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Human Rights And Environment

Melting ice, rising sea levels, and changing weather patterns attributable to climate change increasingly affect daily life for millions, and perhaps billions, of people. When the environment suffers, people suffer. Climate change increasingly interferes with the realization of fundamental, internationally recognized human rights- including the right to life, to health, to culture, to food, to self-determination, to property, and to development. The poorest and most vulnerable will suffer first, and perhaps most, but ultimately the crisis will reach all of us.

The importance of the environment to the fulfilment of human rights is widely accepted at international law. What is less well-accepted is the proposition that we, as humans, possess rights to the environment beyond what is necessary to support our basic human needs.

The suggestion that a human right to a healthy environment may be emerging at international law raises a number of theoretical and practical challenges for human rights law, with such challenges coming from both within and outside the human rights discourse. It is argued that human rights law can make a positive contribution to environmental protection, but the precise nature of the connection between the environment and human rights warrants more critical analysis.

This short paper considers the different ways that the environment is conceptualised in international human rights law and analyses the proposition that a right to a healthy environment is emerging. It identifies some of the challenges which would need to be overcome before such a right could be recognised, including those which draw on the disciplines of deep ecology and earth jurisprudence and The relationship between human rights and environmental protection in international law is far from simple or straightforward. A new attempt to codify and develop international law on this subject was initiated by the UNHRC in 2011. What can it say that is new or that develops the existing corpus of human rights law?

Three obvious possibilities are explored in this article.
First, procedural rights are the most important environmental addition to human rights law since the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. Any attempt to codify the law on human rights and the environment would necessarily have to take this development into account.

Secondly, a declaration or protocol could be an appropriate mechanism for articulating in some form the still controversial notion of a right to a decent environment.

Thirdly, the difficult issue of extra-territorial application of existing human rights treaties to transboundary pollution and global climate change remains unresolved.

The article concludes that the response of human rights law – if it is to have one – needs to be in global terms, treating the global environment and climate as the common concern of humanity. There is link between human rights and Environment; they both correlate with each other.

As it is said that,  Where there is right there is duty . Si if humans have right to use environment for their purpose it’s there duty to work for environment.

Man has the fundamental right to freedom, equality and adequate conditions of life, in an environment of a quality that permits a life of dignity and well-being, and he bears a solemn responsibility to protect and improve the environment for present and future generations.

A human rights perspective directly addresses environmental impacts on the life, health, private life, and property of individual humans rather than on other states or the environment in general.

A human rights focus may serve to secure higher standards of environmental quality, based on the obligation of States to take measures to control pollution affecting health and private life.

The relationship between human rights and the environment was first recognized by the UN General Assembly in the late 1960s. In 1972, the direct relationship between the environment and the right to life was recognized by the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment. The Preamble stated that  Man is both creature and moulder of his environment, which gives him physical sustenance and affords him the opportunity for intellectual, moral, social and spiritual growth...

Both aspects of man’s environment, the natural and the manmade, are essential to his well-being and to the enjoyment of basic human rights –even the right to life itself.  Principle 1 of the Stockholm Declaration established a further foundation for linking human rights and environmental protection, declaring that  Man has the fundamental right to freedom, equality and adequate conditions of life, in an environment of a quality that permits a life of dignity and well-being.  In 1982 the World Charter for Nature acknowledged that  Mankind is a part of nature and life depends on the uninterrupted functioning of natural systems which ensure the supply of energy and nutrients.  In 1992, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (also known as the Earth Summit) stated that Human beings are at the centre of concerns for sustainable development.

They are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature.  The Declaration also provided for the right of access to environmental information and of public participation in environmental decision making. In 2002, the World Summit on Sustainable Development merely acknowledged the position that there exists a possible relationship between environment and human rights.

