The Special Rapporteur has prepared draft Guidelines on Human Rights and the Environment, which summarize the human rights obligations of States relating to the environment. Copies of the Guidelines in English, French, and Spanish are available here. Public input is welcome! Provide comments by email to [email protected] by 11 November 2017. The Special Rapporteur will present the Guidelines to the Human Rights Council in March 2018.
The Special Rapporteur undertook a country visit to Mongolia from 19 to 27 September. He discussed a wide range of human rights and environmental issues with government officials and members of civil society, including issues relating to mining, air pollution in the capital, water pollution, and the effects of climate change. In a statement and press release at the conclusion of the visit, he emphasized the importance of effective implementation of laws on public participation and information. He will present his final report on the visit to the Human Rights Council in March 2018.
The twenty-fourth newsletter, released on August 16, is now available. The newsletter describes several recent events, including: an expert meeting and public consultation on children’s rights and the environment, in Geneva on 22-23 June; the negotiation by 22 Latin American and Caribbean countries of a new agreement on environmental access rights, which the Special Rapporteur attended on 31 July-1 August, in Buenos Aires; and a conference at the University of Oxford on 20 June on forest defenders, organized by N1M (“not 1 more”).
On July 31-August 1, the Special Rapporteur spoke in Buenos Aires, at the negotiation by Latin American and Caribbean countries towards a new agreement on environmental access rights, including rights to information, participation and remedy. He praised the dedication and openness of the participants and encouraged them to complete a strong agreement as soon as they can. He emphasized that this is one of the most important international negotiations in the last two decades, in human rights as well as the environment.
On June 22, the Special Rapporteur participated in a side event at the Human Rights Council in Geneva, on the effects of climate change and environmental pollutants on children’s rights. The moderator was Nazhat Shameem Khan, Ambassador of the Republic of Fiji to the United Nations, and the other speakers included Benyam Dawit Mezmur, Member of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, Marilena Viviani of UNICEF, Benjamin Schachter of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Jonas Schubert of Terre des Hommes International Federation.
On June 9, the Special Rapporteur released his twenty-third newsletter, which describes his trips in the previous months to Brazil, Geneva, and Uruguay, and provides a link to his statement on World Environment Day.
On June 8, Professor Knox joined the UN Special Rapporteurs on the rights of indigenous peoples, Victoria Tauli Corpuz, and on human rights defenders, Michel Forst, as well as the Inter-American Commission Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, Francisco José Eguiguren Praeli, to issue a joint statement denouncing attacks on indigenous and environmental rights in Brazil.
On June 5th, the Special Rapporteur issued a statement for World Environment Day emphasizing that a healthy environment is necessary for the full enjoyment of human rights, and calling attention to the accelerating loss of biodiversity on which healthy ecosystems depend.
On May 22 and 23, the Special Rapporteur participated in a regional judicial colloquium in Brasilia on constitutional rights and the environment. The colloquium was co-sponsored by a number of partners, including UN Environment, the Organization of American States, the IUCN World Commission on Environmental Law, and Brazilian bar and judicial organizations, and it was hosted at the Brazilian Senate. Participants included judges from many states within the Latin American and Caribbean region, who exchanged detailed presentations on lessons and challenges within their jurisdictions. This is the second in a series of these regional colloquiums; the Special Rapporteur is working with UN Environment on a third next year in Asia.
On May 20-21, I had the honor to participate in the second meeting of the Global Judicial Institute for the Environment, a new organization of judges from around the world who are coordinating efforts to share information and experiences on environmental issues. More information about the creation of the Institute is available here. On May 19, I also had the pleasure of speaking at the University of São Paulo School of Law on a panel addressing issues of human rights and the environment internationally and in Brazil.
From 24 to 28 April, the Special Rapporteur conducted a country visit to Uruguay, where he met with government officials and members of civil society to address the progress and challenges Uruguay faces with human rights related to environmental protection. He issued a statement at the close of his visit, which praised Uruguay’s steps to move towards almost-complete reliance on renewable energy. He suggested more public participation in environmental decision-making and the creation of a new “environmental ombudsperson” position that could serve as a focus for environmental complaints. He will present a report on Uruguay to the Human Rights Council in March 2018.
On March 24, the Special Rapporteur issued his most recent newsletter describing recent activities relating to the mandate, including his report on biodiversity, his presentation to the Human Rights Council, and his upcoming visit to Uruguay.
An article in the World Post describes the report of the Special Rapporteur on biodiversity and human rights, which he presented to the Human Rights Council earlier this month. In the article, Professor Knox is quoted as saying: “Biodiversity is really necessary for the full enjoyment of rights to food, water, health — the right to live a full and happy life. Without the services that healthy ecosystems provide across the board, we really can’t enjoy a whole range of human rights. And healthy ecosystems really depend on biodiversity.”
On Wednesday, March 8, the Special Rapporteur formally presented his report on biodiversity and human rights to the Human Rights Council. Here is his written statement to the Council. The full report is available here, in all six official languages of the United Nations. The UN web TV of the presentation and the interactive dialogue with the Council is available here.
John Knox joined Maina Kiai, Special Rapporteur on freedom of association, David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, and Baskut Tuncak, Special Rapporteur on toxic substances, in issuing a joint statement urging the Government of Viet Nam to immediately release a popular blogger known as Mother Mushroom, […]
The Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Hilal Elver, and the Special Rapporteur on toxic substances, Baskut Tuncak, called attention to the dangers of pesticides to human health and the environment, and called for a new international treaty to regulate and phase out the use of dangerous pesticides, in a report to the Human Rights Council. They pointed to research showing that pesticides cause an estimated 200,000 acute poisoning deaths each year. The vast majority of these deaths occur in developing countries.
On March 6, Universal Rights Group and several other partners, including the Special Rapporteur, announced the launch of a new web portal with information and links for environmental human rights defenders – that is, those who defend the environment and the human rights that depend on it. As Global Witness has described, they are increasingly under threat — at least 185 were killed in 2015 alone.
