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News Human Rights Council
09 March 2023
Concludes Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Rightto Food
The HumanRights Council this afternoon held an interactive dialogue with the IndependentExpert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism, and startedan interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the issue of humanrights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy andsustainable environment. It also concluded its interactive dialogue withthe Special Rapporteur on the right to food.
Muluka-AnneMiti-Drummond, Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by personswith albinism, said those working on albinism continued to face particularchallenges that impeded their work. Women human rights defenders,particularly those with albinism, reported cases of sexual harassment, and weretargeted due to dangerous myths and misbeliefs about them. Many defendersworking on albinism were not well informed about safety measures they couldimplement for better protection. More must be done to build capacity, andsupport the work of persons with albinism as human rights defenders. The reportalso provided a number of good practices that could be supported andimplemented to enhance the work of human rights defenders working onalbinism.
Ms.Miti-Drummond spoke of her visit to Madagascar. Madagascar spoke as acountry concerned.
In the ensuingdiscussion, speakers said, among other things, that persons with albinism werea unique group whose human rights issues had generally gone unnoticed forcenturies, the result being deeply engraved stigma, discrimination and violenceagainst them across various countries. More often than the generalpopulation, persons with albinism and their relatives were vulnerable toaccusations of witchcraft, ritual attacks, and faced risks of killing andmaiming, including live amputation of limbs, rape, grave robbery, andtrafficking in persons and body parts, as the study showed. Hence,countries where such accusations and attacks were rife also implied more dangerfor human rights defenders with albinism.
Measuresneeded to be taken to provide protection to persons with albinism at risk, toinvestigate crimes committed against them, and to end the cycle of impunity ofperpetrators. In addition, it was key to protect human rights defendersby ensuring an enabling environment in which their work had the broad supportof society and where they could operate free from hindrance, reprisals andinsecurity. States should be encouraged to develop well-funded nationalprotection programmes aimed at promoting and protecting the rights of personswith albinism.
Speaking inthe discussion were Portugal on behalf of Portuguese Language SpeakingCountries, Belgium on behalf of a group of countries, European Union, UnitedNations Children’s Fund, Israel, Zambia, China, Venezuela, Iraq, Djibouti,Tanzania, Malaysia, South Africa, Angola, Lesotho, Mozambique, Malawi, Panama,Nigeria, United States, and Algeria.
Also speakingwere National Human Rights Institution of Burundi, Standing Voice,International Service for Human Rights, Under the Same Sun Fund Intervention,Rencontre Africaine pour la defense des droits de l'homme, World JewishCongress, Interfaith International, World Organization against Torture, andPlatform for Youth Integration and Volunteerism.
The Councilthen started an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on humanrights and the environment.
David Boyd,Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to theenjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, said theplanetary environmental crisis affected everyone, everywhere, but not equally.Women and girls were often excluded from participating in environmentaldecision-making and enjoying a fair share of nature’s benefits, while sufferingdisproportionate impacts related to the climate emergency, biodiversitycollapse, limited access to water and sanitation, and pervasivepollution. The participation of women and girls in designing andimplementing climate and environmental policies resulted in betteroutcomes.
On his reporton pandemic prevention, Mr. Boyd said he had hosted an expert seminar on humanrights, environmental conservation, and the prevention of futurepandemics. Experts agreed on four key conclusions, including that theCOVID-19 pandemic had had catastrophic impacts on human rights; that zoonoticdiseases were emerging more frequently; that deforestation, agriculturalexpansion, the wildlife trade and intensified livestock production wereincreasing human-animal interactions and the risk of spill over; and that humanrights-based approaches to pandemic prevention were the most effective,efficient and equitable approach.
Mr. Boyd alsospoke of his visits to Slovenia and Portugal. Portugal and Slovenia spokeas countries concerned. The Human Rights Ombudsman of Slovenia also tookthe floor.
In the ensuing discussion, speakers said, among otherthings, that it was particularly worrisome that gender stereotypes, biases,inequalities and multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination negativelyaffected women and girls’ enjoyment of the right to a clean, healthy andsustainable environment. To address these challenges, a humanrights-based approach, where States, businesses and civil society workedtogether, must be in place. Women around the world were under-representedin environmental decision-making institutions; therefore, gender disparitiesimpacted adaptation and mitigation strategies, and there was a clear need of atransformative approach on those issues. Speakers supported the Special Rapporteur’scall for urgent, gender-transformative, rights-based climate and environmentalaction to address systemic gender-based discrimination and environmentalinjustices, and in doing so, leverage the co-benefits of gender equality and aclean, healthy and sustainable environment. Some speakers said thatneither the Council nor the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rightshad a mandate for this issue.
