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HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL HOLDS CLUSTERED INTERACTIVE DIALOGUE ON THE ENVIRONMENT AND ON ADEQUATE HOUSING

4 March 2019

The Human Rights Council during its midday meeting held a clustered interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, David R. Boyd, and with the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context, Leilani Farha.

Presenting his report, Mr. Boyd underlined that air pollution caused over seven million premature deaths per year.  Air pollution was a preventable problem and solutions – laws, standards, policies and programmes – were known.  Implementing solutions would require large investments but the benefits of ensuring clean air for all of humanity were incalculable. 

Ms. Farha, on her part, regretted that in her fifth year of the mandate, the numbers of people living in homelessness and informal settlements was still increasing, while forced evictions continued unabated.  She called on Member States to treat the right to housing seriously as a human right.  She also briefed the Council about her country visits to the Republic of Korea and Egypt.

Egypt and the Republic of Korea spoke as concerned countries.  The National Council for Human Rights of Egypt and the National Human Rights Commission of the Republic of Korea also took the floor.

In the ensuing discussion on human rights and the environment, speakers expressed concern that more than 90 per cent of the global population did not breathe clean air.  A lot of it was due to the domestic pollution and the burning of solid fuels to meet heating demands.  While climate change and air pollution struck down the rich and poor alike, there was growing evidence of its disproportionate impact on poor people.  There was a necessity to stop thinking in terms of interventions, as air pollution was a preventable problem for which they already had legal and technical instruments.  Speakers agreed with the recommendations regarding clean air, but they emphasized that many of those recommendations could not be met by developing countries under the current economic and financial system.

On adequate housing, speakers highlighted national legislation to ensure that an eviction could only take place following a court ruling, and they agreed with the Special Rapporteur’s report that access to justice in the context of evictions was of key importance.  Speakers underlined the link between access to justice and the right to adequate housing, noting that the human rights of the homeless did not feature in the work of corporations and large landowners.  The growth in the commodification of housing had led to worldwide increases in inequality between the rich and the poor.  Marginalized groups were unable to access justice with regard to their right to adequate housing.

Speaking were European Union, Angola on behalf of the African Group, Peru on behalf of a group of countries, Kuwait, Spain, Pakistan, Holy See, India, State of Palestine, Slovenia, Tunisia, Germany, Jordan, Iraq, Fiji, Cuba, Monaco, Finland, Uruguay, Djibouti, Togo, Malaysia, Syria, Russian Federation, Bolivia, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, El Salvador, Paraguay, France, Costa Rica, Maldives, Azerbaijan, Botswana, Gabon, Switzerland, Iceland, Algeria, Nepal, Iran, Bahrain, Bangladesh, China, Benin, Georgia, Ethiopia, Lebanon, Greece, Jamaica, Singapore, South Africa, Seychelles, Ecuador, Marshall Islands, Indonesia and Morocco.  The United Nations Children’s Fund, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, the United Nations Environment Programme, and the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America also spoke.

Also taking the floor were the following civil society organizations: Franciscans International, Human Rights Advocates Inc., Earthjustice, Friends World Committee for Consultation, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (in a joint statement with International Service for Human Rights), Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Human Rights Now, International Lesbian and Gay Association, Minority Rights Group, International-Lawyers.Org, Indigenist Missionary Council, International Federation Terre des Hommes, iuventum e.V., Maat for Peace, Development and Human Rights Association, and Make Mothers Matter.

Brazil spoke in a right of reply.

The Council will next meet at 15:40 when it will hear an address by Somalian Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khayre.  It will then hold the second part of its annual full-day meeting on the rights of the child, with a focus on including children with disabilities in education settings: good practices and accountability.

Documentation

The Council has before it 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 (A/HRC/40/55).

The Council has before it the Report of the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living (A/HRC/40/61).

The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living - visit to the Republic of Korea (A/HRC/40/61/Add.1).

The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living – visit to Egypt (A/HRC/40/61/Add.2).

