Earthjustice, a US-based environmental law NGO, will submit its annual issue paper on the status of environmental rights to the United Nations Human Rights Council today in Geneva. According to the report, while environmental harm continues to undermine human rights around the world, a growing number of international institutions recognize environmental rights, and the constitutions of 118 countries guarantee the right to a healthy environment.
Download the full report (2.1 MB PDF)
The 2007 Environmental Rights Report reviews recent developments and case studies demonstrating the connection between the environment and human rights at the international, regional, and domestic levels. The report also provides a comprehensive list of national constitutional provisions protecting environmental rights.
"We are happy to report that 118 national constitutions across the globe now recognize the right to a clean and healthy environment," said Rosaleen O'Gara of Earthjustice. "Unfortunately, violations of environmental rights continue to mount for millions of people. The disruptions caused by global warming are just the latest example of such violations. With this report we hope all international, regional, and national institutions will understand that 'the right to life, liberty and security of person' and other rights established in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights often depend on a healthy environment."
Among this year's findings:
Inuit v. United States
The impact of environmental damage on human rights is highlighted in many current situations, including that of the Inuit people of the Arctic regions. In December 2005, Sheila Watt-Cloutier and sixty-two other Inuit people of Canada and the United States submitted a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), seeking relief from human rights violations resulting from the impacts of global warming and climate change caused by acts and omissions of the United States. The Inuit's human rights have been threatened by the changes in ice, land, water, and wildlife caused by global warming. The petition sought relief from the United States, and relied on the government's obligations under international law. In March 2007, the Commission held a hearing to explore the relationship between global warming and human rights.
Fadeyeva v. Russia
The European Court of Human Rights is one of several to have recently recognized the human rights implications of environmental harm. On June 9, 2005 the European Court unanimously held that the Russian government's failure to address pollution or resettle community members within a resettlement buffer zone around a state-owned iron smelter violated the European Convention on Human Rights. Beginning in 1995, Fadeyeva and others living in the vicinity of the smelter had sought resettlement into an environmentally safe area. After seeking relief under domestic law, Fadeyeva filed an application with the European Court of Human Rights. The Court concluded that the state had failed to strike a fair balance between the interests of the community and the applicant's effective enjoyment of her right to respect for her home and her private life. Ms. Fadeyeva was awarded €6,000 in non-pecuniary damages, costs, and attorneys fees. The ruling was one of the first environmental rights cases in the European Court, potentially opening the door to remediation for those negatively impacted by industrial pollution.
Secretary-General's Special Representative on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations
International institutions also increased their recognition of the environment-human rights connection. In 2006, the Special Representative on the Issue of Human Rights and Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises submitted a report on human rights and corporate practices to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. The report examined and clarified standards of corporate responsibility and the role of States in regulating corporations. The report highlighted the expanding power and impacts of transnational corporations (TNCs), as well as the importance of involving corporations in tackling global problems such as the environment. It identified the extractive sector (oil, gas, and mining) as the dominating source of reported abuses and acknowledged that this sector is unique in its impact because of its "enormous and intrusive...social and environmental footprint."