2003 Human Rights and the Environment Report Presented to UN

Human rights-based approach to environmental protection becoming international legal norm


Alyssa Johl, Earthjustice +1-510-550-6751

The International Program of Earthjustice, a US-based environmental law NGO, submitted its 13th annual Issue Paper on “Human Rights and the Environment” today at the 59th Session of the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva.

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 report is available here (PDF).

The 2003 “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.

“As a world leader in the protection of human rights, the UN Commission on Human Rights should set the pace for such recognition and, further, guarantee the right to a clean and healthy environment,” said Marcello Mollo of Earthjustice, author of this year’s report.

Some Highlights of this Year’s Report:

  • In November 2002, the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights recognized that the “human right to drinking water is fundamental for life and health.”

  • In June 2002, the Organization of American States General Assembly passed a Resolution on Human Rights and Environment in the Americas, underscoring “the importance of studying the link…between the environment and human rights,” and resolved, among other things, to “encourage institutional cooperation in the area of human rights and the environment in the framework of the Organization.”

  • In October 2002, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights held a “General Hearing” on the effects of environmental degradation on the realization of human rights in the hemisphere, for the first time formally and specifically addressing the linkages between human rights and the environment.

  • 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.

  • In June 2002, the Costa Rican President signed a decree banning open pit mining in Costa Rica, halting all open pit exploration and mining projects awaiting government approval. The President said the decree was aimed at protecting Costa Rica’s environmental wealth noting, “These practices can be a real threat to living beings.”

The Case for Linking Human Rights and Environmental Protection

This report shows repeated and increasing recognition of a human rights-based approach to environmental protection as a prevailing international legal norm. The relationship between environmental problems and human rights violations calls for a holistic treatment of these issues.

International, governmental and non-governmental institutions dedicated to protecting human rights must recognize the connection and take steps to provide mechanisms to address the human rights implications of environmental problems.

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