The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living – comments by the Republic of Korea (A/HRC/40/61/Add.3). (Advance unedited version: A/HRC/40/61/Add.3)

The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living – comments by Egypt (A/HRC/40/61/Add.4).  (Advance unedited version: A/HRC/40/61/Add.4)

The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living – revised comments by Egypt (A/HRC/40/61/Add.4/Rev.1).  (Advance unedited version: A/HRC/40/61/Add.4/Rev.1)

Presentation of Reports by the Special Rapporteur on the Environment and the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing

DAVID R. BOYD, Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, said that since the industrial revolution, the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere had risen to over 400 parts per million, the highest level in 650,000 years, triggering dangerous and unpredictable climate change.  Air pollution caused over seven million premature deaths per year, more than war, murder, HIV/AIDS and malaria combined.  Every five seconds, a human’s life ended because of exposure to air pollution.  Household air pollution was generated by the use of solid fuels and ambient air pollution was caused by electricity generation, industry and poor waste management.  Air pollution was a major cause of heart disease and stroke.  A study published in 2016 by the World Bank estimated that the global costs of air pollution exceeded five trillion dollars per year.  As stated in the mandate’s report to the General Assembly last fall, the time had come for the United Nations to recognize the fundamental human right to live in a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment.  So far, 130 States had ratified regional human rights treaties that explicitly included the right to a healthy environment.  The report outlined seven key steps that States had to do in order to fulfil human rights obligations and reduce air pollution to acceptable levels: States had to monitor air quality; identify main sources of air pollution; engage the public, offering education about causes and consequences of air pollution; enact legislation, regulations and standards; develop national air quality action plans; implement and enforce the plans, laws and regulations; and finally they had to evaluate progress in order to revise the plans. 

There were examples of good practices: France, the Philippines and the Dominican Republic had laws that specifically identified their citizens’ rights to breathe clean air; two initiatives that improved air quality in many countries were laws phasing out leaded gasoline and reducing the sulphur content of transport fuels; in India and Indonesia, government programmes had provided clean cook-stoves and clean fuel free of charge.  At least 30 States had pledged to eliminate the use of coal to generate electricity by 2030.  There was a terrible increase in the number of people being murdered or criminalized because of their efforts to protect the environment, including in the Philippines and Kenya.  In conclusion, Mr. Boyd stressed that air pollution was a preventable problem and that solutions – laws, standards, policies and programmes were known.  Implementing solutions would require large investments but the benefits of ensuring clean air for all of humanity were incalculable.  The Council had the power to spark progress through a resolution recognizing that every person had the right to live in a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable development.

LEILANI FARHA, Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context, regretted that in her fifth year as Special Rapporteur, the numbers of people living in homelessness and informal settlements was still increasing, while forced evictions continued unabated.  Member States were thus called on to treat the right to housing seriously as a human right.  It was noted that those living in homelessness and grossly inadequate housing were deprived of agency, unable to challenge the policy choices and decisions that created the conditions in which they lived.  Access to justice for the right to housing did not mean putting courts in charge of housing programmes, but rather providing an adjudicative space in which rights holders could bring to light the effects of laws, policies or systemic neglect.  It was emphasized that denying access to justice could not be justified on the basis that the right to housing was not considered justiciable within the State’s domestic legal order.  The Special Rapporteur underlined that States could not pick and choose which components of the right to housing would be subject to access to justice.  Ms. Farha also noted that States must recognize that international human rights law applied to all branches of government, including the judicial branch.  The Special Rapporteur’s report described the important role to be played by national human rights institutions and by informal and customary justice systems that were more accessible and less threatening than formal justice systems.  Concern was expressed by the lack of attention to the right to housing in the business and human rights context.  It was emphasized that States could no longer hold themselves up as leaders in human rights while leaving increasing numbers of residents to live and die on their streets with no means to hold their Governments accountable.

