrate the link between human rights and the environment.