HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL HOLDS INTERACTIVE DIALOGUE WITH EXPERTS ON HUMAN RIGHTS AND THE ENVIRONMENT AND ON FOREIGN DEBT
6 March 2013
The Human Rights Council this afternoon began a clustered interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment and the Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights.
John H. Knox, Independent Expert on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, said that his priority was to provide greater conceptual clarity to the understanding of human rights obligations related to the environment and that he was going to take an evidence-based approach to determining the nature, scope and content of those obligations. Mr. Knox listed other issues that needed to be addressed, including transboundary and global environmental harm, multinational corporations and vulnerable groups such as children, the displaced and indigenous peoples.
Cephas Lumina, Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights, introduced his report which provided a sketch of the methods and channels of illicit financial flows, where they came from, where they were held and initiatives to curb them. The final report would consider the impact of this and make recommendations on strategies going forward to ensure the full realization of human rights. Developing countries were the most affected with an estimated $ 1.138 billion lost in revenues in 2010 alone.
In the discussion on human rights and the environment, delegations said that it was necessary to reinforce the positive synergy between the environment and human rights as a clean and healthy environment without doubt favoured the enjoyment of human rights. Speakers wished to hear more about the proposed evidence-based approach to the understanding of human rights obligations related to the environment, particularly concerning the methodology for collecting and analyzing that evidence. They also asked about the views of the Independent Expert on the incorporation of the human rights dimension to guarantee environmental sustainability post-2015.
Concerning the effects of foreign debt, speakers stressed the importance of making efforts to counter corruption and the non-repatriation of funds of an illicit origin, and expressed concern about the very low level of repatriation of such funds, which deprived countries of origin of much-needed resources. Servicing of the external debt must not be done at the expense of the full realization of human rights and should not be an obstacle to sovereignty and national development, said delegations. They noted that action was needed to curb the abusive practice of the vulture funds.
Speaking in the interactive dialogue this afternoon were Gabon on behalf of the African Group, Tunisia on behalf of Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, Costa Rica, Côte d’Ivoire, European Union, Chile, Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Bahrain on behalf of the Arab Group, Morocco, Ecuador, Egypt, Maldives, United Arab Emirates, Germany, Indonesia, Cuba, Sierra Leone, United States, Peru, Slovenia, China, Venezuela, Togo, Switzerland, Sudan, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Argentina, Libya, Tunisia and Bolivia.
The United Nations Environment Programme and the United Nations Institute for Training and Research also took the floor.
The following non-governmental organizations took part in the interactive dialogue: Franciscans International, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom in a joint statement, International Association of Schools of Social Work and Friends World Committee for Consultation (Quakers).
At the end of the meeting, China spoke in right of reply.
At the beginning of the meeting, the President of the Council, Ambassador Remigiusz Henczel, expressed his condolences to the delegation of Venezuela on the death of President Hugo Chavez. Iran, speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, also expressed its sincere condolences to Venezuela for the passing of Hugo Chavez, and particularly, to the members of his family. Under Mr. Chavez’s leadership Venezuela had achieved almost all the Millennium Development Goals and Mr. Chavez had set an example for the whole world. His constant struggle for the interests of the south and the fight for the poor would be remembered and would inspire future generations.
The Human Rights Council will resume its work on Thursday, 7 March, at 9 a.m., when it will hold its annual full-day meeting on the rights of the child. The morning meeting will discuss the right of the child to the highest attainable standard of health, and the afternoon meeting will debate challenges in achieving the full realization of the right of the child to health. The interactive dialogue with the Independent Experts on human rights and the environment and on the effects of foreign debts will be concluded at noon tomorrow.
The Council has before it the Report of the Independent Expert on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, John H. Knox - Preliminary report (A/HRC/22/43)
The Council has before it the Progress report on the study of the Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights on the negative impact of the non-repatriation of funds of illicit origin to the countries of origin on the application by States of the maximum available resources to the full realization of all human rights, in particular economic, social and cultural rights (A/HRC/22/42)
Presentation of the Reports on Human Rights and the Environment and on the Effects of Foreign Debt
JOHN H. KNOX, Independent Expert on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, said that his priority was to provide greater conceptual clarity to the understanding of human rights obligations related to the environment, and would take an evidence-based approach to determining the nature, scope and content of these obligations. There was a great deal of evidence on which to draw, given that in recent years the relationship between human rights and the environment had become the subject of attention in many different fora. Mr. Knox would rely on the views of all interested stakeholders and had started holding consultations with States in Geneva, Washington and Nairobi. Environmental protection was integral to economic and social development and human rights were integral to environmental protection. States had codified the relevance of environmental protection to human fulfilment through the adoption of an explicit human right to a healthy environment. A second approach to linking human rights and the environment was to examine how environmental harm affected the enjoyment of existing rights, such as the rights to life and health. A third way in which human rights were related to environmental protection was by supporting effective environmental policy-making. In that respect, the rights to freedom of expression and association, to information, to participation in decision-making, and to effective remedies were critical.