Speaking inthe discussion were Lithuania on behalf of the Nordic-Baltic countries,European Union, Costa Rica on behalf of a group of countries, Côte d'Ivoire onbehalf of the Group of African States, Trinidad and Tobago speaking on behalfof the Caribbean Community, United Nations Development Programme, UnitedNations Women, Ecuador, France, Tunisia, United Nations Children’s Fund,Switzerland, United Arab Emirates, Burkina Faso, United States, Republic ofKorea, Israel, Bahrain, Colombia, Sierra Leone, Cyprus, Paraguay, Luxembourg,Monaco, China, Food and Agricultural Organization, Costa Rica, Togo, Slovenia,India, Peru, Russian Federation, Cameroon, Morocco, Venezuela, Mexico, Armenia,Iraq, Poland, Nepal, Uruguay, Djibouti, Austria, United Kingdom, Malaysia,South Africa, Sudan, Spain, Maldives, Kazakhstan, Samoa, and Kenya.
At thebeginning of the meeting, the Council concluded its interactive dialogue withthe Special Rapporteur on the right to food. The interactive dialoguestarted in the previous meeting and a summary can be found here.
MichaelFakhri, Special Rapporteur on the right to food, in concluding remarks, said the major question asked was how everyone could groundtheir food systems in human rights. The Human Rights Council was anexcellent place to talk about security, conflict and the right to food. Most countries had a national food plan, but most were not grounded in humanrights. The right to food needed to be the core defining principle ofnational food pathways. This meant governments needed to speak with theirpeople. The Special Rapporteur’s office remained open to any country thatwanted to turn their right to food pathway into a right to food national actionplan.
In thediscussion, speakers raised, among other points, that systemic violence andstructural inequalities were very present in food systems, and were one of thedeep-rooted causes of violations of the right to food. This exacerbatedpoverty, malnutrition and hunger, as well as vulnerability andmarginalisation. Violence must be rooted out of all food systems, withequality for all, and a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment inproduction systems. Climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, internationalgeopolitical and financial instability, and the loss of biodiversity wereseverely impacting food security and the right to have access to sustainable,safe, and nutritious food.
Speaking inthe discussion were Panama, Ireland, Ukraine, Germany, Belarus, Cambodia,Lebanon, Chad, and Italy.
Also speakingwere National Human Rights Commission of India, Centre Europe - tiers monde,Swedish Federation of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights – RFSL,China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation, Swiss Catholic Lenten Fund, AssociazioneComunita Papa Giovanni XXIII, FIAN International e.V., Sikh Human RightsGroup, Right Livelihood Award Foundation, Asian-Pacific Resource and ResearchCentre for Women (ARROW), and VAAGDHARA.
Thewebcast of the Human Rights Council meetings can be found here. Allmeeting summaries can be found here. Documents and reports related to the HumanRights Council’s fifty-second regular session can be found here.
Speaking in right of reply at the end of the meetingwere Armenia and Azerbaijan.
The Councilwill reconvene on Friday, 10 March, at 10 a.m. to conclude the interactivedialogue with the Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, andto hold the first part of the annual discussion on the rights of the child.
Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food
Theinteractive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, MichaelFakhri, started in the previous meeting and a summary can be found here.
In thediscussion, some speakers said, among other things, that systemic violence andstructural inequalities were very present in food systems, and were one of thedeep-rooted causes of violations of the right to food. This exacerbatedpoverty, malnutrition and hunger, as well as vulnerability andmarginalisation.
Althoughviolence and conflicts were a main cause of food insecurity, food systems mustfunction in both times of war and peace. Speakers said that violence mustbe rooted out of all food systems, with equality for all, and a zero-tolerancepolicy for sexual harassment in production systems. Convention 182 on theworst forms of child labour was very relevant, given that the farming sectorwas the worst perpetrator of child labour.
A number ofspeakers said that climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, internationalgeopolitical and financial instability, and the loss of biodiversity wereseverely impacting on food security and the right to have access tosustainable, safe, and nutritious food. Russia’s war of aggression hadfurther aggravated the global food crisis.
Theweaponisation of starvation in armed conflict was condemned by speakers, andthere should be accountability for these violations of internationalhumanitarian law and international human rights law. The internationalcommunity must not allow Russia to continue with its weaponisation offood. Systematic discrimination and structured inequalities were thefundamental causes of human rights violations, and the right to food could onlybe ensured if all the international community understood how food systems madesome vulnerable.