Called environment-rights.org, the new site describes the rights of environmental defenders, includes links to sites of international organizations and others who can help them, and provides a great deal of other relevant information. The organizers plan to continue to add to the site in the future, and to translate it into other languages, including Spanish and French.
On March 3, at the end of her two-week visit to the United States, Vicki Tauli-Corpuz, the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, issued a statement that, among other things, criticized the United States for authorizing the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline without an adequate assessment or meaningful consultation with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other tribes in the area. She will issue a full report with recommendations.
On March 1, ahead of World Wildlife Day on March 3, the Special Rapporteur urged governments to fulfil their human rights obligations to protect the world’s irreplaceable plants and animals. He stated: “The rapid loss of biological diversity around the world should be setting off alarm bells. We are well on our way to the sixth global extinction of species in the history of the planet, and States are still failing to halt the main drivers of biodiversity loss, including habitat destruction, poaching and climate change. What is less well understood is that the loss of biodiversity undermines the enjoyment of a wide range of human rights, including rights to life, health, food and water.” For the full text of the statement, click here.
John H. Knox, the Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, urged the Government of Kenya to take all necessary measures immediately to protect Ms. Phyllis Omido and three other environmental human rights defenders who have been assaulted, subjected to death threats, and forced into hiding since they filed a law suit against a […]
The report of the Special Rapporteur on biodiversity and human rights is now available. He will present it to the Human Rights Council at its next session, during an interactive dialogue on Tuesday, March 8. The report explains that the full enjoyment of human rights, including the rights to life, health, food and water, depends on the […]
The Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, together with the Special Rapporteurs on freedom of assembly and association, on freedom of opinion and expression, on the situation of human rights defenders, and on the rights of indigenous peoples, issued a statement criticizing the Government of Ecuador for ordering the closure of Acción Ecológica’, an NGO that supports environmental and indigenous rights. We urged the Ecuadorian authorities to reverse the decision and reform the legislation it is using to dissolve the groups, which it has used in the past for dissolving groups such as ‘Pachamama’ and the ‘Unión Nacional de Educadores’.
Here is the joint statement of the UN independent experts and special rapporteurs on Human Rights Day, 2016: “The greatest achievement of the international community since the end of World War II has been the construction of an international human rights system based upon the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which was adopted 68 years […]
Maina Kiai, the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, issued a statement criticizing U.S. security forces for using excessive force against the protesters from the Standing Rock Sioux and many other indigenous peoples, as well as other sympathizers, who are opposing the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The Special Rapporteur emphasized that: “The right to freedom of peaceful assembly is an individual right, and it cannot be taken away indiscriminately or en masse due to the violent actions of a few. The use of violence by some protesters should not be used as a justification to nullify the peaceful assembly rights of everyone else.”
The Special Rapporteur issued this statement (ici en francais) on the conclusion of his mission to Madagascar, during which he met with government ministers and officials, civil society organizations, academics, agencies of the United Nations, and the newly established National Human Rights Commission. It addresses a number of issues raised during the visit, including the effects of climate change, the importance of protecting environmental human rights defenders, illegal trafficking in rosewood and other endangered species, mining conflicts, and community-centered conservation of Madagascar’s unique and beautiful ecosystems. A report on the visit will be released in March 2017.
The Standing Rock Sioux tribe in the United States, joined by many other indigenous peoples and others, have been opposing and peacefully protesting the construction of a crude oil pipeline because of concerns that it could adversely affect their drinking water. In September, Vicki Tauli-Corpuz, the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, issued a statement — endorsed by John Knox and other special rapporteurs — calling on the United States to halt the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, consult with the affected communities in good faith, and ensure their free and informed consent prior to the approval of the project.
“Effective and sustainable conservation requires respect for human rights, today said two United Nations experts on environment and indigenous peoples rights, ahead of the largest global forum for the adoption of conservation policies on protected areas: the World Conservation Congress (WCC), which will take place from 1 to 10 September in Honolulu, USA. “The escalating […]
Michel Forst, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, has published a report to the General Assembly dedicated, in his words, “to the heroic activists who have braved the dangers facing them and defended the rights of their communities to a safe and healthy environment.” The report describes the epidemic of violence and harassment against environmental defenders around the world, and sets out recommendations for empowering and protecting them.
In this op-ed for the Guardian, published on World Environment Day 2016, Special Rapporteurs John Knox, Michel Forst, and Victoria Tauli Corpuz write that “The enjoyment of a vast range of human rights, including rights to life, health, food, water, and housing, depend on a healthy and sustainable environment. Today, on World Environment Day, let us remember that those who work to protect the environment are not only environmentalists – they are human rights defenders. And they are increasingly at risk.” The Rapporteurs call on governments and businesses to do more to protect environmental human rights defenders and to hold accountable those who threaten, harass, and murder them.
Speaking ahead of World Environment Day on Sunday 5 June, Special Rapporteur John Knox joined with Michel Forst, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, and Victoria Tauli Corpuz, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous people, in issuing a joint statement emphasizing that protecting environmental rights defenders is crucial to protect the environment and the human rights that depend on it.
The Special Rapporteur issued his eighteenth newsletter on May 23. It emphasizes the importance of including environmental and social safeguards in the climate finance mechanism being negotiated the following week in Bonn. It also describes the trip by Professor Knox in April to South Africa, where he participated in a conference on “New Frontiers in Global Environmental Constitutionalism” at North-West University, and a judicial workshop on applying human and constitutional rights to environmental issues, which was held at the University of Pretoria.
Today, the UN Environment Programme released a report entitled “Healthy Environment, Healthy People,” for the annual meeting of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA). The report describes that environmental harm causes almost a quarter of all deaths, up to 234 times as many premature deaths every year as result from conflicts. In addition, environmental effects are responsible for more than 25% of the deaths of children under the age of 5. UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said, “By depleting the ecological infrastructure of our planet and increasing our pollution footprint, we incur an ever-growing cost in terms of human health and well-being. From air pollution and chemical exposure to the mining of our natural resource base, we have compromised our life support systems.”