Some human rights bodies had closed the circle between substantive rights, such as the rights to life and health, which were most likely to suffer from environmental harm, and the procedural rights whose implementation helped to ensure environmental protection. Strong support for procedural rights produced a healthier environment, which in turn contributed to greater compliance with substantive rights, such as the rights to life and health. Human rights and the environment were not only interrelated, they were also interdependent; therefore, a healthy environment was important for the enjoyment and exercise of human rights. The issues that needed to be addressed included transboundary and global environmental harm, multi-national corporations, and vulnerable groups, such as children, displaced persons, and indigenous peoples.
CEPHAS LUMINA, Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights, said that his report provided a sketch of the methods and channels behind illicit financial flows: where they came from, where they were held, and initiatives to curb them. The final report would consider their impact and would make recommendations on strategies to move forward to ensure the full realization of human rights. Developing countries were the most affected, with a report last year suggesting that up to $ 1.138 billion were lost in revenues in 2010. Flows were facilitated by tax havens, questionable trade practices, and the failure of banks to exercise due diligence. Mr. Lumina expressed concern that very small amounts were recovered and returned; this was attributable to the length and complexity of the recovery process. Repatriation required a collaborative effort of the international community and, in the context of addressing the human rights and development challenges, it was crucial to note that States had a duty to ensure minimum subsistence rights for all and to take necessary steps, to the maximum of its available resources, to ensure the realization of the Covenant.
Illicit funds diverted resources intended for development, undermined Government efforts, and disproportionally affected the lives of the poor. Adherence to human rights principles, ensuring the prudent use of repatriated funds, and fulfilling obligations to provide reparation to victims of human rights violations, perhaps funding transitional justice mechanisms, was important. Businesses also had a role to play. Those undertaking tax evasion or corrupt practices were undermining States’ ability to achieve the full realization of human rights. Curtailing illicit outflows could increase the amount of resources available to this end; and contribute to easing the burden of external debt. In order to move forward, Mr. Lumina needed to undertake extensive consultations with stakeholders and experts, and hoped that the necessary funds to carry out these tasks could be allocated.
Clustered Interactive Dialogue on Human Rights and the Environment and on the Effects of Foreign Debt
Gabon, speaking on behalf of the African Group, agreed on the link between the environment and human rights and agreed that this should be the object of a number of studies by a number of bodies. The African Group stressed the question of genetic resources and noted that this study would evidence the relationship between the environment and human rights at the international level. It was important that efforts were made to counter corruption and the non-repatriation of funds of illicit origin. What links had been established between this issue, human rights and the right to development?
Tunisia, speaking on behalf of Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, remained very concerned that, despite the upbeat in national, regional and international efforts in recent years, the repatriation of funds of illicit origin was still very low. These funds were even dwarfed by the increase in the proceeds from corruption-related crimes, which deprived countries of origin of much needed resources. Tunisia was alarmed that developing countries were the most affected by outflows of illicit origins, which contributed to aggravating their debt situation.
Costa Rica noted that the degradation of the environment negatively affected the enjoyment of rights and that the exercise of certain rights may benefit from the drawing-up of environmental policies. Costa Rica was one of 90 countries in the world that counted with a constitutional right to a healthy environment. For this reason, it was legitimate to deny acts that infringed on that right and to claim reparation for the damages caused. Costa Rica looked forward to recommendations and new and bold proposals that challenged traditional views.
Côte d’Ivoire said the interim report illustrated the difficulties of countries in transition, most affected by illicit money flows, as they were saddled by small budgets and foreign debt; and commended the Independent Expert for bringing these issues to the fore. Efforts made by partners to cope with Côte d’Ivoire’s foreign debt were welcomed. There were many obstacles to the repatriation of illicit funds and the low rate of repatriation of these funds constituted an international scourge. Concerning the report on human rights and the environment, Côte d’Ivoire said that it had opened doors and looked forward to the results in future sessions.
European Union said that both procedural rights, which supported better environmental policymaking, and substantive rights, which were particularly vulnerable to environmental degradation, were equally important and deserved equal protection. Consultations had been recently held on procedural rights, such as access to information and access to legal remedies for the protection of the environment and the European Union asked the Expert to elaborate on their outcomes? What were the Expert’s impressions concerning the United Nations Environment Programme Governing Council in Nairobi? How susceptible was the international community to adopting a human rights perspective?