Regarding the Republic of Korea, the Special Rapporteur noted that significant progress had been made with respect to the realization of the right to housing in the last 50 years and the Republic of Korea now had the largest social housing programme in the world.  However, it was noted that more than 300,000 low-income households continued to live in substandard housing, conditions that were tantamount to homelessness.  The city of Seoul was recognized for its innovative human rights recourse mechanism.  The Korean Government had implemented some of the recommended reforms, and the Special Rapporteur expressed confidence that it would continue to do so.

With regard to her visit to Egypt, the Special Rapporteur noted that the Government had made significant progress with respect to the progressive realization of the right to housing, including the construction of 600,000 units since 2014.   However, Ms. Farha noted with concern that many of the 38 million people living in informal settlements and unplanned areas lacked security of tenure and access to necessary services.   Vulnerable groups, in particular lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, faced discrimination in respect to the right to housing.   The Special Rapporteur expressed particular concern regarding information she had received that several persons had experienced some form of intimidation or reprisal in relation to her visit.

Statements by Concerned Countries

Egypt, speaking as a concerned country, said that the Government of Egypt had taken major strides to realize its commitments under the Constitution and international human rights law, to provide adequate housing to its growing population, despite various challenges.  Unfortunately, the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing had arrived in Egypt with certain inhibitions and prejudgments, and she had been unable to overcome them.  That was evident from the photos that she had posted on her Twitter account during the visit, along with negative comments.  Those comments constituted a breach of article 12 of the Code of Conduct for Special Procedure Mandate Holders.  Regarding the forced evictions that she had mentioned, and the tunnels used to smuggle terrorists, it was emphasized that the Government had a responsibility to protect its citizens against terrorist attacks and threats.  Its determination to fulfil that responsibility would not falter, while abiding by the principles of necessity and proportionality.  The Special Rapporteur’s recommendations would be studied by relevant Government authorities in depth in order to amend and fine tune national policies and strategies related to adequate housing.  

National Council for Human Rights of Egypt said that the Special Rapporteur had encouraged the Government to retain the social housing programme as a public project, contrary to the recommendation of the International Monetary Fund, which had recommended that it be turned into a private project.  Unfortunately, the Special Rapporteur had received some information about certain repressive measures, which needed to be further investigated.  The Council had not received any information in that regard.  As for the work of civil society, the Council expressed hope that the new law on civil society organizations would allow them to conduct investigations with respect to the right to adequate housing.  

Republic of Korea, speaking as a concerned country, was convinced that the report would serve as a catalyst to promote the right to adequate housing in the Republic of Korea.  The Government took note of the Special Rapporteur’s emphasis on the importance of ensuring access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing, and on improving housing quality, security and affordability, particularly for low-income households and disadvantaged groups.  Indeed, the Government needed to give special attention to housing difficulties faced by vulnerable people, so to address this, the Government had developed various housing policy measures, tailored to the needs of specific groups.  The supply of rental homes and housing benefitted vulnerable groups under the Housing Welfare Roadmap.  Assistance was designed for the elderly and young, including the provision of 140,000 public housing units for young people by 2022.  The application of family duty to provide support to its members was abolished as an eligibility criterion for housing benefits.  Measures were being taken to improve the security of tenure in rental accommodations.  Under the plan for the promotion of rental housing registration, the Government offered tax benefits for homeowners who registered their houses as private rentals.

National Human Rights Commission of the Republic of Korea hoped that the report would lead to a debate on improving housing rights in the Republic of Korea.  The Commission had held meetings with high-level officials and with the Special Rapporteur.  The Special Rapporteur’s recommendations on homelessness, vulnerable residence and human rights violations stemming from development and reconstruction were echoed.  In 2019, a survey on the situation of vulnerable residents living in substandard conditions was carried out.  The Commission recommended that the Government improve the system in line with international human rights standards.  The Commission would continue its efforts to improve the housing situation.

Interactive Dialogue

European Union asked the Special Rapporteur on the environment to elaborate on the seven steps that States needed to take to improve air quality.  It was shocking that an estimated 1.8 billion people lacked adequate housing.  The rights of homeless and evicted persons needed to be upheld.  Angola, speaking on behalf of the African Group, asked the Special Rapporteur on the environment about his opinion about how to make the existing experiences on clean air more accessible.  The African Group noted that the right to adequate housing was often challenged by overpopulation, armed conflicts and climate change.