This article by Justin Catanoso describes the climate talks in Bonn, Germany, which address (among other things) a new mechanism to direct funding towards clean energy projects in developing countries. The current mechanism, the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), has supported more than 7,000 projects since 2006. Some of its largest projects, including dams, have been criticized […]
Today, Special Rapporteur Knox issued a press statement stating that “The first test of States’ commitment to the principles of the Paris Agreement will be next week,” when government representatives meet in Bonn to negotiate the terms of a new international climate mechanism to transfer funds from developed to developing countries for projects that contribute to the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions and support sustainable development. “This is no time for complacency,” he said. “The fact that 177 States have signed the Paris Agreement in less than a month is very welcome news, but the hard work of safeguarding the environment and human rights is just now beginning.”
In the attached letter, Special Rapporteur John Knox urges the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change to ensure that a new climate financing mechanism accords with international human rights obligations, by incorporating strong social and environmental safeguards. The paper describes those obligations and explains how they may be translated into safeguards in the new mechanism, using illustrative examples from the safeguards adopted by the Adaptation Fund.
In this commentary published in Mongabay, Peter Bosshard, the Interim Executive Director of International Rivers, writes that indigenous lands are being plundered and indigenous activists are being targeted when they stand up for their rights. He quotes Special Rapporteur John Knox as stating that indigenous peoples who get in the way of development projects “are considered almost expendable by the powers that be.” Bosshard continues: “Our murdered colleagues from Honduras to Brazil bear witness to this shocking reality.”
The seventeenth newsletter is now available. It provides links to the reports presented by the Special Rapporteur on March 3 to the Human Rights Council, as well as links to the video of the presentation and the interactive dialogue with the Council. It also describes his recent and upcoming activities.
On March 10, the Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, Professor John Knox, joined the statement of Michel Forst, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, calling on the Government of Honduras to ensure the safety and protection of Gustavo Castro Soto, Mexican defender, who was hurt during the assassination […]
Here is my written presentation to the Human Rights Council, delivered on March 3. It summarizes the reports on climate change and human rights, and on implementation of human rights relating to the environment. It also describes my current and planned activities.
My presentation to the Human Rights Council is available here, on UN web TV. The video includes not only my presentation, but also that of the Special Rapporteur on the right to housing, and the interactive dialogue with the Council members and observers.
The sixteenth newsletter is now available! It describes the two most recent reports of the Special Rapporteur to the Human Rights Council, which are now available at the UN website, here. The report to the Human Rights Council on climate change and human rights, A/HRC/31/52, reviews the effects of climate change on the full enjoyment of human rights and […]
The UN Special Rapporteur on the human right to water and sanitation, Léo Heller, and the Chair of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Waleed Sadi, issued a joint statement praising the UN General Assembly resolution, adopted by consensus on 17 December, recognizing that ‘the human right to sanitation entitles everyone, without […]
On 12 December 2015, the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change adopted the Paris Agreement, the most important climate agreement since the UNFCCC itself was adopted at the Rio Conference in 1992. The climate negotiators affirmatively responded to the call of many to include a strong reference to human rights in the […]
On Human Rights Day 2015, the UN Environment Programme released a new report explaining in detail the effects of climate change on the full enjoyment of a wide range of human rights, and setting out the human rights obligations relating to climate change. In a foreword to the report, the Special Rapporteur states, “This report […]
All 78 UN mandate holders, representing 41 thematic mandates and 14 country mandates, joined on Human Rights Day, 2015, to issue a joint statement promoting universal ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights during 2016, the fiftieth anniversary of their adoption in 1966. […]
This Reuters article describes the effects of climate change on the human rights of people around the world, and explains the calls by the Special Rapporteur and others for the climate negotiators to include a strong reference to human rights in the climate agreement under negotiation. “The climate crisis is a human rights crisis,” said Craig Mokhiber of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. “It needs to be addressed as such, and it needs to start right here in Paris.”
This Reuters article describes the call by the Special Rapporteur for the climate negotiators to include references to human rights in the new climate agreement. “The Paris Agreement is vital to the protection of human rights of present and future generations, in every country of the world. [It] should recognise that fact,” he stated.
The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, released a powerful statement today urging governments to take strong action to address climate change. In part, he stated: “Given the stakes, urgent, effective and ambitious action is certainly a moral imperative. But it is also a legal obligation. Here’s why. First, we now know that […]
The Special Rapporteur issued a press release today reminding all parties attending the Paris Climate Conference that “States’ human rights obligations also encompass climate change,” and urging them to adopt a rights perspective in tackling environmental issues. “I call on Governments to honour their human rights obligations as they negotiate the climate agreement,” the expert stated. “Even including a reference to human rights in the agreement itself would be of great symbolic and practical importance.”
UNICEF issued a report entitled “Unless We Act Now: The Impact of Climate Change on Children,” which describes in detail the effects of climate change on children and calls for governments to take effective action to protect them.
This Dow Jones article describes the decision by the Government of Brazil to sue Vale SA, BHP Billiton Ltd. and their joint venture Samarco Mineração SA in response to the catastrophic dam failure that contaminated the Rio Doce. It also reports on the admission by Vale that there were toxic elements in the river. It […]
This Dow Jones article describes the joint statement by the Special Rapporteurs on toxic waste and the environment on the enormous quantities of mud unleashed by the massive dam failure on the Rio Doce in Brazil earlier in November. It states that the U.N. special rapporteurs received their information about tests indicating high levels of […]
Two United Nations independent experts on environment and toxic waste today called on the Government of Brazil and relevant businesses to take immediate action to protect the environment and health of communities at risk of exposure to toxic chemicals in the wake of the catastrophic collapse of a tailing dam on 5 November 2015. “This […]
UNEP has announced the publication of guidance for applying the Bali Guidelines for the Development of National Legislation on Access to Information, Public Participation and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters. The UNEP Governing Council adopted the Bali Guidelines in 2010, to assist governments and other interested actors in implementing Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration, which emphasizes the importance of access to information, participation, and remedy in environmental matters. The new guidance includes a full range of practical examples of national law and practice to support policy makers, legislators and public authorities in their daily work of applying the Bali Guidelines.
