… Human Rights

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Human Rights and the Environment

The Core International Human Rights Instruments and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), both show a concerning lack of focus on environmental issues. Where the environment is mentioned, it tends to be in passing, and not as an object of focus, such as this example from Article 29 (1) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child: “(e) The development of respect for the natural environment.”

The Foundation for GAIA and the Planetary Association for Clean Energy in 2010 were the catalyst in the creation that same year of the first NGO Committee on the Environment working with the UN. This Forum was made up of over 30 NGOs accredited with the United Nations Economic and Social Councul (ECOSOC). It was another two years before the Human Rights Council Resolution finally authorised the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to create a Special Procedures mandate dealing with environmental rights and related issues. It was only in 2012, twenty years after Rio, that such a mandate was finally created. Link

However, on specific issues, legislation has been developed dealing with environmental and human rights cases (for a thorough overview see Human Rights and Environment Issues in Multilateral Treaties Adopted between 1991 and 2001, Shelton, 2002), but the issue is not ‘mainstreamed’ across all Human Rights work in the way gender is, for example.

The challenge now is to ‘mainstream’ the environment into all Human Rights work (so any project or mission takes into consideration the environmental impact, or the environmental rights of local people), and to use existing legislation as a foundation upon which to build a working international understanding on environmental Human Rights.

The 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment declared that “man’s environment, the natural and the man-made, are essential to his well-being and to the enjoyment of basic Human  Rights–even the right to life itself”. Despite this important assertion however, and the wide acceptance of the vitality and inalienability of Human Rights, insufficient thought has been given to the ways in which Human Rights interconnect with environmental issues.

For example, the assertion of Human Rights such as the right to food, the right to water, or the right to cultural property, will all have their impacts (positive or negative) on the environment. For the protection both of our environment and our Human Rights, it is crucial to understand more about the interrelation between them. Of note also The Amsterdam Declaration on Global Change which urges an ethical framework for global stewardship and strategies for Earth System management.

However, 2009 marked a momentous step forward when at the UN General Assembly, under the Presidency of H.E. M. d’Escoto Brockmann, Resolution 63/278 designated April 22  “International Mother Earth Day” In his speech at the UN that same day President Morales of the Plurinational State of Bolivia called (webcast)  for a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth while H.E. Pablo Solón  presented the Draft Resolution.

UN document A/C.2?64/L.24** also Invites Member States, the relevant organizations of the United Nations system, and international, regional and subregional organizations to transmit to the Secretary-General their views on the scope and content of a possible declaration of ethical principles and values for living in harmony with Mother Earth; Requests the Secretary-General to submit to it, at its sixty-fifth session, a report on the views and comments received in relation to the present resolution; Decides to include in the provisional agenda of its sixty-fifth session an item entitled “Harmony with Mother Earth” for consideration by the Second Committee.

A start on such a Universal Declaration of Mother Earth Rights was made on October 17, 2009 during the 7th ALBA-TCP Summitt. It became a reality when Bolivia passed the “Ley de Derechos de La Madre” (Law of the Mothe) . The Law of Mother Earth (“Ley de Derechos de La Madre Tierra”) holds the land as sacred and holds it as a living system with rights to be protected from exploitation, and creates 11 distinguished rights for the environment. It was passed by Bolivia’s Plurinational Legislative Assembly in October 2014. More

Human Rights

Some Historical Examples

Civil Society and Human Rights

Education as a Tool to Promote Human Rights

Implementing Human Rights Education

Human Rights Education and Training

Human Rights Instruments and Legislation

The United Nations and the UN Charter

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The United Nations Commission of Human Rights

The Human Rights Council

The European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Freedoms

The European Court of Human Rights

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

Environmental Human Rights

Human Rights Law

Environmental Law

International Environmental Law

International Law

Human Rights and Impact Assessments

Human Rights

‘Human Rights’ is a term individuals have heard often mentioned, but most people are still not aware of what they are, what they entail, how they can be promoted, where they can find information and how they can get protection through international legal frameworks which have been put in place over these last decades. But most importantly, there is not enough awareness about how Human Rights are applied in everyday live.

“We the Peoples of the United Nations…” the Charter of the United Nations was signed on June 26. 1945. The importance of this was that, as a charter, this was the first global treaty stating what the rights of the people of this world were, irrespective of race or creed. It was not limited to a group of people who was given special privileges, or a region exempt from certain duties. This Charter is addressed to the peoples of all nations. It is a constituent treaty with all member states bound by its articles. Furthermore, the Charter states that obligations to the United Nations prevail over all other treaty obligations.[1] Most countries in the world have now ratified the Charter, though one notable exception is the Vatican who has chosen to remain a permanent observer state and therefore is not a full signatory to the Charter.

