Geneva, Switzerland/Oakland, CA
At the 61st Session of the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva today, the International Program of Earthjustice, a US-based environmental law NGO, submitted its annual issue paper on the status of environmental rights around the world.
According to the report, the human right to a healthy environment is now protected by the constitutions of 117 countries.
Download the full report here
The 2005 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.
“The right to a clean and healthy environment is recognized as a basic human right by an increasing number of governments,” said Marcello Mollo of Earthjustice, author of this year’s report, “But environmental rights violations sadly persist. The UN Commission on Human Rights should advance environmental rights until they are seen as worthy of inclusion in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
Among this year’s findings·
- Amendment to French Constitution
On February 28, 2005, French lawmakers adopted a constitutional amendment to protect the environment. The amendment, dubbed the “Environment Charter,” declares that the French people have a right to “live in an environment which is balanced and respects their health.” It further calls for the application of the precautionary principle in any circumstance that may pose irreparable harm to the environment. Additionally, the Charter enshrines several new principles, including polluter-pays and prevention, into national law and mandates their application in policymaking.
- Unocal Settlement
Several years ago, Burmese citizens sued the Burmese (Myanmar) government and Unocal in a US federal court and in a California state court for alleged human rights abuses associated with the construction of a gas pipeline from Burma’s Yadana natural gas field to an electric power plant in Thailand. In December 2004, Unocal agreed to settle the claims of the Burmese villagers. Although the terms of the settlement are confidential, the plaintiffs’ lawyers state that Unocal will “compensate the plaintiffs and provide funds for the [affected] communities to develop programs to improve living conditions, health care, and education, and protect the rights of people who reside in the pipeline region.”
- Oneryildiz v. Turkey
In the case of Oneryildiz v. Turkey, the European Court of Human Rights decided its first environmental case involving loss of life. On November 30, 2004, the Grand Chamber found that the Turkish authorities failed to prevent the deaths of nine of the applicant’s close relatives and destruction of his property caused by a methane explosion at a municipal waste dump, therefore violating the applicant’s right to life and property under Articles 1 and 2 of the European Convention of Human Rights. The Court determined that national authorities not only failed to take the appropriate steps to protect the lives of their citizens, but also neglected their responsibilities in the aftermath of the explosion.
- Belize Maya case
In 2004, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights found that Belize violated the Mayan communities’ right to use and enjoy their property by granting concessions to third parties to exploit natural resources within Mayan lands without informed consent and with resulting environmental damage. In response to the community’s claims that the logging and oil development have caused long-term and irreversible environmental harm to the lands on which they rely for subsistence, the Commission recommended that Belize mitigate the damages resulting from the logging concessions.
In addition to showing the increasing international recognition of a human rights-based approach to environmental protection, 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.
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.