The 15th newsletter is now available! It describes the recent activities of the Special Rapporteur, including (a) the request for proposals on the effective implementation of human rights obligations relating to the environment, which are due by 9 November 2015, (b) the publication of a new website with more than 100 good practices in the use of such obligations, and (c) the statement by 15 special rapporteurs applauding the negotiation of a regional agreement on rights of access to environmental information, environmental decision-making, and environmental remedies.
On the eve of a precedent-setting negotiation, 15 UN human rights experts joined to express their strong support for the efforts by governments in Latin America and the Caribbean to agree on a regional instrument on rights of access to information, participation, and justice in environmental matters. This negotiation, which will resume 27-29 October in Panama City, is one of the most important steps ever taken to protect and promote environmental democracy at the international level, and it will provide a model for such steps in other regions and countries. The experts encouraged the negotiators to adopt an instrument in the form of a legally binding treaty. The full statement is available here.
Hilal Elver, the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, has warned the UN General Assembly that climate change threatens food security. She stated, “Climate change poses severe and distinct threats to food security, and could subject an additional 600 million people to malnutrition by 2080.” Specifically, she said, “Increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather, rising temperatures and sea levels, as well as floods and droughts have a significant impact on the right to food. All these climate incidents will negatively impact on crops, livestock, fisheries, aquaculture and on people’s livelihoods.” She presented her report to the General Assembly on October 23.
Over the last two years, with the help of UNEP and OHCHR, I identified more than 100 good practices in the use of human rights to protect the environment. The practices were described in my last report to the Human Rights Council, and individual descriptions of the practices are available at the OHCHR website. Now the practices are also available on a standalone website, environmentalrightsdatabase.org, which is easily searchable by categories of human rights, types of actors, location of the practice, and other key words. A permanent link to the new website has been added to the menu on the left of this home page.
My next report, which I will present to the Human Rights Council in March 2016, will describe methods of implementing the human rights obligations relating to the environment. I welcome input from all interested stakeholders on this important topic! Please email your thoughts to [email protected] by 9 November 2015. For more information, see my most recent newsletter.
The United Nations recently adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 targets. In an article for the Washington International Law Journal, I analyze the SDGs and targets in light of international human rights obligations relating to the environment. I conclude that the proposed SDGs would promote those obligations, but that the specific targets are often written in language that is neither concrete nor closely linked to existing human rights obligations. (The article analyzes the 2014 draft, but no relevant changes were made from that draft in the final form of the SDGs.)
The Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, has issued a report highly critical of the World Bank, which he states has “historically been averse to acknowledging and taking account of human rights,” and whose current approach to human rights is “incoherent, counterproductive and unsustainable.” He states: “For most purposes, the World Bank is currently a human rights-free zone,” and “In its operational policies, in particular, it treats human rights more like an infectious disease than universal values and obligations.” He will present his report to the UN General Assembly on October 23. The full text of the press release is available here.
The Special Rapporteurs on hazardous substances and on the right to food issued a joint call for a worldwide phase-out of highly hazardous pesticides, in connection with the fourth meeting of the International Conference on Chemicals Management (28 September to 2 October 2015). This is the last gathering of its kind before 2020, the year by which States pledged to achieve sound management of chemicals following the 2002 Earth Summit.
Baskut Tuncak, the Special Rapporteur on hazardous substances, pointed out that coordinated global action to reduce highly hazardous pesticide use has not materialized since the Earth Summit. “Risks are particularly grave in developing countries, many of which import these highly hazardous pesticides despite having inadequate systems to reduce risks,” he said.
The full text of the press release is available here.
On September 26-27, John Knox participated in a workshop on human rights, environment and climate change in Mandalay, Myanmar. The workshop was organized by the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, and was the second annual workshop on human rights and the environment. Knox emphasized the importance of integrating human rights observance into environmental policies, including climate policies. Other speakers included Matthew Baird, Nay Htun, Vitit Muntarbhorn, and Dinah Shelton.
In his annual report to the Human Rights Council, Baskut Tuncak, the UN Special Rapporteur on hazardous substance and waste called on governments and businesses to do more to provide public information about the adverse effects of hazardous substances. “Securing adequate information about hazardous substances remains an incessant global problem,” Mr. Tuncak stated. “Today, information is neither available nor accessible about the safety of tens of thousands of chemicals on the market, the potential sources of exposure to substances with known and unknown hazards, the amount of human exposure to hazardous substances, and the impacts of exposure to a large number of hazardous substances starting from conception.” His full report is available here.
North-West University in South Africa, Widener University in the United States, and I are organizing a symposium to be held in South Africa during the week of April 11, 2016, on constitutional and other rights-based approaches to the promotion of environmental protection. The symposium will examine good practices, provide a high-level platform for discussions among academics and practitioners, and propel the development of training materials to advance rights-based approaches to environmental governance. For more information, click here. To apply to participate, submit a one-page summary of your research on or before November 1, 2015, to Mr. Caiphas Soyapi at [email protected]
I have created a new account on Twitter, @SREnvironment, which I will use from time to time to post information about the UN mandate, and links to reports, articles, and judicial decisions regarding human rights and the environment that may be of interest! To follow the new account, you can click on the Twitter logo on the left.
The UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and hazardous substances and wastes, Baskut Tuncak, today issued a press release calling on the Government of China and relevant businesses to ensure complete transparency in the investigation of the chemical disaster in Tianjin, including both causes and effects of the explosion. He noted that the State has an obligation […]
Widener University Delaware Law School and the University of North Florida have collaborated to update the Enviro Rights Map, a Google Maps-based tool for locating global constitutional environmental rights. Enviro Rights Map now includes solidarity environmental rights, procedural environmental rights, and statements of public policy from national constitutions around the world.