Chile said that it was necessary to reinforce the positive synergy between the environment and human rights. A clean and healthy environment, without doubt, favoured the enjoyment of human rights; and the leadership of the Office of the High Commissioner was needed in the negotiation processes. Among questions the nature and related obligations surrounding substantive rights and procedural duties; additional work was needed on both, as well as the study of good practices. Chile asked Independent Expert how he saw the incorporation of the human rights dimension to guarantee environmental sustainability in the post-2015 framework.
Pakistan, speaking on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, asked Mr. Knox to further elaborate on the evidence-based approach, particularly the methodology for collecting and analyzing that evidence. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation agreed that climate change had had negative effects on the enjoyment of the right to food and the right to health. The Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt should discuss in his final report the combined effect of the global financial and economic crises; and the effect of the outflow of illicit funds on the enjoyment of human rights in the countries of origin.
Bahrain, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, said that States must comply with their human rights obligations, including those related to procedural rights. The Arab Group agreed that climate change adversely affected human health and safety. The Arab Group supported the resolutions and recommendations of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, held in Qatar in December 2012, in particular, regarding measures to reduce greenhouse emissions, to renew the Kyoto agreement, and to provide funding for the adaptation of vulnerable countries to climate change.
Morocco agreed that the links between the environment and human rights were well established and said that Morocco was one of the countries which incorporated the right to environment into its Constitution and had a Charter on the Environment and Sustainable Development. Those legislative achievements were important to incorporate environmental issues in public policies and sectoral strategies. The focus was on natural and water resources, and the development and use of renewable energies.
Ecuador said that international financial institutions had linked loans and debt relief to the imposition reforms, and this meant that States were unable to promote and protect human rights. Ecuador had had to recur to international financial bodies and accept their conditions for a bailout, which had led to a downward spiral and had negatively affected its people. Debt payments had been suspended after an audit on the legitimacy of this debt was carried out and found it to be illegitimate. The renegotiation of the public debt had allowed the Government to count with financial resources to increase public investment.
Egypt referred to the report’s suggestion that there was a causal link between procedural and substantive aspects, in relation to environment protection. It would be interesting if the Independent Expert on the environment elaborated on whether such a causal link went both ways, and respecting and protecting substantive rights equally mandated the exercise of procedural rights and duties. Egypt feared that budget constraints were negatively reflecting on the independence of the Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt.
Maldives said that a sustainable environment also required addressing climate change issues. Rising sea levels, soil erosion and seasonal sea swells threatened the right of many Maldivians to enjoy their lives and livelihoods. Some islands faced a shortage of safe drinking water, while others faced flooding due to see swells, worsening the sanitary and health conditions. Maldives therefore requested the Independent Expert to consider in future research the adverse effects of climate change and its impact on the right to a healthy environment.
United Arab Emirates said that damage to the environment had a negative impact on the enjoyment of rights. Studies brought before the Council showed that the damage was greater to those at the lower end of the socio-economic scale. The United Arab Emirates had acceded to all environmental treaties and had unveiled large-scale renewable energy products. There were numerous issues still to be understood on this issue and it was necessary for the international community to curb the destructive impact on the environment. Further clarification was needed so that countries and stakeholders could uphold their obligations at the national and international level.
Germany said that a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment was integral to the enjoyment of a wide range of human rights. Integrating a human rights-based approach to environment and natural resources management was important when linking environmental issues to water management and food security, as with adaptation or mitigation in climate-related challenges. How did the Expert plan to ensure that human rights standards and principles relating to the environment were reflected in the Rio+20 follow-up and the post-2015 agenda? How would the Independent Expert support the adoption of a human rights-based approach to the international development agenda?
Indonesia appreciated the evidence-based approach, scope and content of the human rights obligations advocated by the Independent Expert. Caution, however, should be used in both the quantity and quality of evidence used to arrive at conclusions and recommendations. The categorization and connections in the introduction of ideas related to procedural and substantive rights might result in a too-strong focus on procedural rights as a precondition to the enjoyment of substantive rights. Considering that the topic of human rights obligations and private actors had been explored in depth by the Working Group of Business and Human Rights, how would this approach differ?
Cuba found it alarming that the amount of illicit funds coming from corruption made up only a small part of illicit funds globally. The effect of the problem of illicit funds on the enjoyment of human rights was clear and immediate. Cuba said that the protection of human rights and the environment came very late into the human rights chapter. The Cuban Constitution of 1976 had already recognized that the protection of nature constituted part of the State’s obligations. It was regrettable that there were States which denied that a human rights approach was applicable in this regard and thought that the right to life did not apply. It was necessary to look at these matters from a humanitarian angle.