Sexual andgender-based violence also hindered women’s ability to make and enact decisionsrelated to their bodies, sexual health and nutrition. The right toadequate food and nutrition was a basic human right that had direct links tothe right to life and health, including sexual and reproductive health. Gendered threats to the human rights of women living in rural areas, withregards to food and nutrition, were intertwined with the pervasive patriarchalnorms and practices that discriminated against women and girls. Furthermore, in times of economic crises, cuts in spending had furtheraggravated rural women’s access to food and increased gender inequalities.
Some speakerssaid the right to food was also undermined by unilateral coercive measures, andthese should be removed. While recognising the importance of free marketsand globalisation to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, financial speculatorsand financialised food markets, and the total disregard for the environment,among others, should be urgently tackled as threats to the right to food.
The impositionof a food model for production, with agribusiness dominating food chains, was amajor part of the problem, driving climate change and leading to a breakdown ofrelations in rural areas. However, solutions did exist. Foodproduction was a major political issue, and all States should implement andfollow up the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants, which couldhelp contribute to such solutions. The implementation of SustainableDevelopment Goal Two on zero hunger was also an important part of the solution.
From the shameof illegal hiring of agricultural workers in situations in which human rightswere often violated, passing through the unfair influence of speculation onfood commodity prices, to the scourge of malnutrition, just to name a few, thefood system was permeated by situations of violence with huge repercussions onthe lives of many human beings. To remove the deep-rooted structuralcauses of violence and inequalities, prevention was needed as part of thecure. Preventing violence meant building on equity and human rights,promoting peace through non-violent means, and adopting internationalsolidarity as an antidote to the existing system based on inequalities.
While therewere people in this world that were denied their basic right to food, corporationswere monopolising food production and getting richer and richer. Theissue had never been the question of whether there was enough food in theworld. It had always been the question of who owned the food and when,where, and how they made it available. The current food systems werecreated to help create wealth for already wealthy transnationals and nationswhereas developing nations and their farmers suffered.
The gender gapin food security also affected the trans and gay community, a speaker said, andthis required further investigation. All stakeholders should worktogether to ensure children’s right to food, as this ensured their health anddevelopment. States should guarantee to women producers living in ruralareas access, control, management, and ownership of all natural and productiveresources on which they depended by recognising and upholding the centrality ofpeople, as well as ensuring that the agenda on food sovereignty was framedusing women’s practical and strategic gender needs.
Amongquestions raised were a request for the Special Rapporteur to elaborate on howthe international community could ensure that food systems were grounded inhuman rights; what could the international community and international groupsdo to further ensure the right to food in the context of armed aggression; howdid food security in conflict zones affect the lesbian, gay, bisexual,transgender and queer plus community unjustly; could the recognition of theright to international solidarity be one of the missing pieces needed tounhinge the mechanisms of inequalities that led to violence in food systems;and did the Special Rapporteur have any specific recommendations for Stateswith regards to the realisation of fisherpersons’ right to food in the contextof conflict.
MICHAELFAKHRI, Special Rapporteur on the right to food, said it was clear thateveryone had read the report closely, and he appreciated that, as this was notalways the case at the Council. The major question asked was how everyonecould ground their food systems in human rights. The Security Council hadtheir important resolution 24/17, but the perspective was too narrow. However, the scope of the Human Rights Council was not narrow at all; this wasan excellent place to talk about security, conflict and the right tofood. The Council was the place to ground these conversations. Mostcountries had a national food plan, but most were not grounded in humanrights. The right to food needed to be the core defining principle ofnational food pathways. This meant governments needed to speak with theirpeople.
Mr.Fakhri said his office remained open to any country that wanted to turn theirright to food pathway into a right to food national action plan. Thereport one year from now would be focused on fisherpersons; this was aninvitation for all countries to start thinking about fisheries. A callfor input had just been released, and Mr. Fakhri invited all countries torespond. The more countries that responded, the more he could provide anoverview of best practices and provide good advice. The Committee onWorld Food Security had the ability to coordinate and was waiting for politicalwill. Countries should contact their capitals and their colleagues inRome, and convene at the Committee on World Food Security next year.
Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on the Enjoyment ofHuman Rights by Persons with Albinism
TheCouncil has before it the report by the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of humanrights by persons with albinism, addressing human rights defenders workingon albinism (A/HRC/52/36), and on her visit to Madagascar (A/HRC/52/36/Add.1)
Presentation of Reports
MULUKA-ANNEMITI-DRUMMOND, Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights bypersons with albinism, presented her report on human rights defendersworking on the issue of albinism. She said the work on defending therights of persons with albinism was relatively new and had gained much tractiondue to the establishment of this mandate. The Independent Expert wasencouraged to see a growing number of persons with albinism actively engagingin human rights work; however, those working on albinism continued to faceparticular challenges that impeded their work. The Special Rapporteur hadreceived information of defenders receiving death threats, or being assaulted,intimidated or abused. Women human rights defenders, particularly thosewith albinism, reported cases of sexual harassment, and were targeted due todangerous myths and misbeliefs about them. Many defenders working onalbinism were not well informed about safety measures they could implement forbetter protection.
Many personswith albinism were not consulted in human rights discourse and activities thathad the potential to make lasting, positive impact on their lives. Visibility of the work of human rights defenders was also hampered by a lack ofpriority placed on the rights of persons with albinism, whether deliberately orinadvertently by States and stakeholders. More must be done to buildcapacity, and support the work of persons with albinism as human rightsdefenders. Ms. Miti-Drummond was honoured to acknowledge the presence of10 albinism leaders at the Council today, representing civil societyorganizations in Europe, eight of whom had albinism, to participate in aweek-long training carried out by the civil society team and her mandate. The report also provided a number of good practices that could be supported andimplemented to enhance the work of human rights defenders working onalbinism.
Ms.Miti-Drummond then discussed her report on her visit to Madagascar which tookplace from 20 to 30 September 2022 and reiterated gratitude to the Governmentfor its cooperation in facilitating her visit. Sadly, reports of recentongoing attacks continued to be received. The latest reports concernedthe abduction of children with albinism and the killing of an adult male withalbinism. Most attacks included the extraction of the eyes of thevictims. The report provided ample recommendations on how to address thecrimes against persons with albinism in the country, and among the prioritieswas expediting the work of the Technical Committee on Albinism with itsmulti-stakeholder engagement.
Ms.Miti-Drummond said she was concerned about the security situation for personswith albinism in the southern region of Madagascar, which was mainly due to theprevailing myths and wrong beliefs about persons with albinism that fuelled theattacks, but also because the remoteness of this area made the detection andinvestigation of crimes difficult. It was encouraging that there wereactive engagements on the ground to combat crimes against persons withalbinism, and that there was growing awareness and coverage of thesecases. However, there needed to be stronger protection and expeditedactions to end the attacks, including through tackling the prevailingsuperstitions that fuelled discrimination against persons with albinism. Ms. Miti-Drummond said she was available to provide support to the authoritiesin Madagascar in implementing the recommendations in the report.
Statement by Country Concerned
Madagascar, speaking as acountry concerned, said the Government expressed its heartfelt gratitude to theIndependent Expert for both her reports. The authorities took this mattervery seriously. It took the lack of security affecting people with albinismvery seriously, and spared no means to combat this unprecedentedphenomenon. The recommendations made by the Independent Expert werenoted, in particular with regard to early education, as it was clear that alack of information was at the heart of the discrimination affecting peoplewith albinism.
Attacks werebased on superstition, among other reasons, as well as climate change. The efforts undertaken by the Government to boost the country’s developmentwere drowned by the need to manage slow and fast onset of natural disasters,leading to a precarious situation for vulnerable populations, which could leadto mistaken beliefs that could in turn lead to harm being done to persons withalbinism. Confronted with attacks on persons with albinism, the authoritieshad arrested and prosecuted the perpetrators. The Government welcomed thesupport of the international community and the United Nations system in sharingbest practices for the implementation of a national action plan to ensure thefull enjoyment and protection of the rights of persons with albinism.
In the ensuinginteractive discussion, speakers said, among other things, that persons withalbinism were a unique group whose human rights issues had generally goneunnoticed for centuries, the result being deeply engraved stigma,discrimination, and violence against them across various countries.
More oftenthan the general population, persons with albinism and their relatives werevulnerable to accusations of witchcraft, ritual attacks, and faced risks ofkilling, maiming, including live amputation of limbs, rape, grave robbery,trafficking in persons and body parts, as the study showed. Hence,countries where such accusations and attacks were rife also implied more dangerfor human rights defenders with albinism, as the report rightly pointed outunder the heading related to security challenges. As women and childrenwith albinism were particularly vulnerable to harmful practices, one of themost extreme consequences of their exposure to intersecting and multiple formsof discrimination was infanticide. Underreporting and widespread impunitymoreover prevailed in the case of the harmful practices resulting fromaccusations of witchcraft and ritual attacks.