The Global Network for the Study of Human Rights and the Environment (GNHRE) will host its annual symposium on Friday, October 16, 2015, at the University of Lincoln in the United Kingdom, and is inviting individuals to submit papers. Submissions should address “themes relevant to the nexus between human rights, environmental concerns and patterns of injustice in the 21st century globalised context—and should directly link to the theme of environmental racism.” More information about the symposium, including registration, is available here.
Under the tab “Research Materials” on the left, this website provides descriptions of and links to UN documents, regional decisions, and other research materials on the intersection between human rights and environmental protection. Under “other research,” the materials include detailed bibliographies of academic scholarship on human rights and the environment.
We have recently updated the Bibliography on International Human Rights and the Environment and the Bibliography on Environmental Rights in Domestic Law. We do not claim that these lists of sources are exhaustive! But they do provide a useful starting point for research in this area.
The Universal Rights Group issued a report entitled Human Rights, Climate Change and Cross-Border Displacement: The Role of the International Human Rights Community in Contributing to Effective and Just Solutions. The report focuses on how damage to the environment negatively impacts human rights, particularly the rights of individuals who are already in vulnerable situations. The report states that climate-change-induced disasters may cause many people to be displaced across international borders, and it presses the international community to take more concrete steps to place human rights concerns at the center of climate change discussions.
The Reporting Framework for the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights has announced an updated website, which provides easy access to key concepts, implementation guidance, and additional resources. The new website also allows users to explore the relationship between the UNGP Reporting Framework and other reporting initiatives, news, and analysis regarding human rights reporting.
The United Nations Working Group on business and human rights issued a press release today highlighting the importance of a corporate role in sustainable development, and calling for more transparency and accountability regarding corporations’ involvement in human rights risks.
On July 14, 2015, Special Rapporteur John Knox published a short essay for openDemocracy.net about the interdependence of human rights and environmental protection. The essay explains that individuals can only fully enjoy their human rights, including their rights to health and life, if they live in a healthy natural environment, and that the exercise of human rights, such as rights to information and participation, facilitates environmental protection.
Special Rapporteur John Knox attended an American Society of International Law workshop at Stanford Law School in May 2015. A July 1, 2015 report summarizes the key findings of the workshop, including ways that international environmental law can reduce disaster risk. The report emphasizes the importance of closing conceptual gaps between disaster law and environmental law.
Joni Pegram at UNICEF has published a blog post arguing that leaders involved in international climate talks did not focus enough on climate change’s role in eroding human rights, particularly the rights of children. She states, for example, that in addition to slowing economic growth and increasing poverty, climate change has been linked by Nobel Peace Laureate Kailash Satyarthi to child trafficking and slavery, because the loss of livelihoods and increased migration resulting from natural disasters and changing weather patterns leave children increasingly exposed to these dangers. She urges the United Kingdom and other countries to sign the Geneva Pledge for Human Rights in Climate Action.
A district court in the Hague has decided a suit brought by the Urgenda Foundation against the State of the Netherlands. On the basis of human rights norms as well as other laws, the court ordered the Dutch government to lower carbon emissions by 25% of 1990 levels by 2020, far beyond the commitment of the government to lower emissions 17% by that date. This decision is the first in the world to order the reduction of carbon emissions based on general principles of law, in the absence of a specific statutory mandate to do so.
The United Nations Working Group on business and human rights has issued a press release urging G7 leaders to act upon their stated commitment to implement the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. In particular, the Working Group encourages the leaders to act upon their promise to promote labor rights, acceptable working conditions, and environmental protection in supply chains.
On June 12, 2015, Leehi Yona wrote an article for rabble.ca entitled “At UN climate talks, Canada must acknowledge loss and damage,” which stated that Canada’s commitments to reducing the impacts of climate change fall short of what scientists suggest. The article quotes UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, John Knox, saying that “even moving from one to two degrees of warming negatively affects the full enjoyment of a wide range of human rights.”
On June 10, 2015, Megan Rowling wrote an article for Reuters that described poor countries’ push at the UN climate talks for a new global climate change deal that will address losses caused by rising seas and worsening weather. Poor countries have even suggested that wealthy polluting countries pay compensation for the impacts of that pollution felt around the globe. Ms. Rowling quoted UN Special Rapporteur for human rights and the environment, John Knox, as saying that a 2 degree temperature increase would result in “a grave effect on the enjoyment of a wide range of human rights, including rights to life and health.”
A recent Daily Tck article by Joshua Wiese described that climate negotiators have agreed to draft a new, working version of the Paris agreement. The article also highlighted the Special Rapporteur’s recent report on “the implications of a 2 °C temperature target versus more ambitious objectives for human rights.”
Together with 26 other UN special rapporteurs and independent experts, John Knox joined in a statement released today again drawing attention to the harm climate change poses to the enjoyment of human rights, and urging States to commit in the 2015 climate agreement to respect and protect human rights in their responses to climate change. For the full text of the statement, click here.
The 14th newsletter, released today, describes the current activities of the Special Rapporteur, as well as other events related to the mandate. Next week, the Rapporteur will be in Bonn at the climate talks there, then at Geneva for the annual meeting of the UN special mandate holders.
On May 21, 2015, five years after the BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion, John Knox and Manish Bapna wrote an op-ed for Thomson Reuters about the increased need for public access to environmental information, public participation in environmental decision-making, and enforcement of environmental laws. Access, participation, and justice, Knox and Bapna say, create the basis for environmental democracy and help ensure the protection of human rights. They describe the World Resources Institute’s recently released Environmental Democracy Index, which evaluates 70 countries’ environmental laws based on standards set by the UN Environmental Programme.
