UN Creates Position Dedicated to Human Rights & Environment

Environmental organizations request quick action as negotiations resume at Rio+20


Martin Wagner, Earthjustice, (510) 917-0434


Dr. Marcos Orellana, Center for International Environmental Law, (202) 742-5847

Environmental organizations are hailing the UN’s recognition of the right to a healthy environment just as informal consultations on the agenda for the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development resume.

Last week, the Center for International Environmental Law and Earthjustice, worked closely with Maldives, Costa Rica and Switzerland, to obtain a resolution from the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) establishing an independent expert on the right to a “safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment.” As the 19th session concluded last Friday, the resolution was adopted with more than 80 States co-sponsoring.

The Council’s resolution recognizes the extensive linkages between human rights and the environment, stemming from the effects of pollution and climate change, among other issues. The resolution makes direct and explicit reference to Rio+20, urging the independent expert to: “(d) To take into account the results of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development to be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in June 2012, and to contribute a human rights perspective to follow-up processes.” The resolution also “hellip; encourages the Office of the High Commissioner to participate in the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, in order to promote a human rights perspective.”

According to CIEL’s Marcos Orellana, who addressed the Council in support of the resolution, “There is now a real opportunity to seize this momentum and establish an institutional vehicle to carry the link between human rights and the environment forward.” Orellana also stresses the urgency of action as Rio+20’s agenda solidifies: “At this point, the Zero Draft of the Outcome Document for Rio+20 is largely silent on the issue of the right to a healthy environment. Given that the planet’s environmental crisis is undermining the effective enjoyment of human rights, the United Nations faces a historic responsibility. Silence on this front equals defeat. Either there is progress or there is a lost opportunity.”

CIEL, Earthjustice and other partners now support the efforts of other States to establish an additional Special Rapporteur on “climate change.” Martin Wagner, Managing Attorney at Earthjustice, stressed that “Climate change is progressively becoming a major threat for basic human rights, such as the rights to water, food, health and culture, as more and more people lose their means of subsistence or have to flee the face of natural disasters caused by global warming. These violations are often exacerbated by violations of procedural rights such as the right to information, freedom of expression or the right to proper remedies. The UN Human Rights Council has started to take up these challenges. It is of great importance that the Rio+20 Summit reflects these developments and acknowledge the links between the protection of the environment, the struggle against climate change and the respect for human rights.”

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