History of Human Rights and The Environment

International concerns with human rights, health and environmental protection have expanded considerably in the past several decades. There are many non rights-based regulatory approaches to achieving environmental protection and public health. Economic incentives and disincentives, criminal law, and private liability regimes have all formed part of the framework of international and national environmental law and health law.

These regulations place emphasis on responsibilities rather than rights, which is consistent with human rights instruments that affirm the duties of each individual to others to promote and observe internationally guaranteed human rights.

The international community has created a vast array of international legal instruments, specialised organs, and agencies at both the global and regional levels to respond to identified problems in each of the three areas. Often these have seemed to develop in isolation from one another. For instance, the Right to Health ("Everyone has the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health") has been recognised for long and was codified in the International Covenant on Economical Social and Cultural Rights[1] (ICESCR) in 1966. The development of this right (for instance through "Special Comments" by the UN ICESCR Committee) has also emphasised he links between health and environment. Yet the links between human rights, health and environmental protection were apparent at least as early as the first international conference on the human environment, held in Stockholm in 1972. Indeed, health has seemed to be the subject that bridges the two fields of environmental protection and human rights.

At the Stockholm concluding session, the participants proclaimed that: "Man is both creature and moulder of his environment, which gives him physical sustenance and affords him the opportunity for intellectual, moral, social and spiritual growth. Both aspects of 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."

The Stockholm Declaration established a foundation for linking human rights, health and environmental protection, declaring that: "Man has the fundamental right to freedom, equality and adequate conditions of life, in an environment of a quality that permits a life of dignity and well-being."In the almost thirty five years since the Stockholm Conference, the links that were established by these first declaratory statements have been reformulated and elaborated in various ways in international legal instruments and the decisions of human rights bodies. For the greater part, these instruments and decisions involve taking a rights-based approach to the topics, albeit with different emphases.

[1]International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, (16 Dec. 1966), 993 U.N.T.S.

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