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Human Rights Council begins its annual full-day meeting on the rights of the child with a panel discussion on setting the scene for a healthy environment as a child rights concern

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1 Июль 2020

1 July 2020

Continues Interactive Dialogue on the Annual Report of the High Commissioner and her Oral Update on the Human Rights Implications of the COVID-19 Pandemic

 

The Human Rights Council this morning started its annual full-day meeting on the rights of the child with a panel discussion entitled “A healthy environment as a child rights concern : setting the scene”.  It also continued its interactive dialogue on the annual report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and her oral update on the human rights implications of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Opening the panel discussion on a healthy environment as a child rights concern, Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, noted that now was a key opportunity to discuss the rights of the child in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic as 93 per cent of children currently lived in environments where air pollution exceeded World Health Organization guidelines, making them more susceptible to air-borne infections such as COVID-19. 

Walter Stevens, Head of the European Union Delegation to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said the international community needed to come together to address the acute need to ensure that the rights of the child were a primary concern in responses to the multiple ecological crises.  The Committee on the Rights of the Child had underlined that this implied undertaking child rights- impacts assessments.  For the European Union, it also implied making sure that the voice of children was heard and taken into consideration in all decision-making processes that affected them. 
Clarence Nelson, Member of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, speaking via video conference from Samoa, said children’s right to a healthy environment underpinned all other rights enshrined in the Convention : without it, there was no setting within which the Convention rights could operate.  There was no right to education if schools were destroyed by water nor any child justice if courts were under water. 

Maria Neira, Director of Environment, Climate Change and Health at the World Health Organization, said one in four children in the world were dying because they were exposed to environmental factors, whether at home or elsewhere.  The intelligence and cognitive development of all children was being put at risk, even in utero before a child took its first breath. 

Junior, a child environmental human rights defender from Côte d’Ivoire, speaking via video message, said 84 per cent of the children his group had consulted said that companies polluted the environment through their activities.  Every day, they released smoke and wastewater into the immediate environment of the population.  If nothing was done to protect the environment, then all efforts to realize children’s rights would be burned by the sun and drowned by the rain.

In the discussion, speakers said that a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment was the basis for human existence.  States needed to address the human rights violations against the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the most widely ratified convention.  In order to protect the environment, environmental and human rights defenders must also be protected, and the environmental footprint of humans must be minimised.  It was also important to teach children the values of dialogue, solidarity, democracy and citizenship.

Taking the floor during the interactive discussion were Estonia on behalf of Nordic and Baltic countries, Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, European Union, Burkina Faso on behalf of the Group of African States, Bahamas on behalf of the Caribbean Community, Slovenia on behalf of a group of countries, Ecuador, Qatar, Angola, China, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Russian Federation, Pakistan, Senegal, Armenia, Tunisia, Venezuela, India, Namibia, Syria, Iran, Spain (video message) and the Philippines.

The following civil society organisations also took the floor : Child Rights Connect, Make Mothers Matter, International Planned Parenthood Federation, the International Youth and Student Movement for the United Nations and Institut pour le droit et le développement.
The Council then continued its interactive dialogue on the annual report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  The Committee started the interactive dialogue in the previous meeting and a summary can be found here.

Speakers said they were concerned about violations and breaches of freedom of expression both online and offline.  It was paramount to respect the rights and work of journalists and media.  It was problematic that States were using the pandemic as an excuse to restrict consular access to places of detention.

Speaking during the interactive dialogue were Qatar, Canada, Germany, Belgium, Cuba, China, Russian Federation, Malaysia, Finland, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Paraguay, Thailand, Sierra Leone, Sweden, Libya, Japan, Afghanistan, Venezuela (video message), Saudi Arabia, India, France, Pakistan, Montenegro, Senegal, Ecuador, Estonia, Philippines (video message), Latvia, Tunisia, Namibia, Syria, Australia, Portugal, Spain and Chile. 

The Council will next meet at 3 p.m. to continue the full-day discussion on the rights of the child, with a panel discussion on “Ensuring children’s rights through a healthy environment : a call to action”.  At 5 p.m., it will resume its interactive dialogue on the annual report of the High Commissioner and her update on the human rights implications of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Annual Full-day Meeting on the Rights of the Child

Panel Discussion on a Healthy Environment as a Child Rights Concern : Setting the Scene

Opening Remarks by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

MICHELLE BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, noted that now was a key opportunity to discuss realizing the rights of the child in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.  The survival, health, well-being and development of children depended on a safe environment.  Ninety-three per cent of children currently lived in environments where air pollution exceeded World Health Organization guidelines.  The organization estimated that every year 1.7 million children under the age of five died due to environmental factors.  Twelve million children in developing countries experienced permanent brain damage due to lead poisoning and 73 million children worldwide worked in hazardous conditions where they were regularly exposed to toxic substances that caused brain damage and disease.  Indigenous children and those from low-income and marginalized communities were among the most affected, a situation being compounded by COVID-19. 