This was followed in 1948 with the UN Declaration of Human Rights, with article 1 stating: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

However, citizen have claimed their rights throughout history and most of the time they were either imprisoned or had to pay with their lives for claiming more freedoms. The 20th Century brought change.

Some Historical Examples

The Magna Carta of 1215, also called the Charter of Liberties, was an early example of a written constitutional principle limiting the power of a King (King John of England). It is considered an influence leading to the rule of constitutional law, as a Charter is a constituent treaty, and all signatories are bound by it.

The 1320 Declaration of Arbroath was one of the first Declarations stating that the independence of the Scottish nation was the prerogative of the Scots people rather than the King’s. It is relevant to notice that common people were accorded this right and as such it can be considered a forerunner within the context of human rights.

However, the 1525 Twelve Articles of the Black Forest are considered to be the first record of human rights in Europe. They were part of the peasants’ demands raised towards the Swabian League in the Peasants’ War in Germany. Article 3 relates to the fact that we are born free as follows: It has been practice so far, that we have been held as villain, which is pitiful, given that Christ redeemed all of us with his precious bloodshed, the shepherd as well as the highest, no one excluded. Therefore, it is devised by the scripture, that we are and that we want to be free.

In article 10 it even mentions the ‘Global Commons’ that is being discussed in the 20th century as… Several have appropriated meadows and acres (community land that was at the disposition of all members), that belong to the municipality. Those we want back to our common hands.

The French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen was adopted in 1793. Influenced by the doctrine of natural rights, these rights are held to be universal and valid in all times and places. Article 1 states Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions may be founded only upon the general good while article 6 mentions “All the citizens, being equal in the eyes of the law, are equally admissible to all public dignities, places, and employments, according to their capacity and without distinction other than that of their virtues and of their talents”

IMG_2363  Civil Society and Human Rights

Civil society and human rights groups worldwide have contributed in the drafting of most human rights instruments. They have also worked to monitor human rights abuses and for all parties to be held accountable for all actions that directly or indirectly violate these rights. NGOs have also endeavoured for individuals and institutions to learn about human rights, and how these can be promoted and guaranteed.

Civil society and NGOs have to be credited in having contributed to the establishment of the European Court of Human Rights, the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court and the development of international law mechanisms.

Education as a Tool to promote Human Rights

Education is not only a Human Right in itself, but can be (and is) used as a tool to promote people’s awareness of their Human Rights and how to protect them

‘Human Rights’ is a term individuals have heard often mentioned, but most people are still not aware of what they are, what they entail, how they can be promoted, never mind where they can find information and how they can get protection through the international legal framework. But most importantly, there is not enough awareness about how Human Rights are applied in everyday live.

Many communities who are the most affected by poverty are also the ones that are least informed about their Human Rights.

Human Rights education enhances knowledge about what Human Rights are and the mechanisms for their protection. However, people should also learn about Human Rights by seeing Human Rights standards implemented in practice, whether at home, in school, within the community or the workplace. Human Rights education should be a comprehensive, life-long process that starts with the reflection of Human Rights values in the daily life and experience of children, as well as part of the aim of education

IHuman Rights education is especially relevant to children living in situations of conflict and emergency that programmes be conducted in ways that promote mutual understanding, peace and tolerance, and that prevent violence and conflict.

Any educational options need to include also adult classes on Human Rights education. This is especially important for minorities and those living in remote areas, e.g. nomadic pastoralists, to learn to place themselves in a bigger context, to understand their needs, articulate these and claim their rights.

Implementing Human Rights Education

The final document agreed to at the World Conference on Human Rights (Vienna, 1993) was endorsed through resolution 48/121 by the UN General Assembly and in its resolution 49/184 the decade 1995-2004 was proclaimed the Decade for Human Rights

Much work has gone into promoting Human Rights and Human Rights education, and the training of school teachers is a first requirement in order for promoting Human Rights and Human Rights education to be implemented into school curricula.

Some examples: Amnesty in the UK is offering such a course (August 2006) targeted at primary school teachers and principals. Recommendations for Teacher Training are also put forward by the University of Minnesota

Education about international humanitarian law in secondary school also constitutes an important, but all too often neglected, dimension, but again, teachers need to be trained first.

Human Rights Education and Training

Human rights can only be achieved through an informed and continued demand by people for their protection. Human rights education promotes values, beliefs and attitudes that encourage all individuals to uphold their own rights and those of others. It develops an understanding of everyone’s common responsibility to make human rights a reality in each community.

Human rights education constitutes an essential contribution to the long-term prevention of human rights abuses and represents an important investment in the endeavour to achieve a just society in which all human rights of all persons are valued and respected.