Peru, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, expressed concern that more than 90 per cent of the global population did not breathe clean air.  A lot of it was due to domestic pollution and the burning of solid fuels to meet heating demands.  Kuwait stated that it prioritized providing housing to all categories of the population as a pillar of human rights.  It had created a fund worth millions of dollars to construct and renovate accommodation units.  Spain stated that an eviction in Spain could only take place following a court ruling, and it agreed with the Special Rapporteur’s report that access to justice in the context of evictions was of key importance.

Pakistan highlighted the negative impact of air pollution on the right to life and right to health.  Pakistan was committed to make maximum use of available resources to ensure the right to housing for all its citizens.  Holy See said that while climate change and air pollution struck down the rich and poor alike, there was growing evidence of their disproportionate impact on poor people.  There was a necessity to stop thinking in terms of interventions, as air pollution was a preventable problem for which the international community already had legal and technical instruments.  India stressed that the right to housing remained a priority for India and it continued its mission of housing for all by 2022, to provide better housing facilities to rural poor, urban slum dwellers and marginalized communities.  India was implementing a national action plan on climate change and it had enacted the Air Act to provide better prevention and control of air pollution.

State of Palestine said that Israel was using Palestinian territory to dump and process its toxic hazardous waste, and the siege on the Gaza Strip had had a terrible effect on the environment.  Israel continued to carry out in the occupied Palestinian territories forced evictions, mass forced displacement, house and village demolitions, land grabbing and building of settlements, all prohibited under international conventions.  United Nations Children’s Fund was concerned about the number of children exposed to air pollution, as they were disproportionately affected.  Around 300 million children lived in areas with toxic air and were suffering from diseases, ranging from lung disease to tuberculosis.  Slovenia said that the report mentioned that 155 States were legally obliged to respect the right to a healthy environment.  Could the Rapporteur elaborate on what benefits would the global recognition of the right to a healthy environment bring for improving the world’s air pollution situation?

Tunisia stated that it had established plans with various stakeholders to support vulnerable groups such as the homeless and children.  Since 2012, Tunisia had adopted a social plan which aimed to replace and refurbish poor quality housing for the benefit of vulnerable groups.  Housing was central to human rights as it related to human health.  Germany regretted that an estimated 1.8 billion people globally lacked adequate housing and thus were deprived of a human right. It agreed that people living in inadequate housing conditions still faced important difficulties to claim this right. 

Jordan stated that the constitution placed great importance on the need to provide adequate housing for all vulnerable groups without discrimination.  Jordan also provided legal counsel to those needing to address housing needs.  The importance of the right to live in a safe and clean environment was reiterated.  Iraq highlighted the problems caused by shortages of water in the country, which had caused sand and dust storms, contributing to increased air pollution.  Criminality had also exacerbated environmental dangers.  Iraq was committed to improving access to housing for its communities.
 
Fiji highlighted the link between the right to a safe, clean and sustainable environment and the right to development, and it invited everyone to fight climate change.  The right to life for future generations depended on the actions being taken nowadays.  Cuba noted the link between access to justice and the right to adequate housing, noting that the human rights of the homeless did not feature in the work of corporations and large landowners.  Cuba agreed with the recommendations regarding clean air, but many of those could not be met by developing countries under the current economic and financial system.  Monaco underlined that the right to clean air was one of its priorities both nationally and internationally, reminding that 90 per cent of the world’s population lived in areas where air quality was not in line with international standards.  

Finland agreed that the right to housing too often was not recognized as a human right, adding that civil society and private actors needed to play an active role towards the realization of that right.  How could rights holders be supported in their claims to adequate housing?  Uruguay restated its commitment to the right to a safe, clean and sustainable environment.  To that end, Uruguay worked hard to manage the use of chemicals and to advance the use of renewable sources of energy.  Djibouti underlined that it was committed to fight air pollution.  In line with its international obligations, Djibouti had adopted a comprehensive and inclusive approach to the implementation of its national strategy to respond to climate change.   