In addition, the UN Human Rights Commission adopted several resolutions linking human rights and the environment, such as Res. 2005/60 entitled Human rights and the environment as part of sustainable development. The resolution called on states  to take all necessary measures to protect the legitimate exercise of everyone’s human rights when promoting environmental protection and sustainable development and reaffirmed, in this context, that everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to participate in peaceful activities against violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The resolution emphasized the needs of the vulnerable members of society and also encouraged efforts towards the implementation of the Rio Declaration on Environment and ensure this right, although there is little evidence of work to make this happen. Over the last year there has been increasing interest in these issues. ANPED have made this a key focus for work towards the 2002 Summit. As part of this work ANPED is building links with NGOs and other agencies in all parts of the world. There is no doubt that the timing of this activity is appropriate: the 2001 meeting of the UN High Commission on Human Rights has called for an international seminar on these issues to be jointly run by UNEP and the UNCHR.[1]

A Brief Overview – Human Rights And The Environment

Work towards sustainable development is increasingly recognising the importance of a human rights approach. This should not be surprising: the protection of human life in relation to life, health, culture and living standards is central to any social, environmental or economic programmes. The right to life cannot be realised without the basic right to clean, water, air and land. A human rights approach allows the quality of life of people, in particular the most vulnerable, to be integrated into environmental decision making.

There are two main approaches to human rights and the environment:

# The use of existing human rights, and
# The need for new human rights for a safe and clean environment.

The rights we have already are:

1. Civil and political and
2. Economic, social and cultural. Civil and political rights provide for moral and political order.

Such rights include the right to life, equality, political participation and association. They are couched most clearly in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966). When realised civil and political rights are fundamental to guaranteeing a political order supportive of sustainable development. They can protect civil mobilisation around environmental protection and equity. Economic, social and cultural rights are often referred to as ‘second generation’ rights. These provide substantive standards for an individual’s well-being.

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966) provides an example. The Covenant provides, amongst others, the right to health which recognises the need for environmental improvement. It also provides for self-determination including the right of all peoples to manage their own natural resources. These second generation rights often have a direct bearing on the human and environmental condition. Although existing first and second generation rights can provide for a degree of global and environmental protection if effectively mobilised, they are indirect environmental rights. They therefore suffer from a lack of clarity and precision on environmental protection and equity. What is required to strengthen the use of universal human rights are direct policy, legislation and institutional changes which recognise a specific right to a healthy environment and which takes into account both substantive and procedural issues. All human beings depend on the environment in which we live. A safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment is integral to the full enjoyment of a wide range of human rights, including the rights to life, health, food, water and sanitation. Without a healthy environment, we are unable to fulfil our aspirations or even live at a level commensurate with minimum standards of human dignity. At the same time, protecting human rights helps to protect the environment. When people are able to learn about, and participate in, the decisions that affect them, they can help to ensure that those decisions respect their need for a sustainable environment.

In recent years, the recognition of the links between human rights and the environment has greatly increased. The number and scope of international and domestic laws, judicial decisions, and academic studies on the relationship between human rights and the environment have grown rapidly.

Many States now incorporate a right to a healthy environment in their constitutions. Many questions about the relationship of human rights and the environment remain unresolved, however, and require further examination.
As a result, in March 2012 the Human Rights Council decided to establish a mandate on human rights and the environment, which will (among other tasks) study the human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, and promote best practices relating to the use of human rights in environmental policymaking. Mr. John Knox was appointed in August 2012 to serve as the Independent Expert (2012 – 2015) and as the Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment (2015 – 2018).

In March 2018, the Human Rights Council further extended the mandate (resolution 37/8) and appointed Mr. David. R. Boyd as the Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment (as of 1 August 2018).

The need for environmental rights

It is nearly thirty years since the UN Stockholm Conference in 1972 put environmental issues on the international agenda. Since then there has been much hard work to protect and improve the environment globally, nationally and locally. There has been much progress, but it is clear that in all parts of the world our environment is under threat and that many problems are becoming more serious. The Rio summit recognised these problems and sought to resolve them through Agenda 21 and the various UNCED Conventions.