This is an area that the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is giving much attention to with much material , a resource index collection.htm and an extensive database is being compiled to this end.

Human Rights Instruments and Legislation

The United Nations and the UN Charter

In the turbulent times of the first half of the twentieth century the League of Nations was founded in 1919 and then replaced by the United Nations in 1945. The UN Charter was signed in 1945 and it is interesting to note that a number of NGOs were invited to assist governments in drafting it. The United Nations is one of the first truly international organisations and describes itself as “a global association of governments facilitating co-operation in international law, international security, economic development and social equity.”

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

After the war many in the UN felt that the UN Charter did not sufficiently clarify nor protect the rights and that a Declaration was required to clarify what each right entailed. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948 and it is the first international declaration that mentions specifically and intentionally the term “human rights”. Being a Declaration of objectives to be followed by governments, it is not legally binding and there were no signatories, though it is stated in Article 30:
Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.

It is worth mentioning that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights holds the Guinness World Record for being the most translated and disseminated document in the world. Being available in more than 300 languages makes it truly the world’s most universal document. It is also one of those statements that most people universally feel is relevant to them, personally and on a collective level.

The United Nations Commission of Human Rights

The first two Functional Commissions set up within the UN structure were established in 1946 at the first meeting of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC): the Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) and the Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW).
The mandate of the UNCHR is to examine, monitor and publicly report on human rights situations in specific countries or territories (known as country mechanisms or mandates) as well as on major human rights violations worldwide (known as thematic mechanisms or mandates)

The Human Rights Council

In March 2006 the UN General Assembly voted in favour of creating a new human rights body, the Human Rights Council that has the status of a subsidiary body of the Assembly. However, the Resolution also states that “the Assembly shall review the status of the Council within 5 years

The European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Freedoms
The UN Declaration of Human Rights was not legally binding and was not deemed sufficiently enforceable by the Council of Europe who decided to draft the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Freedoms, also known as the European Convention on Human Rights .

This was adopted in 1950 and all Council of Europe member states have ratified this. Any new member states are expected to do the same.

The European Court of Human Rights

An amendment to the ECHR, ratified in 1997, established the European Court of Human Rights that was already instituted in 1998.

International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
This is an adopted multilateral treaty that came into force from 1976. It commits member states to grant economic, social and cultural rights to individuals.
Also:
It is especially relevant to children living in situations of conflict and emergency that programmes be conducted in ways that promote mutual understanding, peace and tolerance, and that prevent violence and conflict.

The final document agreed to at the World Conference on Human Rights (Vienna, 1993)
was endorsed, resolution 48/121 by the UN General Assembly and in its resolution 49/184
1995-2004 the Decade for Human Rights.

Environmental Human Rights

While the environment is the womb for human life and without it human life as we know it would perish, it will come as a surprise to many that when searching under the HR Issues within a UN agency such as the OHCHR there is no category relating to the environment.

Not only, but when studying (2006) the different Core International HR Instruments, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)
the environment might be mentioned once, an example being Article 29 (1) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child “(e) The development of respect for the natural environment.” Much work still remains to be done on this front.

Human Rights Law

With the establishment of Human Right Treaties that were legally binding and ratified, states were required to implement their HR obligations and apply international HR norms at the national level. The process of translating international HR standards into national laws, policies and practices has been a long and arduous process but one which today has created a body of laws, at both national and international level, that has at its core human rights.
The UN OHCHR is at the disposal of member states to help them in this process and publications in many languages are available.
Human Right is a relatively new concept, with Treaties at national, regional and international levels. In order to bring some unification and harmonisation to Treaty Bodies and Monitoring Procedures, the Secretariat of the OHCHR has recently prepared a Concept Paper with Proposals.

Environmental Law: coming soon

International Environmental Law : coming soon

International Law: coming soon

End note
The list of links is by no means exhaustive and there are a number of other UN Human Rights Bodies, these links http://www.ohchr.org/english/bodies/ are easily accessed. Unfortunately, the people most at risk are those without any help to outside sources and it is in these circumstances that the work of UN Agencies, NGOs and other organisations is so crucial. The UN OHCHR has a field presence on each continent  and where human rights abuses are being perpetuated the UN OHCHR can be invited by a country to do so. When not invited by a country where severe human rights abuses are taking place, the country can be deferred to the UN Security Council. To do this requires that these abuses be proved and catalogued.

This takes time, and people and organisations delegated to do this often dangerous work need to be protected. Again, the work of such international bodies ready to be counted as defenders of human rights such as Amnesty International , the International Federation of the Red Cross, Red Crescent and Red Crystal, Medecines Sans Frontieres, Reporters Sans Frontieres are available.

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