Togo reiterated the right of everyone to live in a clean environment, adding that the Government of Togo was committed to maintaining the quality of air in the country.  The Government had launched a major renewable energy project and provided subsidies to households to install solar electricity.  Malaysia concurred that the right to clean air complemented the Sustainable Development Goals, including on healthy lives for all, and sustainable cities.  The Government of Malaysia had committed to increase the number of clean air days and to strengthen its expertise in clean air management.  Syria had established a task force to develop a national plan of action to address environmental problems.  Syria’s environmental situation had suffered since the start of the crisis, partly as a result of crude oil production by rebel groups.  Russian Federation stated that air quality must be seen through the entire spectrum of factors that contributed to it.  The reduction in environmental pollution in more developed countries was made possible in part by the transfer of toxic production practices from richer to poorer countries.

Bolivia said that it had increased investments in renewable energy and sustainable transport systems, with an aim to increase the use of renewable energy to 79 per cent by 2030.  On adequate housing, the number of social housing units had increased by more than 147 per cent in the past 20 years.  Saudi Arabia noted that providing citizens with adequate housing ranked high on its agenda.  Its Vision 2030 was forging ahead with progress being made on the standard of living, including through a partnership between the private and public sectors.  Venezuela informed that it criminalized violations of the laws that aimed to protect the environment.  On adequate housing, Venezuela stated that it had built close to two million housing units, thus benefitting more than six million people.

El Salvador stated that the Government had submitted proposals to reduce air pollution by vehicles.  It underscored the positive impact of several programmes to facilitate access to adequate housing, as well as of granting of favourable housing loans.  Paraguay reminded that its Constitution guaranteed to all citizens decent housing.  What were the good practices in providing adequate housing to vulnerable populations, while keeping in mind different salary levels? 

Interim Remarks by the Special Rapporteur on the Environment and the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing

DAVID R. BOYD, Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, highlighted that over 80 States did not have any kind of air quality standards.  Moreover, there was a large gap noted between the existence of standards and the implementation and enforcement of these laws and regulations – there were many rules on paper, but the steps to enforce those laws and regulations were not being taken.  The Special Rapporteur said he was working closely with specialized institutions, including the World Health Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme, to develop good practices for creating and implementing air quality standards.  Regarding the issue of trans-boundary air pollution, the Special Rapporteur drew the Council’s attention to the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution, through which countries had collaborated on establishing air quality targets, which could become an excellent precedent to be emulated in other regions of the globe.  The Special Rapporteur emphasized that a legal recognition of the right to a healthy and sustainable environment at the global level would have a considerable impact on environmental human rights, and would empower millions of people to improve their environmental protections.  A constitutional recognition of the human right to a clean environment, the Special Rapporteur noted, often led to better laws and regulations as well as better implementation of these laws, resulting in cleaner air, cleaner water, and a healthier environment.  The consumption of goods in high-income States had resulted in increased air pollution in low-income States, placing greater responsibility on high-income countries to increase support for low-income countries to meet their environmental targets.  Regarding the greatest obstacles to a cleaner environment, Mr. Boyd pointed out that there was often business opposition to stronger regulations and standards.  However, it was noted the there was an enormous amount of literature which showed that investing in a cleaner environment was one of the best investments a government could make.  The Special Rapporteur also noted several countries that had successfully engaged in a transition away from a fossil-fuel economy, including Uruguay, Costa Rica, Norway, Paraguay and Iceland, which could serve as an inspiration that it was possible to make a transition towards 100 percent renewable energy.

