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HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL DISCUSSES THE RIGHT TO SAFE, CLEAN, HEALTHY AND SUSTAINABLE ENVIRONMENT AND FOREIGN DEBT

2 March 2020

The Human Rights Council this morning held an interactive dialogue with David. R. Boyd, Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment. It also began an interactive dialogue with Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky, 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.

Presenting his reports, Mr. Boyd said that last year was the second warmest year on record. Ocean temperatures were the highest on record, and the area of Artic Sea ice was the smallest on record. More than 1 million species were at risk of extinction. Pollution killed nine million people every year. In light of this ominous background, his report on good practices might be considered surprising as over 500 good practices from 178 States had been identified. Good practices were broad, ranging from laws, policies, jurisprudence, strategies, programmes, projects and other measures that contributed to reducing adverse impacts on the environment. His report focused on the implementation of the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. He also spoke of his country visits to Fiji and Norway.

Fiji and Norway took the floor as concerned countries. The Norwegian National Human Rights Institute also spoke.

In the ensuing discussion, speakers welcomed the fact that 80 per cent of the United Nations’ Member States recognized the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment as a human right. The Special Rapporteur’s report was a powerful reminder that many countries had achieved significant milestones through increased action on the implementation of that right. However, speakers expressed concern about the impact that the environmental crisis had on children’s rights, reminding that more than 1.7 million children under the age of five lost their lives every year as a result of avoidable environmental impacts. Least developed countries and small island developing States bore the greatest brunt of climate change and it was ironic that countries which had generated only nominal amounts of greenhouse gases annually were the most vulnerable. Accordingly, technical assistance was needed to assist them to implement their environmental programmes. Speakers also emphasized that the private sector had to assume more responsibility.

Speaking in the interactive dialogue were the European Union, Ecuador (on behalf of a group of countries), Slovenia (on behalf of a group of countries), Pakistan (on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation), United Nations Children’s Fund, Brazil, Germany, Switzerland, Cuba, Togo, Djibouti, Estonia, Namibia, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Philippines, France, India, Pakistan, Botswana, Malaysia, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Monaco, Jordan, Portugal, Chile, Netherlands, El Salvador, Sudan, Croatia, Ireland, Montenegro, Egypt, Greece, Russian Federation, Uruguay, Syria, Republic of Korea, Spain, Venezuela, Algeria, Indonesia, Maldives, Paraguay, Cameroon, Senegal, Jamaica, China, Nepal, Peru, Georgia, United Kingdom, Iceland, Guyana, Timor Leste, Haiti, Solomon Islands (on behalf of a group of countries), Albania, Kyrgyzstan, Guatemala, Marshall Islands, Armenia, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Panama, United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, Cambodia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Morocco, Burkina Faso (on behalf of the African Group), Azerbaijan, Barbados, Myanmar, and Côte d’Ivoire.
Also taking the floor were the following civil society organizations: Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions, Franciscans International, Sikh Human Rights Group, Terre des Hommes Federation Internationale, Universal Rights Group, Conselho Indigenista Missionário, Right Livelihood Award Foundation, Earthjustice, Friends World Committee for Consultation, Dominicans for Justice and Peace – Order of Preachers, and International Service for Human Rights.

At the end of the meeting, Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky, Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt on the full enjoyment of human rights, said his thematic report looked at the links between private debts and human rights, and discussed in particular human rights implications of health, education and housing-related debts, as well as abusive collection practices and migration-related debts and debt bondage. As financial industry technology led to over-borrowing and constituted a highly unregulated sector, policies providing financial literacy and protecting consumers’ rights played a key role in mitigating the impact on human rights of over-indebtedness and abusive lending practices, Mr. Bohoslavsky emphasized. He spoke of his country visits to Bolivia and Mongolia.

The meetings of the forty-third regular session of the Human Rights Council can be followed on the webcast of UN Web TV.

The Council will meet again today at 3 p.m. to continue its interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt on the full enjoyment of all human rights. It will then proceed to hold separate interactive dialogues with the Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of religion or belief, and with the Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children.

Documentation

The Council has before it the Right to a healthy environment: good practices - report of the Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment (A/HRC/43/53).

The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment – Visit to Fiji (A/HRC/43/53/Add.1).

The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment – Visit to Norway (A/HRC/43/53/Add.2).

The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment – Comments by Fiji (A/HRC/43/53/Add.3).