Speakers saidthat human rights defenders working on albinism faced intersecting forms ofdiscrimination. The main challenges in their work included the lack ofresources, capacity, and knowledge about their right to defend human rights.Measures needed to be taken to provide protection to persons with albinism atrisk, to investigate crimes committed against them, and to end the cycle ofimpunity of perpetrators. In addition, it was key to protect human rightsdefenders by ensuring an enabling environment in which their work had the broadsupport of society and where they could operate free from hindrance, reprisalsand insecurity. Countries must develop and strengthen legislation,policies and practices on this.
Some speakerssaid that an increasing number of national and international instruments wereprogressively acknowledging the relation between albinism and disability. States should recognise that impairments related to albinism could often leadto disability, and increase efforts to eliminate stigma and discrimination againstchildren and adolescents with disabilities, including children withalbinism. Donors, particularly those funding organizations of personswith disabilities, were urged to ensure that their policies were inclusive ofhuman rights defenders with albinism. States should be encouraged todevelop well-funded national protection programmes aimed at promoting andprotecting the rights of persons with albinism. Further, States shouldguarantee that national legislation and policies provided a framework for the protectionand promotion of the work of human rights defenders, including human rightsdefenders with albinism and those advocating for the protection and promotionof the rights of persons with albinism.
Amongquestions raised were what kind of practical support and tools could be givento persons with albinism to build their capacity and protect them; how toimprove data collection on women with albinism; how could Member States furthersupport the Independent Expert’s work to raise awareness and increase thevisibility of the challenges experienced by persons with albinism to betterassist, protect and promote their rights; and could the Independent Expertelaborate a little more on how Governments could cooperate amongst them, tohelp human rights defenders working on albinism, considering their manychallenge.
MULUKA-ANNEMITI-DRUMMOND, Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights bypersons with albinism, recognised the response of Madagascar and theopenness of the Government, and encouraged States and other partners to providesupport to Madagascar to prevent further attacks and ensure the rights ofpersons affected by albinism in the country. A lot of the attacks againstpersons with albinism were ritual attacks, by those who wrongly believed thatthe body parts of people with albinism could be used for ritual purposes. This harmful practice had to be tackled to prevent further attacks againstpersons with albinism. Some countries had used the plan of action as anational action plan. The plan of action remained the best way to combatattacks and ensure equality for persons with albinism. States shouldadopt national action plans, ensuring that these plans were carried out inconsultation with persons with albinism, and ensuring that sufficient budgetswere allocated. All States should examine their laws and whether theyprovided an enabling environment for human rights defenders, specifically thoseworking on albinism.
Albinismitself was a disability, not just because of the weak eye vision faced by manypersons with albinism, but also because of the lack of melanin. Ms.Miti-Drummond called on all entities to recognise albinism as a disability, andprovide financial support and capacity building resources to organizationsdedicated to persons with albinism. When it came to persons perpetuatingattacks against persons with albinism, States were often dealing with crossborder crimes. States could facilitate cross border exchanges andpolicing issues needed to focus on cross border aspects. Often times whenalbinism was discussed, there was a focus on the African continent. However, organizations of persons with albinism were all over the globe andneeded support from the international community.
In thediscussion, speakers raised, among other points, that the report confirmed thefact that human rights defenders with albinism and those working on albinismfaced numerous challenges in the enjoyment of their rights and in their duty topromote and protect the rights of persons with albinism. Amongst suchchallenges were security risks and hate crimes that specifically targeted them.This meant that addressing their challenges also necessitated an approach thatviewed them as human rights defenders rather than support groups.
Governments,civil society groups, and individuals of good will should assist human rightsdefenders working on albinism by ensuring full and equal access of their rightsand freedoms. Awareness-raising campaigns, as well as trainings on theinternational human rights legislation and standards that guaranteed theirright to defend human rights, could go a long way in capacitating them, byenhancing their visibility and increasing their knowledge and understandingabout albinism, and of its recognition as a human rights concern.
One of themajor challenges was fostering the human rights defenders by enhancing theircapability to fully deliver their role in terms of planning and monitoringtheir activities, a speaker said. Governments had a responsibility inensuring that human rights defenders on albinism operated within a conducivelegal, policy, and institutional environment. In addition, it was alsohelpful to have persons with albinism in positions of influence in governanceand the human rights sector.
Human rightsdefenders continued to bear the pains of stigmatisation, discrimination andill-treatment suffered by persons with albinism. It was thereforeimportant to reiterate the need for the global community to address thechallenges faced by human rights defenders working on albinism, and ensure thatthey did not continue to suffer in silence.
