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A brief from the UNE/University of Eastern Finland course on MEAs, Human and Environmental Rights 22-30 August 2018

There are various international human rights instruments the first being the 1948 UN Declaration on Human Rights whose main objective was to protect and promote justice and dignity for all human beings. It can be said that experiences of the world wars stimulated the interest of having a universal instrument to promote justice and protect human dignity. There were many acts of human rights abuses and degradation of human dignity prior to and during the world wars. Many other human rights instruments were adopted or developed to safeguard specific rights or specific vulnerable groups. These include the following instruments:

                                                                                                                                           Date          Monitoring body

ICERD International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination 21 Dec 1965 CERD
ICCPR International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 16 Dec 1966 CCPR
ICESCR International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 16 Dec 1966 CESCR
CEDAW Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women 18 Dec 1979 CEDAW
CAT Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment 10 Dec 1984 CAT
CRC Convention on the Rights of the Child 20 Nov 1989 CRC
ICMW International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families 18 Dec 1990 CMW
CPED International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance 20 Dec 2006 CED
CRPD Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 13 Dec 2006 CRPD
ICESCR – OP Optional Protocol to the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 10 Dec 2008 CESCR
ICCPR-OP1 Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 16 Dec 1966 CCPR
ICCPR-OP2 Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty 15 Dec 1989 CCPR
OP-CEDAW Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women 10 Dec 1999 CEDAW
OP-CRC-AC Optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict 25 May 2000 CRC
OP-CRC-SC Optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography 25 May 2000 CRC
OP-CRC-IC Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on a communications procedure 14 Apr 2014 CRC
OP-CAT Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment 18 Dec 2002 SPT
OP-CRPD Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 12 Dec 2006

However, there it was later realized there is a strong disconnect between Human Right and Multilateral Environment Agreements though the two are closely interlinked and intertwined. In other words there is a strong relationship between human and environmental rights. Some or majority of human rights depend on the state of the environment. For example access to safe water depend on the state of the ecosystem and so is access to other human rights such as adequate, nutritious and safe food, access to energy, access to decent and green jobs, etc.

There are several vivid examples around the world and famous cases in Africa include those involving Shell in Ogoniland and the Abidjan incident in which a foreign vessel deliberately dumped toxic waste in Cote d Ivoire.

In an attempt to narrow the gap between human and environmental rights instrument he UN appointed a rapporteur in 2012 (Mr. John Knox) to explore linkages. He and his team developed a framework which identified 2 principles: Principles 1 required states to ensure clean, healthy and sustainable environment in order to respect, protect and fulfill human rights. Principle 2 requested states to respect, protect and fulfill human rights in order to ensure a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment.

In this framework states were assigned obligations that are expected to respect, protect and fulfill human rights including obligations to carry out the assessment of environmental and human rights impact, assuring public access to environmental information, public participation in decision making, access to effective remedies, education and public awareness, prohibition of discrimination, etc.

The UN Environment (UNE) on its part has embarked on an Environmental Rights Initiative that constitute 3 dimensions: Environment as a prerequisite for enjoying human rights, procedural rights as essential for good environment decision-making and the right to safe, healthy and ecologically balanced environment as a human right in itself.

Some regional groups have adopted Human Rights instruments that have been used to address cases related to environmental rights while others have developed human rights instruments that cover issues of environmental rights. For example courts in Europe have made use of the European Convention on Human Rights (1950) to make rulings that have taken note of environmental rights. In Africa courts have used the African Charter on Human Rights (1991) particularly Article24 to address cases related to environmental rights. The Latin America and Caribbean ESCAZU Agreement is one of the regional instruments that cover both human and environmental rights in its provisions.

There are also some national constitutions that have included environmental rights in addition to human rights but there number in Africa is small.

Examples of challenges encountered by people and activists

  1. Forced removal from ancestral lands without compensation
  2. Murder of environmental defenders
  3. Pollution of water, air and soil
  4. Denial of access to resources, spiritual laces, etc
  5. Stealing and plundering of resources
  6. Lack of remedies
  7. Exclusion in decision making

Some possible solutions

  • There is a need of building the capacity of activists on Human Rights Impact Assessment (HRIA)
  • There is a need to reformulate existing EIAs and/or ESIA in order to mainstream environmental rights
  • All investments local and foreign should be subjected to HRIA

Joensuu University, Finland

Dr. Yahya Msangi

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