The Council has before it the Good practices of States at the national and regional levels with regard to human rights obligations relating to the environment - Summary report of the Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment (A/HRC/43/54). Link is not active

Presentation of Reports by the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment

DAVID. R. BOYD, Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, introducing his report on a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment (the right to a healthy environment: good practices), said that in 2019, the levels of carbon dioxide had reached their highest level in more than three million years. Last year was the second warmest year on record. Ocean temperatures were the highest on record, and the area of Artic Sea ice was the smallest on record. More than 1 million species were at risk of extinction. Pollution killed nine million people every year. In light of this ominous background, his report on good practices might be considered surprising as over 500 good practices from 178 States had been identified. Good practices were broad, ranging from laws, policies, jurisprudence, strategies, programmes, projects and other measures that contributed to reducing adverse impacts on the environment. His report focused on the implementation of the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. This right enjoyed constitutional protection in 110 States.

With respect to clean air, hundreds of millions of poor people in India and Indonesia were benefiting from subsidized clean cooking stoves and fuels. The Marshall Islands had a rights-based, long-term decarbanization plan. Wind produced 30 times more electricity today then in 2000. Solar energy produced 600 times more electricity today than in 2000. France was the first State to completely ban the bee-killing pesticide called neonicotinoids. With respect to water and sanitation, there were many good practices. In South Africa, the right to water was enshrined in the Constitution. Between 2000 and 2017, 14 million South Africans had gained access to basic water services, while 17 million people had gained access to basic sanitation. As for non-toxic environments, over 50 States had banned all uses of asbestos. Regarding biodiversity and healthy ecosystems, Slovenia was a leader and it had protected over 42 per cent of its land in protected areas. The Great Green Wall in Africa was an extraordinary initiative by 21 States to restore degraded land in the Sahel region.

The Special Rapporteur introduced reports on his country visits to Fiji and Norway. Fiji was making dedicated efforts to protect its environment, from an innovative Environment and Climate Adaptation Levy, to a comprehensive long-term decarbonization plan. Fiji was already suffering from immense harm from climate change, resulting in extensive human rights violations. Tropical Cyclone Winston had devastated Fiji in 2016 causing extensive damage to the infrastructure.

Norway was a genuine leader on many environmental issues, from clean electricity to billions of dollars invested to conserve tropical rainforests. However, much of that wealth had come from oil and gas exports, meaning that Norway had contributed disproportionally to climate change. To protect indigenous people like the Sami, the world had to accelerate action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Recently, a number of leaders had urged the United Nations to adopt a resolution recognizing the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment.

In conclusion, Mr. Boyd said that for his next annual report, he hoped that they would have the pleasure of congratulating the Council for passing a resolution recognizing the fundamental human right to live in a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. It might be the most important step that the Council could take to protect human rights, especially children’s rights from the global environmental crisis.

Statements by Concerned Countries

Fiji, speaking as a concerned country, noted the findings and recommendations of the Special Rapporteur’s report. Fiji had been a global leader in fighting climate change and promoting the right to a clean and healthy environment. That right was embedded in Fiji’s Constitution and it was a priority of Fiji as a member of the Human Rights Council. Fiji noted the Special Rapporteur’s concerns expressed regarding the technical expertise, human resources and financial capacity necessary to carry out Fiji’s ambitious environmental goals. He noted a need for a comprehensive, coordinated and strategic urban planning process in the context of rapid urbanization, and especially in rural areas and informal settlements in Fiji. The Special Rapporteur also underlined the need to allocate more financial and human resources to all departments and agencies with environmental responsibilities. Fiji stressed that indigenous peoples possessed over 90 per cent of Fiji’s land. The ownership of that land would remain with the customary owners and could not be alienated from them. In that respect, Fiji emphasized the importance of meaningful public participation and timely access to important information.

Norway, speaking as a concerned country, recognized the mutual and interdependent relationship between human rights, the climate and the environment. The realization of human rights was not only an end in itself, but was also a prerequisite for safeguarding the climate and the environment. The Special Rapporteur had pointed out to what he considered to be the Norwegian paradox: being a leader in addressing global climate change and at the same time having a large oil and gas industry. Norway was already responding with increased ambition and action to the message from young people across the world. The same went for the message from the world’s experts on the need for 40-50 per cent carbon emission reductions by 2030, and a carbon neutral world by 2050. Norway had for several decades applied strong measures to reduce emissions from its oil and gas industry. It was fully committed to the realization of human rights and to safeguarding its common climate and environment for current and future generations.

Norwegian National Human Rights Institute, in a video message, believed that the Special Rapporteur’s report would be very useful for non-governmental organizations and the Norwegian Government. The Government should carefully consider all the challenges and recommendations outlined in the report because there was room for improvement in various areas. When it came to the climate case against the Government as set out in the Constitution, the interpretation of that article had been subject to debate. Equally, there was a lack of follow-up on the National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights, and some concern regarding the rights of Sami people, namely the right to consultation. Climate change constituted probably the biggest challenge to human rights of the time.