The reportfrom the Independent Expert on albinism clearly showed that the challengespeople with albinism faced must be considered a national, regional, andinternational human rights issue, so that albinism was included in global humanrights discourse. There was a need for inclusive human rights frameworkswhich recognised and protected people with albinism the world over.
Some speakerssaid that the Governments of countries that had recently experienced attacks inthe last two months, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo,Madagascar, Malawi, and Tanzania, should adopt the African Union Plan of Actionon albinism with an annual budget. African governments, the UnitedNations, and development partners should continue to support the protection ofhuman rights defenders at the Human Rights Council. The IndependentExpert was commended on the many laudable initiatives put in place in executingthis important mandate.
MULUKA-ANNEMITI-DRUMMOND, Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights bypersons with albinism, in concluding remarks, said she was encouraged tosee the participation of so many human rights defenders with albinism intoday’s session. There was still a lack of knowledge about how albinismfit within human rights. Although so much more was being done, peopleshould take time to learn more about this and understand how albinism fitwithin the human rights framework. It was important to increase thecapacity of those carrying out work with people with albinism to speak with thehuman rights language, and to know that what they were doing was not justvoluntary work, but important work in protecting human rights.
The humanrights framework needed to be used when talking about albinism. It neededto be emphasised that killings due to albinism were violations of the right tolife, and children being excluded from schools due to albinism was the failure toensure the right of education to persons. Ms. Miti-Drummond challengedeveryone to re-examine the way they thought about albinism. States werefailing persons with albinism by not including them in human rightsdiscourse. Persons with albinism would become stronger if they wereincluded. Their increased invisibility was a concern. Persons withalbinism needed to be included when developing any plans, programmes andpolicies which were related to them. The more they were not included, themore they were left behind.
Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur onHuman Rights and the Environment
TheCouncil has before it the report by the Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of asafe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment,addressing women, girls and the right to a clean, healthy and sustainableenvironment (A/HRC/52/33), and reports on his visits to Portugal (A/HRC/52/33/Add.1) and Slovenia (A/HRC/52/33/Add.2).
Presentation of Reports
DAVID R. BOYD, Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to theenjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, said hewas presenting today a thematic report on women, girls and the right to aclean, healthy and sustainable environment; a special report on pandemicprevention, human rights, and environmental conservation; and country reportsfollowing his visits to Portugal and Slovenia.
Mr. Boyd saidthat the planetary environmental crisis affected everyone, everywhere, but notequally. Women and girls were often excluded from participating inenvironmental decision-making and enjoying a fair share of nature’s benefits,while suffering disproportionate impacts related to the climate emergency,biodiversity collapse, limited access to water and sanitation, and pervasivepollution. As demonstrated by their impressive contributions toprotecting the environment, women and girls were powerful, transformativeagents of change. The voices of women and girls should be heard, theirideas implemented, and their work rewarded. The participation of womenand girls in designing and implementing climate and environmental policiesresulted in better outcomes.
States shouldmobilise the maximum available financial, human and political resources intheir gender-transformative actions to respect, protect and fulfil the right toa clean, healthy and sustainable environment. States were obligated to,among others, empower women and girls through education, access to information,equitable participation, and affordable, timely access to justice and effectiveremedies; provide strong protection for women and girl environmental humanrights defenders; and amend gender-blind climate and environmental laws tospecify the rights of women and girls. Only rights-based, systemic andtransformative changes could achieve a future where everyone, including everywoman and girl, enjoyed the right to a clean, healthy and sustainableenvironment.
On his reporton pandemic prevention, Mr. Boyd said he had hosted an expert seminar on humanrights, environmental conservation, and the prevention of futurepandemics. Experts agreed on four key conclusions. First, theCOVID-19 pandemic had had catastrophic impacts on human rights. Second,zoonotic diseases were emerging more frequently. Third, deforestation,agricultural expansion, the wildlife trade, and intensified livestockproduction were increasing human-animal interactions and the risk of spillover. Addressing these environmental drivers of pandemic risk wascritical to preventing future pandemics, yet States were not taking adequateactions. Fourth, human rights-based approaches to pandemic preventionwere the most effective, efficient and equitable approach, and were required byexisting human rights obligations. Pandemic prevention was more importantthan preparedness or response, yet got less attention and fewer resources.