Sierra Leone said that a clean and safe environment was vital for the enjoyment of most human rights and it was necessary to address issues relating to the environment using a human rights-based approach. Sierra Leone stressed that the global deterioration of the environment caused by climate change affected the productivity of land and made large areas prone to disasters such as landslides, which endangered human lives. The dumping of toxic waste in developing countries by unscrupulous businesses was deplorable and should be legally prosecuted. Women and children in developing countries were the main victims of environmental pollution caused by smoke from indoor use of biomass for cooking.
United States supported the report’s focus on procedural rights and the right of all individuals to express themselves freely, including environmental activists. The United States appreciated the Independent Expert’s empirical approach and said that it would welcome clarification concerning the meaning of “evidence-based approaches” with respect to human rights obligations. The delegation also noted that a number of aspects regarding the relationship between human rights law and the environment were neither well understood nor established. The discussion concerning the relevance of human rights to the protection of non-human rights aspects of the environment was worth reconsidering.
Peru said that the protection of the environment depended on the exercise of human rights. Although the relationship between human rights and the environment was a clear and well known topic, the obligations deriving from human rights law imposed were perhaps less clear. It would be necessary to clarify these obligations so that States and other actors could ensure full compliance. Human rights obligations related to the environment should not be underestimated. Peru asked the Independent Expert’s how the work of other Special Procedures could contribute to the performance of his mandate.
Slovenia said that citizens were becoming increasingly aware of the importance of the quality of air, water and food, and this needed to be adequately addressed. More than ever, mankind was threatened by various environmental phenomena; however, responses should take into account a human rights-based approach. This required clarification from a conceptual and legal point of view, but also from other angles. Slovenia was interested about the Independent Expert’s views on the management of public expectations with regard to environmental rights.
Venezuela said that many questions related to obligations and human rights law with regard to the environment required more study and clarification. Serious problems such as the adverse effects of climate change, the deterioration of the ozone layer and marine resources required a global response. The Independent Expert’s report on foreign debt had addressed the negative impact of the non-repatriation of illicit funds and this was something that undermined the social development of the peoples of the countries of origin. There was a need to for a solid political response.
China said that the relationship between the environment and human rights was complicated, and supported the conduct of further studies on the subject. It stressed, however, that such studies should be confined to the areas authorized by the relevant mandates. China would increase its efforts to ensure that is population enjoyed a clean environment and their beautiful country. Further research and practical recommendations were needed how to achieve the goals of the mandate regarding funds of illicit origin. Domestic legislation in China tackled money laundering and had dealt a heavy blow to the flow of illicit funds.
Togo commended the Independent Experts on their reports and thanked them for their work. Togo had long been aware of its human rights obligations related to a clean, safe, healthy, and sustainable environment, and these efforts included relevant Constitutional provisions. Togo counted with a Minister for the Environment, relevant legislation, and had also set up relevant institutions, including the National Sustainable Development Commission, the National Agency for the Management of the Environment, the National Environment Fund, and the National Forest Development Fund.
Switzerland said that greater clarification concerning obligations was necessary. Switzerland fully supported the work of the Independent Expert on the environment and his efforts to promote sustainable development, and wanted to know how the Expert planned to achieve his objectives relating to sustainable development. Switzerland also said that the Nansen Initiative, which was complementary to the work carried out by the Independent Expert, had been launched in October 2012 in collaboration with Norway and seven other countries. Its aim was to find ways to protect persons affected by natural disasters who had been forced to leave their countries.
Philippines believed that climate change posed an imminent danger to many countries, especially to archipelagic and small-island developing States. It also firmly believed that climate change and human rights issues, including its adverse impact on the capacity of States to meet development goals, required the Council’s continued and focused attention. Philippines was also interested to know how the Independent Expert planned to further explore the issue of transboundary and global environmental harm.
Sudan said that excessive foreign debt prevented it from promoting development. Sudan had been deprived from loans from a number of organizations, due to sanctions; and there would be adverse impacts on future generations when the time came to service its debt and repay with resources for social and economic growth. Sudan encouraged the Independent Expert to continue his efforts to relieve the least developed countries from their debt burdens. Concerning the environment, Sudan’s Constitution tackled the matter and counted with relevant bodies dealing with environmental issues.