Interactive Debate

Speakers welcomed the report by the Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, as it recognized numerous good examples, ranging from different legislation set in place to concrete policies. This was inspiring to other States to increase their efforts. It was particularly comforting that 80 per cent of United Nations Member States had recognized the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment as a human right. The report was a powerful reminder that many States had achieved significant milestones through increased action on the implementation of the human right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. The need for progressive and coherent policies was recognized. The right of citizens to participate in public policies, including those relating to the environment, was underscored as a prerequisite for progressive policies. Delegations also outlined the concrete steps that their Governments were taking to protect the environment and mitigate the effects of the unprecedented environmental crisis, including the targets to limit their gas emissions by 2030, various environmental laws, and efforts undertaken to use renewable energy. Some countries had already established environmental funds to be able to implement their environmental obligations. The importance of the Aarhus Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters was underscored, as well as other regional and international instruments regulating the right to a healthy environment. The Rapporteur was asked how the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment related to civic and political rights and how the global recognition of the right to a healthy environment could contribute to better environmental policies.

Although rights related to environmental protection were a late arrival to the body of human rights law, a sustainable environment was a precondition for the enjoyment of multiple human rights. Particular concern was expressed over the impact that the environmental crisis had on children’s rights. Over 1.7 million children under the age of five lost their lives every year as a result of avoidable environmental impacts. Least developed countries and small island developing States remained the most affected. It was ironic that countries which had generated only nominal amounts of greenhouse gases annually were the most vulnerable. States had to comply with their responsibilities, particularly those that denied the effects of climate change, otherwise, the catastrophic consequences could not be avoided on a global scale. Moreover, the private sector had to be included amongst the stakeholders who bore much responsibility but were often left out of discussions. Support assured by the Secretary-General at the beginning of the Council’s session was welcomed. Delegations supported the call for a global recognition of the right to a healthy environment and joined the Special Rapporteur in the assessment that current efforts were not nearly enough to address the crisis facing humanity right now. Additionally, technical assistance programmes were needed to assist countries to implement environmental programmes. The Rapporteur was encouraged to closely consider interlinked issues associated with the impact of climate change on the enjoyment of human rights.

Interim Remarks

DAVID. R. BOYD, Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, invited States to continue communicating with the mandate as today he had learned about new best practices from Togo and Pakistan. The right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment had been recognized in many countries for decades, as well as in the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, so it was time for the Council to move expeditiously towards a resolution recognizing the right of every person in this world to live in a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. Scientists were speaking with one voice when it came to a unifying way to tackle this issue. In 110 States where this right enjoyed constitutional protection, it served as a catalyst for stronger environmental laws and policies, improved implementation and enforcement of those laws and policies, greater levels of public participation in environmental decision making, and most importantly, the recognition of the right to a healthy environment was a catalyst for improved quality of life for human beings. The recognition of the right to a healthy environment empowered and assisted the most vulnerable people. This was seen in the example of air pollution. Although there were heavily polluted cities, research showed that the quality of air inside many people’s homes was much worse in countries where people continued to use cook stoves that burned biomass, kerosene, charcoal and other solid fuels. This was a critical issue that could be addressed. The World Bank estimated that to achieve clean cook stoves for everyone in the world by 2030, this required an investment of approximately $ 5 billion a year. This was a tiny sum in the bucket of the global economy. Resolutions from the United Nations were also very powerful, even if they were non-binding. For example, 10 years after the Council had adopted resolutions on the right to water and sanitation, more countries had added water and sanitation to their constitution, legislation and policy priorities.

Interactive Dialogue

Speakers concurred with the Special Rapporteur that the rapid dissemination of good practices was important for sustainable development. In the context of the global environmental crisis, and especially of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, it was important to establish good practices to protect human rights. Environmental protection was a shared responsibility of all countries. However, access to adequate resources was imperative in order to achieve sustainable progress and fully realize commitments to environmental protection. Speakers called attention to the increased attacks on environmental human rights defenders, as well as to the environmental degradation caused by conflicts and terrorism. They underlined the importance of ensuring public participation in environmental decisions, as well as of improving access to justice for people affected by environmental degradation. Speakers recalled increasing violent attacks, destruction of property and land invasions in indigenous communities. Some speakers rejected any form of country-to-country waste movements, particularly from developed to developing countries, which would violate the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal. Sharing the Special Rapporteur’s concern regarding air pollution, speakers asked the Special Rapporteur for his views on ways to encourage and ensure effective international cooperation to improve air quality across the world.