Work on implementing these conventions, which are based on the principle of  common but differentiated responsibility , has gradually revealed that these less than perfect bargains have:
1. Failed to place constraints on national strategies that may lead to unsustainable growth.

2. Failed to ensure the implementation of national framework laws and enforcement strategies such as National Environmental Action Plans (NEAP).

3. Failed to control perverse state resource use and damaged intergenerational equity.

4. Increasingly revealed the inadequacies of funding by those agencies which fund strictly environmental work that does not consider socio-economic factors. It is failures such as these that have led to calls for a new approach to sustainable development.

A further driver for change has been the increased pressure resulting from globalisation. It is clear that non-mandatory (soft law) agreements are an inadequate basis for ensuring effective control of these processes. The need for change has been acknowledged, but some will question whether the introduction of inalienable human rights to a safe environment is the way forward. It has been suggested during our initial work that adequate rights already exist.

This is simply not the case. There are a few key international rights, but substantive rights to a safe environment the rights are still largely implied rather than explicit. In theory, existing human rights legislation should protect our environment but this does not happen in practice.

Many groups have tried to use Human Rights legislation to protect the environment, such as the Right to Life defined by Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which states that  everyone has a right to life protected by law . Most attempts to do this have been unsuccessful, although some successful cases exist. We believe that this is an inadequate way to provide for our rights.

3.1 Defining environmental rights

We suggest that any discussion of environmental human rights must encompass three areas of work:
# The right to a clean and safe environment

# The right to act to protect the environment

# The right to information participate in decision-making Different organisations across the world are approaching these issues in their own ways, but there are some commonalities:

# The right to a clean and safe environment these are ‘substantive’ rights. They are the most basic rights, and the hardest to define. Many organisations would support the idea that  clean water and food security  are  basic human rights  (quotes from UNEP Geo 2000 report). The UN Draft Principles from 1994 (see Appendix) spell out what these might be in more detail.

# The right to act to protect the environment This right is inherent in the UN Declaration and associated Conventions, through the right to organise and to free assembly. This right is under threat in many nations. The ‘Just Earth’ campaign run by the Sierra Club and Amnesty International USA has highlighted many such examples.

# The right to information, to access to justice, and to participate in environmental decision-making these rights enable citizens to play an active part in creating a healthy environment, and they are directly linked to the key points in several UN Conventions and Declarations.

In Europe these rights are enshrined in the UNECE ‘Arhus Convention’ (the European Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation and Access to Justice in Environmental Decision-Making) (see below); other regions will need to consider how best to deliver these rights within local circumstances. These rights do not exist in isolation: they cannot be seen as separate from other human rights or from other issues linked to poverty, economic and social exclusion.

A human rights perspective to sustainable development moves from the ‘traditional green’ issues to a wider approach to protecting the most vulnerable in society. These rights can provide a platform for environmental and sustainable improvements are likely to benefit the most marginalised people, the poor, women, and minorities. The human rights perspective facilitates policies that have a strong impact on poverty and exclusion for reasons of gender or race.

The right to information, justice and participation within the sustainable development context includes rather than excludes people who have felt excluded from the traditional green movement agendas. Environmental human rights support a bottom up approach. Active involvement and shared control, by the people and states most affected by a degraded environment is fundamental at local, national and global levels.

The UN Draft Principles

In 1994 the forty-sixth session of the Commission on Human Rights (Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities) received a report entitled Review Of Further Developments In Fields With Which The Sub-Commission Has Been Concerned On Human Rights And The Environment. This was the Final Report prepared by Mrs. Fatma Zohra Ksentini, the Special Rapporteur on this issue appointed in 1989. Mrs. Ksentini’s work focused initially on the issue of toxic wastes and dumping of these wastes in poorer nations (an issue which was high on the international agenda in the late 1980s). Her work broadened during the research on this and became a major overview of environmental rights.