United Nations Environment Programme said that the follow-up to Rio+20 provided a critical opportunity to ensure that policies and measures that advanced sustainable development were firmly grounded in human rights. Too often, human rights issues and environmental issues were discussed in isolation from each another. Human rights and the environment were indeed not only interrelated, but also interdependent. A healthy environment was fundamentally important to the enjoyment of human rights and the exercise of human rights was necessary for a healthy environment.
Saudi Arabia thanked both Independent Experts for their reports which contained important issues, particularly concerning the impact of climate change on human rights. The development of energy policies would be the best way to deal with environmental issues and the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries had set up a fund for this purpose. The international community should pay more attention to agricultural development in the long term, including through the support of bodies such as the United Nations World Food Programme and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations.
Algeria said that the adverse impact of environmental degradation on human rights was now obvious and addressing it required the concerted efforts of all stakeholders. Algeria asked the Independent Expert on the environment about the appropriate way of avoiding an overlap between his activities in this regard and other Special Procedures and what he thought about the establishment of a specific mandate on climate change. Every effort must be made to increase the return of illicit funds from the current two per cent.
Argentina agreed that complying with servicing external debt must not be done at the expense of the full realization of human rights and should not be an obstacle to sovereignty and national development. The international community must coordinate its efforts to ensure the repatriation of illicit funds, most of which were held offshore. It was also necessary for States to look into the activities of the “vulture funds” because this practice was abusive, undermined the sovereignty of States and must be stopped.
Libya said that impunity and lack of international cooperation had serious repercussions on the economies of developing countries. Libya actively sought to combat corruption and impunity and to ensure that perpetrators of crimes relating to illicit funds be brought to justice. It was also important to trace funds taken out of the country. Libya called upon all States to cooperate with it in that respect, and stressed that international cooperation was necessary in order to meet that objective.
Tunisia said that the illicit transfer of funds was facilitated by banking secrecy, anonymous bank accounts, phony bank accounts, money laundering and dubious banking practices. It was vital that destination countries should become more responsive with regard to tracing illicit funds. Concerning the funds which had been returned, Tunisia said that States returning funds did not suffer from returning funds so there was no moral underpinning.
Bolivia said that law 300 Marco of Mother Earth lay the foundations for development in harmony with Mother Earth and the principles of well-being, guaranteeing the ability of Mother Earth to regenerate reinforcing local knowledge on the basis of the complementary character of rights and obligations. Bolivia asked the Independent Expert what should be the next steps for the Council to take regarding damage brought about by climatic change.
United Nations Institute for Training and Research appreciated the efforts of the Independent Expert on the environment to engage in wide-ranged consultations on the issue of the environment and human rights. The generation of more robust knowledge concerning the effectiveness of procedural rights in advancing environmental sustainability and substantive environmental rights was important, and it would be valuable to examine how environmental human rights could advance the development of national environment goals and standards.
Franciscans International endorsed the view of the Independent Expert on the environment on the risk of environmental degradation on indigenous peoples due to their special relations with environment resources. Franciscans International also agreed on the need to ensure the accountability of non-State actors, especially in relation to the environmental harms caused by the extractive industries.
Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom said in a joint statement that urgent action was needed to address climate change which was a transboundary and global challenge and a threat to the full enjoyment of human rights. In 2011, there had been 300 climate change related disasters, affecting 207 million people. The mandate on human rights and climate change would complement the one of the Independent Expert on the environment to confront the special threat that climate change posed.
International Association for Schools of Social Work said that among the human rights violations that Hawaiians suffered was the significant damage to the environment caused by the wholesale theft of native lands, urban development, massive military installations and training grounds, and privileged land ownership. That, along with the gross misappropriated use of the finite resources of fresh water, had resulted in depriving the Hawaiian people of their ability to raise food. Alaska and Hawaii should be re-listed as Article 73 non self-governing territories, and the High Commissioner should call a special seminar on the right to self-determination.
Friends World Committee for Consultation (Quakers) said that it encouraged the Independent Expert on the environment to consider ways of effectively consulting with marginalized or vulnerable groups within communities such as women, the poorest, and those facing stigma or oppression. Did the Independent Expert have any plans to consider the role that peace building approaches could play in realizing procedural rights and therefore in helping to achieve both substantive rights and effective environmental policy? How could groups such as small farmers and rural communities participate in relevant decision-making processes?
Right of Reply
China, speaking in a right of reply, firmly rejected a non-governmental organization’s accusations concerning the human rights situation in Tibet. China was a country of the rule of law and all its departments acted in accordance with the law. It was untrue that Tibetans were deprived of their freedom of religion or belief; this right and freedom was guaranteed in the Constitution to all people of China.
For use of the information media; not an official record