LEILANI FARHA, Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context, concerning the remarks made by Egypt, rejected the suggestion that she had violated her mandate in her work in the country.  The Special Rapporteur reiterated that she had a duty to protect those who brought forward human rights allegations, and therefore could not provide the names of those victims, without their explicit consent, which they had not granted.  The Special Rapporteur explained that the findings of the mission were based on a wide range of information and data sources.  In terms of social media engagement, the Special Rapporteur said that she had reviewed the tweets she had published during the mission, as well as interviews given to various media outlets, including Al Jazeera, and did not believe these showed evidence of any bias.  With respect to comments from the Republic of Korea, the Special Rapporteur welcomed the input, but remained worried that forced evictions could be carried out in the regions addressed.  The Special Rapporteur thanked national human rights institution for playing an important role in ensuring adequate access to housing.  She addressed comments from the European Union, and stated that whilst informal justice systems provided some means of addressing inequalities, there must also be a recourse to formal systems such as courts.  Addressing the issue raised by Spain of eviction as a result of non-payment of rent, she stressed the severity of such outcomes, and urged the importance of all other avenues being pursued before eviction was implemented.  In response to the Palestinian delegation on the matter of forced evictions, the Special Rapporteur stated that she had written to the Government of Israel on four occasions, and had published Op-Eds on the matter.

Interactive Dialogue

France called for the mitigation of the adverse consequences of economic policies on the environment.  It underlined that the right to adequate housing was intrinsically linked with human dignity and justice.  Costa Rica urged all States and the private sector to bolster practices for environment protection.  The right to a healthy environment was included in Costa Rica’s Constitution, and Costa Rica was a regional leader in that respect.  Maldives asked the Special Rapporteur to share some best practices on air quality monitoring policies, in particular in island countries.  It agreed that investing in affordable housing was investing in sustainable development. 

Azerbaijan drew attention to situations when an occupying country in a completely conscious manner conducted the policy of purposeful damage to the environment in the illegally occupied lands on a regular basis, adding that the true motive of such actions was to devastate as much as possible before those territories were returned to where they historically belonged.  Botswana said that in addition to States’ responsibility to ensure a clean environment, it was also necessary to recognize the international community’s efforts to further implement commitments on addressing environmental issues.  The global community must accelerate its efforts to ensure access to clean energy.  Gabon reminded that least developed countries paid the heaviest price in terms of environmental degradation because they did not possess the means to acquire the necessary technologies to control air quality.  Could the Special Rapporteur conduct specific studies on developing countries in that respect?    

Sweden outlined its climate plan which was a road map that enshrined the country’s commitment to the environment.  Despite this, Sweden reiterated its belief that environmental targets could only be reached via international cooperation, and not just on a nation State level.  Switzerland stated that commodity trading companies had been accused of taking advantage of low standards of sulphur in fuel in certain African countries.  Switzerland had worked to establish clean air standards in some of these countries.  However, it reiterated that this could only be done successfully as part of a dialogue between the government and civil society.  Iceland stated its appreciation for the concise overview of the different ways that countries acknowledged the right for people to live in environmental health.  However, an acknowledgment was needed that these rights came with responsibilities, and governments should ensure that these were met. 

Algeria stated that the country’s biodiversity was very rich, and therefore was especially vulnerable to environmental degradation.  As such, Algeria had committed itself to the transition to cleaner energy sources to combat this.  Nepal stated that its priority was to maintain a balance between economic development and environmental sustainability.  It reiterated the unpleasant irony that it was suffering from the historic effect of environmental degradation which it had not caused.  Iran remarked that poverty, malnutrition and high unemployment were causes that discouraged the protection of the environment.  Therefore, in order to be successful, the protection of the environment should be pursued in parallel with sustained and inclusive economic growth.  Bahrain stated that 65 per cent of citizens in Bahrain had been able to acquire their homes through sustainable government programmes.  Furthermore, five sustainable cities had been constructed in the country, in line with its commitments to environmental sustainability.  

Bangladesh noted that its authorities recognized pollution as a major challenge in urban areas, and highlighted that legal, policy and administrative measures were being put in place in the context of ensuring environmental sustainability.  Bangladesh also underlined that it was developing residential facilities for slum dwellers in urban areas, and community housing with income generating support for the homeless in rural areas.  China emphasized that it had thousands of monitoring stations across the country assessing air quality.  China had also reduced its reliance on polluting fuels, and had transformed thermal power stations into low-emission power stations.  Benin emphasized that exposure to atmospheric pollution caused many illnesses, including respiratory infections, strokes and lung cancer.  A safe, clean and healthy environment contributed to the enjoyment of a good state of health, a sufficient quality of living and the right to equal opportunity.