The final report included a full analysis of environmental rights and legislation at a national level. The report also suggested that:  For many years environmental problems were almost exclusively considered from the standpoint of the pollution in one part of the world, i.e. the industrialized countries (Immediately after the Stockholm Conference, perception of environmental problems was limited to a specific geographical area, the industrialized countries, and reduced to the simplest of terms, pollution. Mohammed Sahnoun,  Environnement et développement , Revue algérienne des relations Internationales, No. 8, 1987, OPU, Algiers.). It identified the need for new approaches to these problems.

Most significantly the report concludes with a set of ‘Draft Principles for a Declaration on Human Rights and Environment’. These provide the best overview of how substantive rights might be defined and are attached as Appendix 1. These were discussed in 1994 on the release of the report but were not taken forward. Since then developments in this field make it an appropriate time to revisit these issues and principles.[2]

3.2 International Law Relating To Environment
On the environmental, general awareness of environmental issues grew from the 1950’s onwards, with the first globally applicable international conventions or Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) being agreed in the 1970s and 1980s. These include the 1971 Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, the 1972 World Heritage Convention, the 1973 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, the 1979 Convention on Migratory Species and the 1989 Basel Convention Control of Transport of Hazardous Wastes.

In the past two decades, the most important and familiar MEAs are the 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change, the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity and the 1994 Convention to Combat Desertification. Protocols, guidelines and annexes have been added to these conventions to promote their implementation at national and regional level. While attempts have been made at outlining criteria for measurement of effectiveness of MEAs, there is currently no overarching, commonly-agreed upon criteria for such measurement or for the measurement of implementing environmental legislation at a domestic level. Clearly, in order to promote implementation of environmental law at international and national level, at least some general criteria should be developed.

United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) addresses environmental issues at the global and regional levels. Its core objectives are to serve as an authoritative advocate for the global environment, to support governments in setting the global environmental agenda, and to promote the coherent implementation of the environmental dimension of sustainable development within the UN system. One of its key mandates is to promote the development and implementation of international environmental law.

UNDP has also conducted a comparative experiences analysis of environmental justice trends as a joint endeavour between UNDP’s governance and environment and energy expertise and capacities.

4. Defining Human Rights

Human rights are based on the principle of respect for the individual. Their fundamental assumption is that each person is a moral and rational being who deserves to be treated with dignity. They are called human rights because they are universal. 10th December is Human Right’s Day – marking the date when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted in 1948. It’s often been said that many of us take our rights and freedoms for granted.

The term  human rights  has become a bit of a  buzz word  amongst the kind of people who love to add their comments to Daily Mail articles or on Facebook articles:
 Oh not the EU and human rights!  What springs to their mind is: terrorist extremists sponging of the state along with their families or we’re bending over backwards for minorities.
Well that’s not what human rights are. Human rights offer us safety, freedom and protection.

The Need of Human Rights

Violations against freedom of speech, expression, assembly and association
Imagine living in a country where you’re unable to express your own personal and political beliefs, unable to go on peaceful demonstrations, unable to hold an opinion No protesting the Syrian war, no protesting benefit cuts, no having your say. Worldwide, it’s happening– China, Venezuela, Crimea, the USA Take Venezuela as an example 2014 was quoted as being  the worst year for freedom of expression  with 350 cases and 579 violations (the highest figure in 20 years) affecting journalists and those working in the media as well as members of NGOs, human rights activists and civilians:

As far as the attacks and threats against journalists and photo journalists went, the report indicated that the majority came while covering public protests. These acts of aggression included beatings, pellet shots, tear gas attacks, detainments, the confiscation of cameras and cell phones, the destruction of audio-visual and photographic material, and intimidation.