Speakers said that small island developing States particularly faced significant environmental challenges and were thus especially active in building climate change resilience. All States were not equal, speakers reminded. Poverty, armed conflicts and limited access to quality education reduced the range of choices available to people and no country could address environmental problems on its own. The most impoverished societies bore the greatest brunt of climate change. International organizations should therefore continue increasing cooperation and coordination in that area. Development activities should be carried out, taking into account the consideration of the future of the earth, and the promotion, protection and welfare of living beings, and avoiding any collusion with the ecosystem. Speakers thus asked the Special Rapporteur to assess how States, especially the least developed ones, had managed to balance their development aspirations and the need to maintain a safe, clean and healthy environment. The Human Rights Council could not stand by as the world dealt with monumental changes to the environment. It was the time for the Council to formally recognize the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, as well as the common responsibility to maintain it for future generations. Speakers called on Governments to provide enough information, consultation and participation of the communities and civil society in the process of licensing of megaprojects, particularly of mining and logging companies.

Concluding Remarks

DAVID. R. BOYD, Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, said this was a critical year as countries had to submit their reviews under the Paris Agreement. Many countries did not include climate change within nationally determined contributions. Wealthy countries had promised $ 100 billion per year in financing to assist least developed countries and small island developing States with adaptation and mitigation. This was a minimal figure which had to be increased in the future. It was time to start some innovative thinking when it came to financial management. The decision of the Constitutional Court in France was mentioned, as recently France had adopted a law on the export of pesticides, which were not used in France, and the court had rejected it. There should be no export of chemical products that were not used domestically. The World Bank had a database that contained the percentage of land and of water that was protected. Costa Rica had engaged in a successful process of reforestation. In conclusion, Mr. Boyd reiterated the need for the Council to adopt a resolution on the environment and strongly condemned all attacks on environmental human rights defenders.

Documentation

The Council has before it the Private debt and human rights - Report of the Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights (A/HRC/43/45).

The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights – Visit to Bolivia (A/HRC/43/45/Add.1).

The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights – Visit to Mongolia (A/HRC/43/45/Add.2).

The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights – Comments by Bolivia (A/HRC/43/45/Add.3). LINK NOT ACTIVE, ONLY SPANISH VERSION AVAILABLE.

The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights – Comments by Mongolia (A/HRC/43/45/Add.4).

Presentation of Reports by the Independent Expert on the Effects of Foreign Debt on the Full Enjoyment of Human Rights

JUAN PABLO BOHOSLAVSKY, Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights, noted that his thematic report looked at the links between private debts and human rights and discussed in particular human rights implications of health, education and housing related debts, as well as abusive collection practices and migration-related debts and debt bondage. It also shed light on human rights violations in the context of household and individual debts offered by a range of lending actors. On private over-indebtedness, while contracting debt per se was not a problem, it could be a cause for human rights violations and the rise of private indebtedness could be considered the symptom of the population resorting to debt to access food, housing or education. Financial industry technology led to over-borrowing and constituted a highly unregulated sector, so policies providing financial literacy and protecting consumers’ rights played a key role in mitigating the impact on human rights of over-indebtedness and abusive lending practices. The report stressed that increasing financial inclusion did not result automatically in real life improvements. In was obvious that a number of States and international financial institutions supported debt-financed spending at the expense of the provision of public good. Three recommendations were put forward: to regulate all lending activities, formal and informal, ensuring that contractual terms and the means to collect debts did not violate borrowers’ human rights; to ensure that legislation prohibited the enforcement of debts where there was evidence of misrepresentation, fraud, coercion, unfair terms or other abusive practices by lenders or debt collection agencies; and to prohibit criminalization of debtors, ensuring their political rights could not be limited because of their debt status.

Turning to his country visits, Mr. Bohoslavsky noted that at the time of his visit, Bolivia had been at a crossroads. Its State-led development model combined with the export boom in hydrocarbons and minerals had helped the State revenue grow, and social protection programmes which had followed had reduced poverty significantly. But the economic slowdown in 2014 had demonstrated structural constraints of the model which relied heavily on “extractivisim”, all showing the need to re-assess the effectiveness of the model in promoting human rights sustainability. The report highlighted that the development process had to be centred on the rights to participation of stakeholders in public policymaking and access to information. Tensions around mass consumption and the concept of “living well” and collective rights versus individualism propelled by the market economy were noted. Following weeks of demonstrations, the new Government was urged to be fully guided by human rights in its policymaking.

In Mongolia, the level of public debt had significantly dropped over the last years, but there were potential emerging economic challenges as external private debt remained high. Mongolia had entered into an arrangement with the International Monetary Fund in 2017 and the economic recovery programme that was set up, including fiscal consolidation, had had an effect on programmes such as the child money programme and the poverty benefit programme. Gender-sensitive, human rights impact assessment of economic reforms was recommended. As a country extremely rich in natural resources, the mining sector in Mongolia had a potential to serve as a catalyst for socio-economic development. Mr. Bohoslavsky mentioned his visit to Oyu Tolgoi LLC mines and their commitment to saving water.


For use of the information media; not an official record


HRC20.015E