States Must Recognize Human Right to a Healthy Environment, Says UN Expert Report

GENEVA March 6, 2018 – The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment presented a new report synthesizing the international human rights obligations of states on matters related to the environment. Echoing the demands of many civil society organizations including CIEL, Professor John Knox called on States to recognize the human right to a healthy environment.

“The Special Rapporteur’s framework principles provide a baseline synthesis of many universally recognized human rights obligations in relation to the environment,” says CIEL Senior Attorney Sebastien Duyck. “Environmental degradation and the exhaustion of natural resources constitute some of the biggest threats to the realization of human rights in the 21st century. Millions of people do not have access to clean air and clean water. Deforestation, climate change, and biodiversity loss are accelerating. And every week, environmental human rights defenders are killed. On the basis of the Special Rapporteur’s report, States now have the responsibility to act to effectively protect the right to a healthy and sustainable environment.”

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The Special Rapporteur’s report notes that the majority of States have already recognized this right through their constitutions, laws, and policies, or through regional instruments. “What remains to be seen is how the Human Rights Council will effectively address what is needed for the protection of the right to a healthy and sustainable environment,” adds Duyck. “Seventy years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the global recognition of this right and the provision of effective remedies are now a matter of utmost urgency for frontline communities exposed to climate–induced impacts, environmental defenders, and vulnerable groups exposed to toxic and hazardous substances. It is time for the Human Rights Council to act urgently on the Special Rapporteur’s recommendation and move toward recognizing the right to a healthy and sustainable environment.”

The report comes as Professor Knox’s term as Special Rapporteur ends in June, 2018. CIEL actively advocated for the creation of the mandate and has appreciated the contributions of Professor Knox as the first mandate holder. Through his annual reports, country visits, and engagement in relevant UN processes, Professor Knox has enabled states and stakeholders to better understand practical linkages between human rights and the protection of the environment. The Human Rights Council is currently reviewing the opportunity to renew this mandate and to appoint a new Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment.

Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) uses the power of the law to protect the environment, promote human rights, and ensure a just and sustainable society. CIEL is a nonprofit organization dedicated to advocacy in the global public interest, including through legal counsel, policy research, analysis, education, training, and capacity building.