# Torture, arbitrary arrest, detention or exile and restrictions against freedom of movement

Following online and offline activism – peaceful protests, blogging online, newspaper journalism, political activism – human rights defenders and regime opponents or those simply in the wrong place at the wrong time could end up being locked up and subject to torture (physical, emotional, sexual and spiritual abuse/neglect) including sexual assault and malnutrition. There’s also the case of those who are never brought to trial – whether guilty or innocent of their supposed crime(s).

let’s take Guantanamo Bay as an example. May inmates have even never been taken to trial, are subject to torture and continue to protest their innocence. The latest news story was that of Shakeer Aamer. Shakeer was imprisoned in Guantanamo for 14 years without trial and subject to torture. Shakeer always protested his innocence- he was detained when working in Afghanistan for an Islamic charity. He was recently able to return home to the UK to be with his family. For the first time in his life he was able to meet his youngest son – aged 14.[3]

Indian Laws Relating to Environment and Human Rights

The chapter on fundamental duties of the Indian Constitution clearly imposes duty on every citizen to protect environment. Article 51-A (g), says that  It shall be duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wild life and to have compassion for living creatures.

Article 47 provides that the State shall regard the raising of the level of nutrition and the standard of living of its people and the improvement of public health as among its primary duties. The improvement of public health also includes the protection and improvement of environment without which public health cannot be assured. Article 48 deals with organization of agriculture and animal husbandry. It directs the State to take steps to organize agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines.

In particular, it should take steps for preserving and improving the breeds and prohibiting the slaughter of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle. Article 48 -A of the constitution says that the state shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wild life of the country.

The Constitution of India under part III guarantees fundamental rights which are essential for the development of every individual and to which a person is inherently entitled by virtue of being human alone. Right to environment is also a right without which development of individual and realisation of his or her full potential shall not be possible. Articles 21, 14 and 19 of this part have been used for environmental protection.[4]

According to Article 21 of the constitution,  no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law . Article 21 has received liberal interpretation from time to time after the decision of the Supreme Court in Maneka Gandhi vs. Union of India, (AIR 1978 SC 597)[5]. Article 21 guarantees fundamental right to life. Right to environment, free of danger of disease and infection is inherent in it. Right to healthy environment is important attribute of right to live with human dignity.

Policy and Laws in Medieval India (1638-1800 AD)
To Mughal rulers, forest meant no more than woodlands where they could hunt. The history of medieval India is dominated by Muslim Rulers where no noteworthy development of environmental jurisprudence took place except during the rule of Mughal Emperor Akbar. During Akbar’s rule except rulers others are prohibited from hunting or shikar. But no major initiatives took place during medieval period to prevent environmental protection and conservation of natural resources as the rulers were only interested in war, religion propagation and empire building. Barring  royal trees  which enjoyed patronage from being cut except upon a fee, there was no restriction on cutting of other trees, hunting animals, etc. Forests during this period shrank steadily in size.

Laws in British India (1800-1947 AD)

# Shore Nuisance (Bombay and Kolaba) Act, 1853 imposed restrictions on the fouling of seawater.
# Merchant Shipping Act of 1858 dealt with prevention of sea pollution by oil.
# The Fisheries Act, 1897
# The Bengal Smoke Nuisance Act of 1905
# Bombay Smoke Nuisance Act of 1912
# Wild Birds and Animals Protection Act, 1912

Laws after Independence (1947)

The Indian Constitution, as adopted in 1950, did not deal with that the subject of environment or prevention and control of pollution as such (until 1976 Amendment). The post independent Indian approach was centred on economic development and poverty alleviation and not on resource conservation.

The year 1972 was a landmark in the field of environment, when United Nations Conference on the Human Environment was held at Stockholm (Sweden) from 5th to 16th June, in which Declaration on the Human Environment was adopted. This may be considered as the beginning of environment movement in the world.

The Stockholm Declaration of 1972 was perhaps the first major attempt to conserve and protect the human environment at the international level. The preamble of it states, 'the need for a common outlook and for common principles to inspire and guide the peoples of the world in the preservation and enhancement of the human environment.

