UN Human Rights Council (and its predecessor the Human Rights Commission)

In addition to specific human rights treaties, United Nations organs concerned with human rights have taken up the links between human rights, health and environmental protection. And so have the UN Human Rights Council and its predecessor the Human Rights Commission.

The United Nations Human Rights Commission in 1991 adopted Resolution 1991/44, which recognises that "all individuals are entitled to live in an environment adequate for their health and well-being." The Commission also has a Special Rapporteur on the adverse effects of the illicit movement and dumping of toxic and dangerous products and wastes on the enjoyment of human rights, whose mandate includes consideration of complaints. All of the reported cases involve harm to human health as a result of the trans-boundary movement of hazardous materials, nearly always in violation of national and international environmental law. In 1998 the Bureau of the Commission recommended that the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights be converted to a mandate on human rights and the environment[1].
A similar recommendation was made in February 2000 by the Commission's intersession open-ended Working Group on Enhancing the Effectiveness of the Mechanisms of the Commission on Human Rights[2].

The issue of converting the Special Rapporteur's mandate reflects the growing understanding that the full enjoyment of human rights requires addressing a broad range of environmental problems - including but not limited to problems related to toxic wastes - because such problems implicate a host of fundamental human rights.

In its resolutions on this topic, the UN Commission on Human Rights now consistently recognises that such environmental violations also "constitute a serious threat to the human rights to life, good health and a sound environment for everyone." (Commission on Human Rights, Resolutions 1999/23 and 2000/72).

In this context, the Commission also increasingly refers to cooperation between the human rights bodies and those concerned with environmental protection, supporting the development of issue-specific cooperative action among UN bodies with a wide range of mandates.
The Commission has also specifically linked the issue of the right to food with sound environmental policies and noted that problems related to food shortages can generate additional pressures upon the environment in ecologically fragile areas (Resolution 2001/25, The right to food)[3].

Other resolutions of the Commission similarly link human rights and environmental protection, sometimes referring explicitly to the right to a safe and healthy environment: In Resolution 2001/65, entitled "Promotion of the Right to a Democratic and Equitable International Order", the Commission affirmed that "a democratic and equitable international order requires, inter alia, the realisation of...the right to a healthy environment for everyone..." The Sub-Commission on Human Rights also has pressed the issue of the right to drinking water and sanitation, recommending that the Human Rights Commission authorise it to conduct a detailed study on the relationship between the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights and the promotion of the realisation of the right to drinking water supply and sanitation.

In 2005, the Commission linked human rights and environmental protection in two resolutions, sometimes explicitly referring to the right to a safe and healthy environment. In Resolution 2005/57 (Promotion of a democratic and equitable international order)[4] the Commission affirmed that democratic and equitable international order requires, inter alia, the realisation of the right of every person and all peoples to a healthy environment.

Resolution 2005/60 on human rights and the environment as part of sustainable development[5] again recognised that environmental damage, including that caused by natural circumstances or disasters, can have potentially negative effects on the enjoyment of human rights and on a healthy life and a healthy environment (preamble). It calls upon States to take all necessary measures to protect the legitimate exercise of everyone's human rights when promoting environmental protection and sustainable development.

And as of late March 2008, Climate change is officially a human rights issue. As the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution on the subject (7/23) on 28 March 2008, recognising that the world's poor are particularly vulnerable to climate change.

[1] UN Doc. E/CN.4/1999/104, paragraph 20(b).[2] UN Doc. E/CN.4/2000/112 (2000).[3] UN Doc. E/CN.4/RES/2001/25 of 20 April 2001.[4] UN Doc. E/CN.4/2005/L.73.[5] UN Doc. E/CN.4/2005/L.79.

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