Mr. Boyd saidhe had visited Slovenia and Portugal. Slovenia offered many goodpractices related to nature conservation, solid waste management, andenvironmental taxes; conversely, it faced major challenges related to cleanenergy, air quality, and toxic hotspots. Inequalities related to accessto water and sanitation continued to affect some Roma communities. Portugal was suffering devastating consequences caused by the climatecrisis. To their credit, Portugal was rapidly scaling up wind and solarenergy and had closed the last two coal-fired power plants. Other goodpractices involved strong rights-based and gender-transformative legislation,universal access to safe drinking water, and the billion-euro EnvironmentalFund.
Statements by Countries Concerned
Portugal, speaking as a country concerned,thanked the Special Rapporteur for his visit to Portugal last September, forthe fruitful dialogues with a wide range of interlocutors, and for thereport. The official part of the visit was prepared by the National HumanRights Committee. This was the country’s national mechanism forimplementation, reporting, and follow-up on human rights obligations andrecommendations. The Special Rapporteur had the opportunity to meet withmembers of Government as well as with several Government officials at thetechnical level; the Parliament; the Constitutional Court; the PublicProsecutor’s Office; and the environmental policy consultative body, as well ascivil society outside of Lisbon. Portugal was carefully studying therecommendations of the report.
Portugal wasone of the first countries in the world to enshrine the right to a healthy andsustainable environment in its Constitution, back in 1976. In Portugal,the negative effects of climate change, including heatwaves, drought,wildfires, floods, coastal erosion, or an increasing risk of desertification,had had a direct human rights impact. Portugal was committed - bothinternationally and at a national level - to fight climate change. TheState had adopted a climate law in 2021 and the same year became the firstEuropean country without nuclear energy to abandon coal. Since 2017,Portugal had increased the weight of renewables in electricity consumption from40 to 60 per cent. Until 2030, Portugal would continue to investdecisively in solar and wind plants. The report identified somechallenges, for example in the areas of air quality, agriculture, or wastemanagement. Portugal was fully committed to intensify efforts in theseareas to uphold the right to a healthy environment.
Slovenia, speaking as a countryconcerned, said the Government of Slovenia thanked the Special Rapporteur forhis visit. For a country committed to the environment and human rights astwo of its most cherished priorities, it was natural for Slovenia to pay attentionto the nexus between them. The Special Rapporteur had acknowledgedSlovenia’s good practices in his report. Slovenia now had to focus onmainstreaming this right in the United Nations system and multilateralagreements, and on implementing it on the ground.
The protectionof the human rights of the most vulnerable and marginalised communities was apriority, and Slovenia had noted the concerns in the report on the status ofthe Roma community. The issue was broader than quoted in thereport. The Slovenian Government encouraged a regular dialogue withenvironmentally engaged non-governmental organizations and youthrepresentatives, and included them in major environmental multilateralprocesses. Slovenia also had had an active national children’s parliamentfor more than 30 years, encouraging children to participate in civicspace. The Government would take appropriate actions on the SpecialRapporteur’s recommendations in line with national laws and policies, and wouldcontinue to support an ambitious environmental agenda both in the multilateralfora and nationally.
Human Rights Ombudsman of Slovenia welcomed the report of the Special Rapporteur, and called on theGovernment of Slovenia to implement the recommendations. The authoritiesshould strive further in implementing rights-based environmental laws,policies, and programmes. The Ombudsman fully shared the observations ofthe Special Rapporteur in that the implementation of laws and policies was anarea where Slovenia faced major challenges. One of the main critics wasthat the drafting of laws was inconsistent with the participation of thepublic. For around 10 years, the Ombudsman had been makingrecommendations to the Slovenian Government to adopt urgent measures toguarantee safe drinking water to all Roma settlements. There was a needto address the climate emergency as an urgent matter. The Ombudsman wouldalso monitor the implementation of the recommendations provided in the SpecialRapporteur’s report.
In the ensuingdiscussion, speakers said, among other things, that it was particularlyworrisome that gender stereotypes, biases, inequalities, and multiple andintersecting forms of discrimination negatively affected the enjoyment of womenand girls of the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. To address these challenges, a human rights-based approach, where States,businesses and civil society worked together, must be in place. Furthermore, women and girls should participate fully, equally and meaningfullyin all processes when it came to protecting the environment. Theparticipation and empowerment of women was crucial for the sustainable future.
Genderequality was essential in ensuring access to and sustainable management ofenvironmental resources, as well as the preservation of the world’s globalcommons. Women around the world were under-represented in environmentaldecision-making institutions; therefore, gender disparities impacted adaptationand mitigation strategies, and there was a clear need of a transformativeapproach on those issues.