The pandemic was a threat to well-being that resulted from environmental damage, and intersected with the environment, as air quality was a factor in infection rates.  The response to this must focus on the needs and rights of the people most affected, and must be internationally coordinated, evidence-based and child-centred.  A stable climate was key to a safe environment, while businesses also had the responsibility to protect the rights of the child.  Many children and young people had joined the struggle to protect the environment, and some of them would speak at the session today.  In conclusion, Ms. Bachelet emphasised that all must take the views of children into account so that no child was left behind. 

Statements by the Panellists

WALTER STEVENS, Head of the European Union Delegation to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said the international community needed to come together to address the acute need to ensure that the rights of children were a primary concern in responses to the multiple ecological crises.  The Green Deal was a comprehensive approach to transform the European Union into a resource-efficient economy where there were no net emissions of greenhouse gases in 2050 and where economic growth was decoupled from resource use.  The principles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child should continue to guide all when designing, implementing and enforcing laws, regulations, policies and programmes related to the environment and other interrelated areas such as public health, consumer safety, labour conditions etc.  The Committee on the Rights of the Child had underlined that this implied undertaking child rights-impact assessments.  For the European Union, it also implied making sure that the voice of children was heard and taken into consideration in all decision-making processes that affected them.  A safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment was necessary for children to be able to enjoy all their human rights.

CLARENCE NELSON, Member of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, speaking via video message from Samoa, recalled that he was from a region that was vulnerable to the effects of climate change and environmental degradation.  As Greta Thunberg had said, the world was facing a mass extinction.  The evidence was clear ; mankind must listen.  To safeguard the environment and hold States accountable, the Convention on the Rights of the Child was a starting point.  In particular, article 24 was relevant in that regard.  It notably stipulated that States should ensure that children could enjoy the highest standard of health, and that they had an obligation to promote international cooperation to that end.  Children’s right to a healthy environment underpinned all other rights enshrined in the Convention : without it, there was no setting within which the Convention rights could operate.  There was no right to education if schools were destroyed by water nor any child justice if courts were under water.  In conclusion, Mr. Nelson cited a recent extraordinary session of the Committee on the Rights of the Child held in Samoa, which had been described as a “stunning success,” and could represent a pathway to the future.

MARIA NEIRA, Director of Environment, Climate Change and Health, World Health Organization, stated that this panel was a good opportunity to address the concerns around the importance of environmental factors in the health of children.  One in four children in the world were dying because they were exposed to environmental factors, whether at home or elsewhere, and the lack of access to safe water or sanitation were key reasons for this statistic.  The exposure to lead because children were forced to participate in recycling of batteries and the exposure to toxic chemicals because child labour was used due to their small hands in the context of increasing electronic waste were also cited.  The intelligence and cognitive development of children was being put at risk, even in utero before a child took its first breath.  There was a need to look at these causes and environmental risk factors, making sure that children had access to clean energy, safe water and sanitation, healthcare, and that they were not exposed to toxic chemicals at school.  To tackle this, the World Health Organization had recently published a Manifesto for a Healthy and Green Recovery, giving six prescriptions : respect for nature, providing basic services such as water and electricity, investing in renewable and sustainable energy, paying attention to how cities were built, ensuring sustainable food systems and waste management, and the production of a sustainable, less polluted environment.

JUNIOR, Child environmental human rights defender from Côte d’Ivoire, speaking via video message, said he was 14 years old and belonged to the children's group of San Pedro.  In view of the difficulties they encountered in their communities, the children of San Pedro had decided to create a children's group, which had been able to conduct awareness raising on children's rights and the principles governing companies in the area of children's rights in the different neighbourhoods of the city of San Pedro, in three villages of the department of San Pedro, and also through radio broadcasts.  Eighty-four per cent of the children they had consulted had said that companies polluted the environment through their activities.  Every day, they released smoke and wastewater into the immediate environment of the population.  These discharges caused many diseases.  The results of the various activities of the group had enabled them to address recommendations to the authorities, such as developing green areas and playgrounds for children.  He wanted the authorities to take this environmental issue to heart because children suffered enormously from this problem.  If nothing was done to protect the environment, then all efforts to realize children’s rights would be burned by the sun and drowned by the rain.