On May 20, Baskut Tuncak, the Special Rapporteur on hazardous substances and wastes, issued a statement urging the World Health Organization to play a more active role in preventing adverse health effects from pollution. He stated that only a “tiny fraction” of WHO’s proposed budget is for environmental health, even though environmental harm, including air and water pollution, cause approximately 13 million deaths per year and about one quarter of global burden of disease. Pollution is the leading cause of death in low- and middle-income countries and poor women and children who live and work in the world’s most polluted environments are most affected. Even worse, the UN Environment Programme predicts a sharp acceleration of pollution around the world in coming years.
On May 20, the World Resources Institute announced the launch of its new Environmental Democracy Index. In the words of WRI, “The index offers new insights into the state of environmental democracy around the world and opportunities to use the tool to support reform. EDI is the first index to measure how well countries’ national laws protect environmental democracy rights, namely: the right of the public to freely access relevant and timely information, to provide public input and scrutiny in decision-making, and to seek justice before an independent and fair legal authority in cases of environmental harm or violation of rights.” As followers of this website know, these three access rights have strong roots in human rights law. The index allows users to see whether and how those rights are reflected in domestic laws of countries around the world.
On May 4, Special Rapporteur John Knox was interviewed by UN radio on the effects of incremental increases in global temperature on the enjoyment of human rights. He described the report recently presented by the Climate Vulnerable Forum to the climate negotiators, which draws on the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and other UN special rapporteurs to explain how even a two-degree rise in temperature will adversely affect the full enjoyment of human rights.
On May 1, 2015, Laurie Goering of Reuters published an article stating that a group of scientists and experts, including John Knox, warned that a global climate temperature increase of 2 degrees Celsius will not prevent climate change’s worst impacts. The experts warned that weather-related disasters will increase in frequency, small Pacific island states may become uninhabitable, and individuals living in coastal cities will be displaced. Knox was quoted as saying, “Even moving from one to two degrees of warming negatively affects the full enjoyment of a wide range of human rights.”
On May 1, 2015, Triad Business Journal published a profile of John Knox and his career, including how he became a UN Special Rapporteur. In the article, Professor Knox also talked about how harm to the environment can interfere with human rights as well as the increasing importance of public access to environmental information.
On May 1, John Knox joined with other UN special rapporteurs to publish a report on the effects of a two degree increase in average global temperature on the enjoyment of human rights. The report explains how even a two degree rise in temperature will have grave effects on a wide array of human rights, […]
On April 22, Earth Day, Global Witness released its most recent report on the killings of environmental defenders. It found that at least 116 environmental activists were killed in 2014 – more than two a week. The report draws particular attention to Honduras, which has had 101 deaths between 2010 and 2014, making it “the most dangerous country per capita to be an environmental activist for the last five years.”
Because my title has changed from Independent Expert to Special Rapporteur, this website address has also changed, from ieenvironment.org to srenvironment.org. And my email address has changed as well, from [email protected] to [email protected] Searching for ienvironment.org should take you to srenvironment.org, but unfortunately the [email protected] email address will no longer work or forward emails after 1 May 2015.
The March 2015 report to the Human Rights Council gives an overview of more than 100 good practices in the use of human rights obligations relating to environmental protection. A detailed description of each practice, along with links to sites with more information about them, is available at the UN website for the mandate.
Every year, the Goldman Environmental Prize honors "grassroots environmental heroes" from the world’s six inhabited continental regions: Africa, Asia, Europe, Islands & Island Nations, North America, and South & Central America. This year, the Prize was awarded to Marilyn Baptiste of Canada, Berta Caceres of Honduras, Phyllis Omido of Kenya, Jean Wiener from Haiti, Howard Wood of Scotland, and Myint Zaw from Myanmar.
The April 2015 newsletter describes the most recent activities relating to the mandate, including the decision by the Human Rights Council to extend the mandate for three more years, and to change the name from “Independent Expert” to “Special Rapporteur.” Click on the link to read the 13th newsletter.
The report of the fourth meeting of the focal points appointed by the Governments of the signatory countries of the declaration on the application of Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development in Latin America and the Caribbean, which met 4-6 November 2014 in Santiago, is now available. This is the meeting at which the countries decided to pursue a regional agreement on the Principle 10 rights of access to information, participation, and remedy. To read the report, click here.
On March 30, a group of eminent legal scholars published the Oslo Principles, a set of norms requiring governments and enterprises to take actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The Independent Expert visited France from 20 to 24 October 2014. During the visit, he examined how the country was implementing human rights related to environmental protection, identified good practices and lessons learned, and considered the challenges the country faces in the implementation of environmentally related human rights. This report gives his findings and recommendations. It is available in English and in French.
On March 9, John Knox presented his report on good practices to the Human Rights Council. To read his statement to the Council, click here.
On March 9, the Independent Expert will present his annual report to the Human Rights Council. The report describes more than one hundred good practices of Governments, international organizations, civil society organizations, corporations and others in the use of human rights obligations relating to the environment.
The twelfth newsletter on the work of the Independent Expert is now available. The newsletter describes Professor Knox’s third annual report, which focuses on good practices in the use of human rights obligations relating to the environment. He will present the report to the Human Rights Council on Monday, March 9.
On February 10, 2015, GlobalVoices published an article that highlighted the disturbing trend of violence toward environmental activists worldwide. In the past decade, the article notes, 1,000 environmentalists in 35 countries have been murdered for their activism. UN Independent Expert on human rights and the environment, John Knox, was quoted as saying, “Many of those murdered were ‘accidental’ human rights defenders . . . They got involved because it was their own land, their own forests, their own water they were defending.” Knox went on to say that the contest between often marginalized activists and powerful economic interests is unfair and one-sided. He emphasized that the activists are not fighting a losing battle, but they need help and protection.
The third annual report of the Independent Expert describes good practices of Governments, international organizations, civil society organizations, corporations and others in the use of human rights obligations relating to the environment, including (a) procedural obligations to make environmental information public, to facilitate public participation in environmental decision-making, to protect rights of expression and association, and to provide access to legal remedies; (b) substantive obligations, including obligations relating to non-State actors; (c) obligations relating to transboundary harm; and (d) obligations relating to those in vulnerable situations. To access the report, click here.