Genderinequalities and discrimination profoundly restricted women and girls’enjoyment of the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment,compounded by the distinct and disproportionate effects of climate change andenvironmental degradation on women and girls’ livelihoods, rights andresilience, especially those in vulnerable and marginalised situations. Speakers supported the Special Rapporteur’s call for urgent,gender-transformative, rights-based climate and environmental action to addresssystemic gender-based discrimination and environmental injustices, and in doingso, leverage the co-benefits of gender equality and a clean, healthy andsustainable environment.
The inherentenvironment- and climate-related vulnerabilities of small island developingStates, coupled with the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, hadexacerbated the unique and significant challenges already faced. As theworld aimed to “build forward better”, there was a clear need to not onlyrecognise the special circumstances of small island developing States, but toalso provide access to financing that would bolster regional capacity andresources, thereby enabling them to develop greater resilience to withstandfuture threats.
Some speakerssaid that Member States should legally recognise the right of women, girls andall people to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment; repeal or modifylegislation that constituted discrimination against women and girls; empowerand protect women and girls as climate and environmental leaders; and ensurethat all women and girls had equal opportunities for meaningful participationin all climate and environmental decision-making and implementation; as well asequitable access to justice. Gender-based discrimination and norms werenot fixed – they were learned, reinforced and amenable to change.
Poverty had a female face,and impeded women’s access to a clean, safe and healthy environment, andgovernments needed to adopt special measures ensuring remedies to thissituation.
One speakersaid that many of the best-practices showcased by the Special Rapporteurunderscored that effective human rights-based environmental policies did nothave to be prohibitively expensive. Ultimately to achieve gender equalityand ecological sustainability, the international community must tacklegender-based discrimination and environmental injustices with urgent,gender-transformative, rights-based climate and environmental action. Asustainable future for all was not possible without gender equality.
In order tomake collective efforts more successful, all needed to prioritise theempowerment of women, girls, and gender-diverse persons as innovative andeffective leaders. This included indigenous women and girls, whoseknowledge of community needs was indispensable in designing and implementingculturally appropriate solutions.
Agriculture,forestry, fisheries and aquaculture - and the people who depended on thesesectors for their food security, livelihoods and future prospects - were themost impacted by ecosystem degradation, biodiversity loss and climatechange. For farmers, forest-dependent people, pastoralists, andfisherfolks, the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment was theabsolute basis of the right to food. Human rights-based approaches werecatalysts for accelerated action to protect the environment, address climatechange, and conserve and sustainably use biodiversity.
The One Healthapproach used by the Food and Agricultural Organization to sustainably balanceand optimise the health of people, animals, plants and ecosystems, should beone of the guiding principles for the new pandemic instrument being negotiatedunder the auspices of the World Health Organization, a speaker said, pointingout that there was, however, a need to allocate adequate resources,particularly for prevention at source, often overlooked, and address the hugeunderinvestment in animal, plant and environmental health.
After adoptionof the right to a clean, safe environment in the Human Rights Council and theGeneral Assembly, the international community needed to remain ambitious andfocus on mainstreaming the right across different negotiation frameworks fornew treaties such as on plastic pollution, and the pandemic treaty, and includeit into the upcoming United Nations Summits on Water, the SustainableDevelopment Goals, and the Summit of the Future. In parallel, Statesshould design and implement normative frameworks that recognised and supportedthe right.
Conserving the environmentwas acquiring particular resonance in today’s world, a speaker said, but thelink between human rights and climate problems was largely artificial, and workon the climate should take place in appropriate bodies. The SpecialRapporteur should cease to present his particular opinions as new obligationsupon States. Given that environmental rights were still unresolved ininternational human rights law, there was creeping expansion of the HumanRights Council’s mandate, taking it into positions that did not reflectreality. Neither the Council nor the Office of the High Commissioner forHuman Rights had a mandate for this issue.
Among the questions asked washow could the Human Rights Council contribute to eliminating systemicdiscrimination of women and girls and empowering them to be a part of theclimate and environmental transformation; could the Special Rapporteurelaborate his future plan to work on procedural elements of the right to aclean, healthy and suitable environment; what could be done to ensure that theAgreed Conclusions of the Commission on the Status of Women 66 on “Achievinggender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls in the context ofclimate change, environmental and disaster risk reduction” were fullyimplemented; how could the United Nations support women and girls as climateleaders across various sectors; and could the Special Rapporteur elaborate onhow the procedural elements of the right affected women and girls in situationsof vulnerability?