Discussion

Speakers emphasised that a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment was the basis for human existence, and that decision makers today owed future generations to protect it.  States needed to address the human rights violations against the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the most widely ratified convention, especially as the Committee on the Rights of the Child had identified a sustainable environment as a key factor in children’s health.  In order to protect the environment, human rights and environmental defenders must also be protected, and the environmental footprint of humans must be minimised.  It was also important to teach children the values of dialogue, solidarity, democracy and citizenship.  Education and health were not the only relevant rights to this conversation - negative impacts on the environment cut across all aspects of children’s lives, therefore prevention must be a focus.  Speakers emphasised that more needed to be done in ensuring that children had access to justice in environmental matters, making remedies more child friendly.  It was noted that climate change caused increased environmental degradation through natural disasters.  Clear data confirmed the indisputable connection between the environment and human rights, and States must rely on existing international mechanisms to fulfil their commitments in this regard. 

The use of unsafe water contributed to communicable diseases such as cholera, and children were particularly vulnerable, especially in the context of the interplay between climate change driven environmental disruption and the COVID-19 pandemic.  The increased appearance of animal-to-human disease transmission was particularly worrying.  Working with the private sector was cited as an important method of mitigating the effects of environmental degradation.  Civil society speakers noted that at the time when the world was in a deep health crisis, attention must not be diverted from the environmental emergency that undermined children’s rights.  States must place children’s rights at the heart of environmental action, uphold their duty to prevent exposure of children to toxic pollution, and ensure a just and green recovery from COVID-19.  Parents were in the best position to mitigate risks faced by children, and they must be supported and empowered in this regard.  Girls were more likely than boys to be pulled from schools in order to work in households and be sold or trafficked in post-natural disaster scenarios.  Ensuring that global warming was kept under 1.5 degrees was the most important goal that States should strive towards. 

Concluding Remarks by the Panellists

WALTER STEVENS, Head of the European Union Delegation to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said a multilateral or multi-sectoral approach was needed to make sure that children were protected from environmental harm and were able to enjoy their right to a healthy environment.  There was also a need for a collective approach – States had an important responsibility, but the international community and the private sector should also participate.

CLARENCE NELSON, Member of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, speaking via video conference from Samoa, noted that one theme ran through the questions and comments made regarding what measures could be taken to improve environmental measures that impacted children.  The answer was to ask children themselves, who often provided simple wisdom on many issues.  Regarding international judiciary, there were a lot of environmental cases coming before many Asian courts, and there should be more international cooperation between jurists and governments. 

MARIA NEIRA, Director of Environment, Climate Change and Health, World Health Organization, stated that the enforcement of certain pieces of legislation, notably those related to the removal of lead, was important and should be accelerated by States.  As regarded partnerships, she stressed the need to capitalize on youth movements, such as Fridays for Future.

JUNIOR, Child environmental human rights defender from Côte d’Ivoire, speaking via video message, noted that an approach that was adapted for children, and the setting up of a framework for consultation between children and communities, were very important steps.  Facilitating access by children’s groups and non-governmental organizations to recommendations on environmental degradation was also important.

Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner for Human Rights on her Annual Report and Oral Update on the Human Rights Impact of COVID-19

The Committee started the interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner for Human Rights in the previous meeting and a summary can be found here.

Interactive Dialogue

Speakers said they were concerned about violations and breaches of freedom of expression both online and offline.  It was paramount to respect the rights and work of journalists and media, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.  It was problematic that States were using the pandemic as an excuse to restrict consular access to places of detention.  Speakers condemned the use of threats and the political instrumentalisation of human rights.  Unilateral sanctions were particularly harmful, they emphasised, and warned against the use of human rights to interfere in countries’ internal affairs.  They stressed the importance of dialogue and coordinated responses to address the challenges related to the COVID-19 in a manner that considered regional realities.  The risks posed by the pandemic were still very real, speakers said.  They asked how this situation could affect human displacement and migration and inquired about the role that the Office of the High Commissioner could play in such a context.  Speakers also noted that the COVID-19 pandemic reiterated the importance of protecting the most vulnerable, including children and girls, as well as persons with disabilities.  Some speakers urged all countries to put an end to the arbitrary detention of foreign citizens, and condemned the persecution of democratically elected members of parliament.  The elimination of racial discrimination was an important item on the agenda that the international community should be pursuing, especially given the context of the International Decade for People of African Descent.  Strengthening human rights was also noted as an important factor specifically in determining the success of state building efforts.

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For use of the information media; not an official record

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