GlobalWarmingisReal.com: “The Slaughter of Innocents: Our Complicity in the Murder of Environmentalists”
On January 8, 2015, Richard Matthews authored an article for GlobalWarmingisReal.com that focused on the violence faced by environmental activists worldwide. Mr. Matthews states that the activists face intimidation, often fatal violence, stigmatization, and criminalization. UN Independent Expert on human rights and the environment, John Knox, was quoted as saying, “The international community must do more to protect [the environmental activists] from the violence and harassment.”
On January 1, 2015, Marianne Lavelle authored an article for NewsReview.com entitled “World’s Eco Focus Shifts: Recent UN talks highlight need to include human impacts of green projects.” The article described the recent UN climate talks in Lima where nations considered the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation effort and the way in which environmental harm impacts indigenous rights. The article stated that UN Independent Expert on human rights and the environment, John Knox, called for strong human rights language in the climate treaty. He was quoted as saying, “A human rights framework would help to make clear that governments don’t leave behind their human rights obligations when they walk through the doors of the climate negotiations.”
UN Experts Appeal for International Help to Investigate Enforced Disappearance of Human Rights Defender
On December 23, a group of special rapporteurs called for international support to investigate the enforced disappearance of a human rights defender, Sombath Somphone, in Laos two years ago. (more…)
The UN Special Procedure Mandate Holders issued a joint statement on climate change on Human Rights Day, December 10th, which urges States to integrate human rights in the climate negotiations aimed at adopting a new climate agreement in Paris in December 2015. (more…)
On December 10, 2014, Megan Rowling authored an article for Reuters.com that described how civil society groups are urging UN ministers to to include language on human rights in a new global climate deal. The article quoted UN expert on human rights and the environment, John Knox, as saying that climate change already interferes “with an immense range of human rights, from housing in the Maldives, to water in Tuvalu to food in the Sahel region of Africa, and . . . the problems of course will only get worse.” While the deal’s draft includes some language about human rights, civil society groups call for stronger language that will force governments to consider human rights when implementing all of their climate-change-related actions.
On December 1, 2014, Marianne Lavelle authored an article on the UN climate talks that will begin in Lima today. Ms. Lavelle notes that nations will weigh safeguards encouraged by the UN Clean Development Mechanism, and they will consider the UN Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation effort. John Knox, UN Independent Expert on human rights and the environment, was quoted as saying, “A human rights framework would help to make clear that governments don’t leave behind their human rights obligations when they walk through the doors of the climate negotiations.”
On December 1, 2014, Marianne Lavelle authored an article for Scientific American that stated that the UN climate talks in Peru will focus on climate change’s link to social justice and human rights, a major achievement and step forward for the environmental movement. The article stated that John Knox, UN Independent Expert on human rights and the environment, is optimistic that focusing on human rights’ relationship to the environment will encourage more productive climate negotiations. The article quotes Knox as saying, “As countries bring human rights to bear on climate change, they will find they have more in common than they think . . . There’s no magic wand. These are difficult talks . . . But I do hope human rights will help provide an additional sense of urgency and will make sure that the efforts themselves don’t create new problems for vulnerable communities.”
Earlier this year, the Independent Expert on human rights and the environment, the UN Environment Programme, and the Legal Resources Centre of South Africa held an expert consultation in Johannesburg, focusing on experiences with environmental rights contained in national constitutions. The report on the consultation, which includes descriptions of specific good practices identified by the experts, is available here.
Latin American and Caribbean countries launch negotiation of a regional agreement on access to information, participation and justice
On November 6, representatives from 19 Latin American and Caribbean countries decided to launch a regional agreement to implement Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration, which promotes access to information, participation and justice in environmental matters.
The new UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and toxics, Baskut Tuncak, urged Governments around the world to expedite the ratification process of the Minamata Convention on Mercury, a global treaty to protect human health and the environment from its adverse effects.
UN Independent Expert John Knox visited France from 20 to 24 October 2014. At the end of his visit he shared his preliminary findings and conclusions, and discussed the relationship between climate change and human rights.
New Climate Change Agreement Must Include Human Rights Protections – Special Procedures Mandate-Holders Open Letter
An Open Letter from Special Procedures mandate-holders of the Human Rights Council calls on State Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to ensure full coherence between their human rights obligations and their efforts to address climate change. (more…)
Special Rapporteur on adequate housing and Special Rapporteur on right to safe drinking water and sanitation visit Detroit, MI
The Special Rapporteur on adequate housing and the Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation visited Detroit from 18 to 20 October 2014 to learn about the impact of water disconnections on the living conditions of locals and on their human rights to water, sanitation and housing. (more…)
Independent Expert John Knox will make an official visit to France on 20-24 October 2014 to evaluate how the country is implementing human rights relating to environmental protection and to identify good practices. (more…)
Although these posts are usually limited to events closely related to the UN mandate, I wanted to take a moment to recognize my brother, Andrew Knox, who has worked to make his house in Washington the first one, to my knowledge, that has zero net carbon emissions! For a description of how he did it, please click on the link: http://energyblog.nationalgeographic.com/2014/10/09/the-one-two-punch-for-net-zero-in-dc-home-power-and-carbon-neutral/
On September 25, 2014, Kate Galbraith authored an article for Foreignpolicy.com entitled “Environmentalism is Dead: How America abandoned its role as leader of the fight to save the planet–and killed a movement.” Ms. Galbraith states that environmental agreement numbers spiked in the 1990s and dropped off in the 21st century. She notes that UN Independent Expert on human rights and the environment, John Knox, stated that the 1992 Earth Summit marked a high point for international environmental action. In comparison, Knox said, “It’s . . .hard to see how even something as obviously in the U.S. self-interest as the Montreal Protocol could get through” the U.S. Senate today. Knox did say that countries have made efforts toward plugging the ozone hole, minimizing nuclear testing, and combating pollutants like mercury.