As a consequence of this Declaration, the States were required to adopt legislative measures to protect and improve the environment. Accordingly, Indian Parliament inserted two Articles, i.e., 48A and 51A in the Constitution of India in 1976.

In India a separate ministry namely The Department of Environment was established in 1980 to ensure a healthy environment for the country.

The main acts for environment protection in India are as follows:

1. The Forest Conservation Act, 1980
2. The Prevention of Air and Water Pollution, 1974, 1981 (The Central Pollution Control Board) (CPCB) was constituted under this act.
3. The Air Prevention and Control of Pollution, 1981.
4. The Atomic Energy Act. 1982.
5. The Environmental Protection Act, 1986. (It came into force soon after the Bhopal Gas Tragedy)
6. The Environmental Conservation Act. 1989.
7. The National Environmental Tribunal, 1995.
8. National Environmental Appellate Authority Act, 1997.
9. National Environment Management Act (NEMA), 1998
10. Handling and Management of Hazardous Waste Rule in 1989.
11. The Public Liability Insurance Act (Rules and Amendment), 1992.
12. The Biomedical Waste Management and Handling Rules, 1998.
13. The Environment (Siting for Industrial Projects) Rules, 1999.
14. The Municipal Solid Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2000.
15. The Ozone Depleting Substance (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000.
16. The Biological Diversity Act 2002.

Environment And The Indian Constitution

The Indian Constitution is among the few in the world that contains specific provisions on environmental protection.

Laws made by national, provincial and local government add to the rights and responsibilities that are part of the constitution and the common law. These laws also called legislations must comply with the constitution but they can amend change the common hand.

Protection of Life and Personal Liberty is embodied in Article 21. It states,  No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.
The Indian Constitution guarantees the ‘right to equality to all persons without any discrimination. This indicates that any action of the ‘State’ relating to environment must not infringe upon the right to equality as mentioned in the Article 14 of the Constitution. The Stockholm Declaration, 1972, also recognized this principle of equality in environmental management and it called up all the worlds’ nations to abide by this principle.

In the Constitution of India it is clearly stated that it is the duty of the state to ‘protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country’. It imposes a duty on every citizen ‘to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers, and wildlife.

How does the UN promote and protect human rights?

High Commissioner for Human Rights

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has lead responsibility in the UN system for the promotion and protection of human rights. The office supports the human rights components of peacekeeping missions in several countries, and has many country and regional offices and centres. The High Commissioner for Human Rights regularly comments on human rights situations in the world and has the authority to investigate situations and issue reports on them.

Human Rights Council

The Human Rights Council, established in 2006, replaced the 60-year-old UN Commission on Human Rights as the key independent UN intergovernmental body responsible for human rights.

Human Rights Treaty Bodies

The human rights treaty bodies are committees of independent experts that monitor implementation of the core international human rights treaties

Special Procedures

The special procedures of the Human Rights Council are prominent, independent experts working on a voluntary basis, who examine, monitor, publicly report and advise on human rights from a thematic or country-specific perspective.


The UN Development Group’s Human Rights Mainstreaming Mechanism (UNDG-HRM) advances human rights mainstreaming efforts within the UN development system.

Special Advisers on the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect

The Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide acts as a catalyst to raise awareness of the causes and dynamics of genocide, to alert relevant actors where there is a risk of genocide, and to advocate and mobilize for appropriate action; the Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect leads the conceptual, political, institutional and operational development of the Responsibility to Protect.

What legal instruments help the UN protect human rights?

The International Bill of Human Rights
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) was the first legal document protecting universal human rights. Together with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the three instruments form the so-called International Bill of Human Rights. A series of international human rights treaties and other instruments adopted since 1945 have expanded the body of international human rights law.

