Human rights and environmental rights

Human rights and environmental rights are interdependent

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FIDH believes that human rights and environmental protection are interdependent.

As recently affirmed by the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and environment, prof. John Knox, « while a safe, clean and healthy environment is essential for the enjoyment of human rights, the exercise of human rights including the right to freedom of expression, education, participation and remedy is vital to the protection of the environment ». His report presented in March in front of the Human Right Council asks the UN General Assembly to adopt a resolution formally recognising the right to a healthy environment as part of international human rights law.

FIDH believes that this report is an important step in the understanding and implementation of human rights obligations relating to the environment. This relationship will clearly be essential for the protection of people and the planet in the years to come.

Over the past 10 years, FIDH has worked to reaffirm the relevance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the current debate over climate change, toxic waste and energy. Environmental damages directly threaten the right to life, to health, to water, to development, to housing, to work, to culture and the rights of indigenous people (see for example FIDH’s position on the COP21 negotiations). Affected populations have the right to be protected from adverse environmental impacts, such as polluted water, soil and air, deforestation, and displacements that result from desertification or floods caused by climate change.

As we have documented, major gaps remain in the implementation of international human rights law and State and non-state actors are often responsible for massive violations of environmental and human rights.
Human rights defenders, and in particular environmental and land defenders, are increasingly the target of repressive measures; the pressure on land has become unbearable.
Between 2011 and 2014, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders documented 43 assassination cases targeting land rights defenders and the judicial harassment of 123 defenders, sometimes together with their arbitrary detention.

At the same time, in some countries like Honduras, the energy supply transformation process driven by the fight against climate change risks causing irreversible harm to protected areas in the Pico Bonito National Park and to the Cuyamel River micro basin, the main source of water for nearly 7000 people in the San Francisco municipality, Atlántida. See our report here

While in others, like South Africa, the decline of the mining industry entails huge environmental and human rights impacts due to the lack of appropriate accountability of both companies and public institutions. The sudden closure of the Blyvoorzicht mine has left a community of 6000 people to fend for themselves.

Europe itself is not immune from negative impacts on human health and the environment generated by economic activities, as demonstrated by the report presented today on the human rights violations caused by the environmental disaster of the ILVA steel plant in Italy.

States have the legal obligation to respect, protect and fulfil human rights by ensuring a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. Although States are accountable for the harmonisation of public policies and national laws with their obligations, they are often ineffective or complicit in human rights violations.

Fundamental are also the role and responsibilities of business enterprises and other non-state actors in harming human rights and the environment. These actors include private security firms, armed rebellion and paramilitary groups, as well as transnational, national and state-owned corporations. They extract, pollute and destroy scarce environmental resources and operate with poor labour standards.

FIDH believes that a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment is essential to the fulfilment of the right to life, food, health, water, housing... Similarly, the introduction of human rights considerations into environmental policies is essential to the protection of the populations affected by global warming and to the well-being of future generations.