IBA Releases Comprehensive Report: “Achieving Justice and Human Rights in an Era of Climate Disruption”
The International Bar Association has released a comprehensive report entitled “Achieving Justice and Human Rights in an Era of Climate Disruption.”
On September 9, 2014, a Natural Justice article entitled “International Conference Held on Role of Human Rights in Global Issues” discussed The UNITAR/Yale third Conference on Environmental Governance and Democracy. The conference’s goal was to develop action plans and recommendations for policy makers relating to human rights, environmental sustainability, the post-2015 development agenda, and the future climate regime. The article notes that John Knox gave a keynote speech stating that regional agreements since 1970 have adopted a right to a healthy environment and that 90 countries currently provide for a constitutional right to a healthy environment. Knox stated that a human-rights-based approach to tackling environmental issues makes environmental information available to the public and allows the public to participate in decision making.
On August 28, 2014, Shauna Theel authored an article for Media Matters entitled “Conservative Media’s ‘Off-the-Rails’ Claim About a Climate Deal and the Constitution.” The article focuses on the suggestion in some media sources that President Obama is attempting to create an unconstitutional climate deal. Media Matters asked UN Independent Expert on human rights and the environment, John Knox, about the constitutionality of the agreement. Knox stated, “No, it isn’t unconstitutional for the president to negotiate political commitments – presidents have done it countless times in the past . . . These political accords aren’t legally binding.”
The Independent Expert issued a new mapping report on human rights and climate change, which presents all climate change specific references from his other mapping reports in a concise, easily navigable format. (more…)
The third UNITAR/Yale Conference on Environmental Governance and Democracy will be held on Sept. 5-7, with a focus on Human Rights, Environmental Sustainability, Post-2015 Development, and the Future Climate Regime. The conference will bring together more than 150 scholars and policy experts, and cover more than 100 papers by researchers and practitioners from 40 different countries. For those interested in attending, the deadline for registration is 14 August 2014. More information is available at http://www.unitar.org/egp/3rd-unitar-yale-conference-environmental-governance-and-democracy.
Together with OHCHR and UNEP, the Independent Expert convened a regional expert meeting in May to discuss the relationship between human rights obligations and environmental protection, with a focus on environmental human rights defenders (EHRDs) in Asia and the Pacific.
The eighth newsletter on the work of the Independent Expert is now available. It describes the recent activities of the Independent Expert, including identifying best practices relating to the use of human rights obligations to strengthen environmental policy making.
The Access Initiative (TAI) and the World Resources Institute have announced a new metric for environmental rights, which they will launch later this year. According to TAI, “The Environmental Democracy Index (EDI) will be the first comprehensive index designed specifically to measure procedural rights in an environmental context.”
Mary Robinson of Ireland has been appointed as the Special Envoy for Climate Change by the Secretary General of the United Nations. The appointment was made prior to the 2014 Climate Summit hosted by the Secretary General in New York on 23 September 2014. (more…)
A recent article in Ensia draws further attention to the increasing violence against environmental human rights defenders. The article, entitled “Dying to Save the World,” highlights the struggles activists face while defending the environment, and raises awareness about the rise in documented murders of local environmental activists across the globe.
While at Vermont Law School this summer as its international environmental scholar in residence, John Knox presented an overview of his work for the mandate so far. A video of his lecture is available here.
On June 23, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on human rights and climate change. Among other things, the resolution requests that Human Rights Council mandate holders give special consideration to human rights and climate change within the context of their individual mandates.
The United Nations Independent Expert on human rights and the environment, John Knox, encourages States to fulfill their human rights obligations relating to environmental protection. On World Environment Day, Mr. Knox also urges governments worldwide to protect those who defend the environment necessary for our enjoyment of human rights. (more…)
Global Witness has published a highly important report on the threats faced by environmental human rights defenders – those who peacefully advocate for the protection of human rights to the environment and land. The non-profit organization found 908 documented murders of environmental and land defenders from 2002 through 2013, an average of one every week.
The Independent Expert visited Costa Rica from 28 July to 1 August 2013. During the visit, Professor Knox looked at how Costa Rica was implementing human rights related to the environment, identified good practices, and examined the challenges related to human rights and the environment. Read the full report here.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has released a new report that provides a comprehensive, detailed compendium of materials and cases on human rights and the environment. (more…)
On March 11, the Independent Expert spoke at a Side Event on Human Rights and Transnational Corporations in Geneva. He addressed human rights abuses and environmental harm caused by transnational corporations, and the relevant international legal framework.
Read the entire statement here: Transnational Corporations and Environmental Harm Side Event
On March 11, the Independent Expert on Human Rights and the Environment, John Knox, made a statement to the Human Rights Council presenting his mapping report and the report on his visit to Costa Rica, and also described his plans for the upcoming year of the mandate.
Read the entire statement here: Human Rights Obligations to Protect the Environment.
On March 11, the Independent Expert will present his annual report to the Human Rights Council. The report maps human rights obligations relating to the environment, on the basis of an extensive review of global and regional sources. The Independent Expert describes procedural obligations of States to assess environmental impacts on human rights and to make environmental information public, to facilitate participation in environmental decision-making, and to provide access to remedies for environmental harm. He describes States’ substantive obligations to adopt legal and institutional frameworks that protect against environmental harm that interferes with the enjoyment of human rights, including harm caused by private actors. Finally, he outlines obligations relating to the protection of members of groups in vulnerable situations, including women, children and indigenous peoples.
Over the last year, the Independent Expert has overseen a research project to map the human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. The conclusions of the project are presented in the report to the Human Rights Council presented on 10 March 2014. The details of the research are contained in a series of 14 reports, each of which describes the relevant statements of a particular source or set of sources, including UN human rights treaty bodies, other UN bodies and mechanisms such as the Human Rights Council and its special rapporteurs, regional human rights systems, and international environmental instruments. To see those reports, click on the link.
Yale University, together with UNITAR and other partners, is holding a conference September 5-7 on the relationship of human rights and environmental sustainability. The Call for Abstracts is at the link. Note that the deadline for abstracts is April 1!
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