Democracy, based on the rule of law, is ultimately a means to achieve international peace and security, economic and social progress and development, and respect for human rights – the three pillars of the United Nations mission as set forth in the UN Charter. At the 2005 World Summit, all the world’s governments reaffirmed  that democracy is a universal value based on the freely expressed will of people to determine their own political, economic, social and cultural systems and their full participation in all aspects of their lives  and stressed  that democracy, development and respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms are interdependent and mutually reinforcing . Democratic principles are woven throughout the normative fabric of the United Nations. The 2009 Guidance Note on Democracy of the Secretary-General sets out the United Nations framework for democracy based on universal principles, norms and standards and commits the Organization to principled, coherent and consistent action in support of democracy.

What other UN offices and bodies are responsible for protecting human rights?

Security Council
The UN Security Council, at times, deals with grave human rights violations, often in conflict areas. The UN Charter gives the Security Council the authority to investigate and mediate, dispatch a mission, appoint special envoys, or request the Secretary-General to use his good offices. The Security Council may issue a ceasefire directive, dispatch military observers or a peacekeeping force. If this does not work, the Security Council can opt for enforcement measures, such as economic sanctions, arms embargos, financial penalties and restrictions, travel bans, the severance of diplomatic relations, a blockade, or even collective military action.

Third Committee of the General Assembly

The General Assembly’s Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) examines a range of issues, including human rights questions. The Committee also discusses questions relating to the advancement of women, the protection of children, indigenous issues, the treatment of refugees, the promotion of fundamental freedoms through the elimination of racism and racial discrimination, and the right to self-determination. The Committee also addresses important social development questions.

Various Other UN Bodies
Different intergovernmental bodies and interdepartmental mechanisms based at the United Nations headquarters in New York, as well as the United Nations Secretary-General, address a range of human rights issues. The General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)and their subsidiary organs make policy decisions and recommendations to Member States, the United Nations system and other actors. The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII), an advisory body to the Economic and Social Council, has a mandate to discuss indigenous issues, including human rights. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights interacts with and provides advice and support on human rights issues to these bodies and mechanisms.

The Office also works to mainstream human rights in all areas of work of the Organization, including development, peace and security, peacekeeping and humanitarian affairs. Human rights issues are also addressed in the context of the post-conflict UN peace building support activities.

The Secretary-General appoints special representatives, who advocate against major human rights violations:
# Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict
# Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict
# Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence Against Children

The Human Rights Up Front Initiative is an initiative by the UN Secretary-General to ensure the UN system takes early and effective action, as mandated by the Charter and UN resolutions, to prevent or respond to serious and large-scale violations of human rights or international humanitarian law.

The initiative underlines a shared responsibility among the various UN entities to work together to address such violations. HRuF seeks to achieve this by effecting change at three levels: cultural, operational and political. These changes are gradually transforming the way the UN understands its responsibilities and implements them. The initiative has been progressively rolled-out since late 2013. Through various presentations, letters and policy documents, the Secretary-General and Deputy Secretary-General have presented HRuF to the General Assembly and to staff and UN system leaders.

On 19 January 2018, United Nations Secretary General António Guterres established the International Commission of Inquiry envisioned by the Agreement on Peace and Reconciliation in Mali. He appointed Lena Sundh (Sweden), Vinod Boolell (Mauritius) and Simon Munzu (Cameroon) to serve as Commissioners and selected Ms. Sundh as Chair. Established at the request of the signatory parties to the Agreement, the Commission of Inquiry will advance national reconciliation and support the Malian authorities’ efforts in the fight against impunity. The Commissioners, who are serving in their personal capacities, will investigate serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law committed in Mali since January 2012 and submit a report to the Secretary General on 22 October 2019.

UN Peace Operations
Many United Nations peacekeeping operations and political and peacebuidling missions also include the human rights-related mandates aimed at contributing to the protection and promotion of human rights through both immediate and long-term action; empowering the population to assert and claim their human rights; and enabling State and other national institutions to implement their human rights obligations and uphold the rule of law.

Human Rights teams on the ground work in close cooperation and coordination with other civilian and uniformed components of peace operations, in particular, in relation to the protection of civilians; addressing conflict-related sexual violence and violations against children; and strengthening respect for human rights and the rule of law through legal and judicial reform, security sector reform and prison system reform.

