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Reference on the right to environment

Graphic: Fishing boat on river in Myanmar

At the 11th Annual Meeting (2006), the Forum Council requested the Advisory Council of Jurists (ACJ) to consider a reference on the human rights dimension to the right to environment.

The ACJ considered eight key questions on the issue, analysing existing international laws, standards and principles. The report also drew on the responses to a questionnaire provided by APF member institutions

In its Final Report, the ACJ argued that many fundamental human rights – such as the right to life and health – require a healthy and sustainable environment if they are to be fully realised.

However, while environmental safeguards are increasingly part of international and national laws, they are often insufficient to provide comprehensive environmental protection, or to ensure the full enjoyment of the fundamental rights mentioned above.

The report makes a number of recommendations to guide the work of national human rights institutions (NHRIs) in the Asia Pacific region.

The key recommendation is that NHRIs advocate for the adoption and implementation of a specific right to an environment, which is conducive to the realisation of fundamental human rights. This right should:

  • Recognise the responsibility of the state, as well as individuals, communities and 'non-state actors', such as trans-national corporations, to protect the environment and to remedy damage to it
  • Include a range of procedural rights, such as the right to access information, to participate in decision-making and to seek remedies if they suffer harm as a result of a degraded environment
  • Provide specific protection for environmentally displaced or affected persons.

The ACJ recommended that NHRIs encourage their governments to review existing laws and policies to recognise and guarantee a right to a healthy environment as a human right.

NHRIs were also urged to encourage their national governments to consider establishing 'green benches' – environment-specific courts, tribunals or judicial panels – and to strengthen their capacity in national disaster preparedness, response and relief measures, including measures to accommodate displaced persons in a culturally appropriate manner.

Other key recommendations included:

  • Ensuring Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) are undertaken on environmentally sensitive projects and that EIAs comprehensively assess the broader social and human rights impacts
  • Informing the corporate and financial sector about emerging international standards on corporate responsibility, responsible investment and environmental protection
  • Raising community awareness about climate change and environmental obligations with a broad range of stakeholders, including government, the legal profession, schools and universities and the general public
  • Collaborating with other NHRIs, their governments, NGOs or civil society groups to identify and develop projects to promote and protect human rights and the environment.

Image credits

  1. Fishing boat on river in Myanmar - APF/Benjamin Lee