Header image for news printout

For World Environment Day – Thursday 5 June 2014 UN rights expert urges States to fulfil human rights obligations related to environmental protection

GENEVA (5 June 2014) – On World Environment Day, UN Independent Expert on human rights and the environment John Knox calls on States to fulfil their human rights obligations related to environmental protection. He also urges States to protect civil society activists working on environmental issues, to ensure the enjoyment of human rights for all.

“Environmental degradation, including harm from climate change, desertification, air and water pollution, and exposure to toxic substances, impairs the enjoyment of a vast range of human rights, including the right to life, to health and to an adequate standard of living.

Human rights law clearly imposes obligations on States that are relevant to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. This was recognized by States at the UN Human Rights Council, in the March 2014 resolution on human rights and the environment.

States should assess the impact of environmental projects on human rights, make environmental information public, enable participation in environmental related decision-making processes, and provide access to effective remedies for environmental harm.

States should also adopt legal and institutional frameworks to protect against such harm. In particular, they have a duty to protect their people against human rights abuses committed by private actors, including private companies.

Given the non-discrimination principle in human rights law, additional measures should be taken to protect and promote the rights of individuals and groups particularly vulnerable to environmental harm, including women, children and indigenous peoples.

As States implement their human rights obligations relating to the environment, they should pay particular attention to the threats against environmental human rights defenders – those who strive to protect the environment for the benefit of us all. 

Civil society activists working on environmental issues are increasingly at risk. A recent study by Global Witness shows that, on average, two environmental human rights defenders have been killed each week over the past four years. 

States should do their utmost to protect and promote the rights of environmental activists. Those who strive to protect our environment are entitled to exercise their rights to freedom of expression and association, without fearing for their life or physical integrity.

Environmental protection and human rights are interdependent. Without a healthy environment, the full enjoyment of human rights is impossible, and the exercise of human rights helps ensure a healthy environment.

Environmental defenders are at the front line of efforts to protect us all from the severe impact of environmental degradation on the enjoyment of human rights.  States must do more to protect environmental human rights defenders from threats, and to promptly investigate threats and killings when they occur.”  


John Knox was appointed as the Independent Expert on human rights and the environment in July 2012 by the United Nations Human Rights Council. He is independent from any government or organization. Learn more, visit: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Environment/IEEnvironment/Pages/IEenvironmentIndex.aspx

For enquiries and media requests, please contact Soo-Young Hwang (+41 22 917 9325 shwang@ohchr.org) or write to ieenvironment@ohchr.org

UN Human Rights, follow us on social media:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/unitednationshumanrights
Twitter: http://twitter.com/UNrightswire
Google+ gplus.to/unitednationshumanrights   
Storify: http://storify.com/UNrightswire

Check the Universal Human Rights Index:  http://uhri.ohchr.org/en