Commission on the Status of Women

The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is the principal global intergovernmental body dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the advancement of women. UN Women, established in 2010, serves as its Secretariat[6].

Councils to Protect Environment

The United Nations Environment Assembly is the world’s highest-level decision-making body on the environment. It addresses the critical environmental challenges facing the world today. Understanding these challenges and preserving and rehabilitating our environment is at the heart of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The Environment Assembly meets biennially to set priorities for global environmental policies and develop international environmental law. Through its resolutions and calls to action, the Assembly provides leadership and catalyses intergovernmental action on the environment. Decision-making requires broad participation, which is why the Assembly provides an opportunity for all peoples to help design solutions for our planet’s health.

Articulating a right to a decent or healthy environment within the context of economic, social, and cultural rights is not inherently problematic. Clarifying the existence of such a right would entail giving greater weight to the global public interest in protecting the environment and promoting sustainable development, but this could be achieved without doing damage to the fabric of human rights law, and in a manner which fully respects the wide margin of appreciation that states are entitled to exercise when balancing economic, environmental, and social policy objectives. It would build on existing precedents under the ICESCR, and reflect international policy on sustainable development endorsed at Rio in 1992 and in subsequent international conferences.

The further elaboration of procedural rights, based on the Aarhus Convention, would facilitate the implementation of such a right, and give greater prominence globally to the role of NGOs in public interest litigation and advocacy. These two developments go hand in hand. They are not a necessary part of any declaration or protocol on human rights and the environment, but they do represent a logical extension of existing policies and would represent a real exercise in progressive development of the law.

A declaration or protocol on human rights and the environment thus makes sense provided it brings together existing civil, political, economic, and social rights in one coherent whole, while at the same time re-conceptualizing in the language of economic and social rights the idea of the environment as a common good. It would, in other words, recognize the global environment as a public interest that states have a responsibility to protect, even if they only implement that responsibility progressively and insofar as resources allow.

Using existing human rights law to grapple with climate change is more challenging. Giving human rights extraterritorial scope in environmental cases is not the problematic issue, however. As we have seen, the argument that transboundary victims come within the jurisdiction or control of the polluting state can be made, is consistent with existing human rights law, and is supported by developments in international environmental law.

f that is correct then a state does have to take account of transboundary environmental impacts on human rights and it is obliged to facilitate access to remedies and other procedures. But climate change is a global problem. It cannot easily be addressed by the simple process of giving existing human rights law transboundary effect.

It affects many states and much of humanity. Its causes, and those responsible, are too numerous and too widely spread to respond usefully to individual human rights claims. Moreover, much of the economic policy which drives greenhouse gas emissions worldwide is presently lawful and consistent with the terms of the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol. It is no more likely to be derailed by human rights litigation based on ICCPR rights than the UK’s policy on Heathrow airport in the Hatton Case.

The response of human rights law – if it is to have one – needs to be in global terms, treating the global environment and climate as the common concern of humanity. That is why locating the right to a decent environment within the corpus and institutional structures of economic, social, and cultural rights makes more sense. In that context the policies of individual states on energy use, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, land use, and deforestation could be scrutinized and balanced against the evidence of their global impact on human rights and the environment.

This is not a panacea for deadlock in the UNFCCC negotiations, but it would give the rights of humanity as a whole a voice that at present is scarcely heard.

Whether the UNHRC wishes to travel down this road is another question, for politicians to answer rather than lawyers, but that is where it must go if it wishes to do more than posture on climate change.

[1] Report by UN High Commission 2001
[4] INDIAN CONSTITUTION BARE ACT Publication by Universal
[5]Maneka Gandhi vs. Union of India, (AIR 1978 SC 597)

Written By: Dinesh Yadav (Student), KR Mangalam University, Harayana
8130604430 / [email protected]

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