Georgia said it was currently developing a ‘Green Growth Strategy’, which would serve as a guide for promoting economic growth, while protecting the environment, creating green jobs, and encouraging social equality.  The improvement of air quality was emphasized as an important priority for Georgia, fully realizing the negative impacts that poor air quality could impose on human health.  Ethiopia noted that it was one of the fastest growing economies in the world, and had put in place legislative frameworks, policies and roadmaps that could make this growth more sustainable.  Ethiopia also noted that it was among the leading nations in the region that had real-time air quality monitoring stations.  Lebanon emphasized the need to find global solutions to air quality, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Climate Accord.  Lebanon was drafting plans for non-fossil-fuel-based power production plants, reducing air pollution, and providing incentives to reduce emissions in the agricultural sector.

Greece agreed that damage to health could be considered a violation of human rights and the most vulnerable were the first to suffer the consequences. The right to a clean environment was enshrined in the Greek constitution and Greece had taken steps to address air pollution. Jamaica firmly believed that issues relating to the environment had to be thoroughly examined through a development lens. Jamaica was committed towards strengthening climate resilience and intensifying efforts towards adaptation and mitigation. Singapore said it had been implementing a vehicular emissions scheme which provided rebates or imposed surcharges on all new vehicles based on their environmental impact. How could effective international cooperation between States, businesses and civil society be ensured to prevent and counter transboundary air pollution?

United Nations Economic Commission for Europe said that effective public participation in decision making and transparency had proven to be the key drivers for promoting better air quality. Frameworks such as the Air and Aarhus Conventions were great models that could be replicated in other regions. South Africa noted that the two mandates were interlinked: the Special Rapporteur on housing had highlighted that marginalized groups were unable to access justice with regard to adequate housing, whereas the Special Rapporteur on the environment had reported on how air pollution disproportionally harmed poor people. Seychelles regretted that air pollution was leading to premature death, as reported.  Seychelles underlined that air pollution was also destroying eco-diversity.

Ecuador regretted that air pollution was contributing to the death of seven million people per year, as well as having an impact on health more generally.  In relation to the reports on air pollution and on housing, Ecuador agreed with many of the recommendations, and called for further international cooperation to achieve these goals.  United Nations Environment Programme emphasized the close relationship that it had with the Special Rapporteur in the environment.  The Programme had also helped people better understand their rights by using the media and by engaging the private sector to help implement the right to a healthy environment.  Marshall Islands stated that whilst it was not an industrial nation, pollution did have an impact on it.  Mercury pollution had entered the fish stock, and had had an impact on the population.  Marshall Islands called for more work to ensure that Member States addressed the risk to air pollution. 

Indonesia reiterated its commitment to continually strengthen its capacity to provide judicial remedies for all aspects of human rights, including the right to housing.  Indonesia had actioned programmes to ensure households and micro and small industries had access to affordable clean energy.  United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America agreed with the report of the Special Rapporteur on the environment on the importance of cooperation on local, regional and international levels to attain the goals set out.  By embracing a commitment to protect human rights defenders, Latin America was setting an example of how to defend environmental protection.  Morocco stated that air quality and access to a clean environment was a fundamental human right, and legislation adopted in recent years applied to almost all areas of environmental protection.  Under the Mohamed Sixth Foundation, projects such as mobility plans in urban areas were being implemented to address environmental issues.   

Franciscans International agreed that violations should be effectively addressed and redressed, contributing to avoid the recurrence of disasters and displacing people.  Ensuring access to justice was also highlighted as crucial when companies and businesses were involved in the violation of the right to housing.  Human Rights Advocates Inc. emphasized that, if left unchecked, water scarcity and pollution would be detrimental to the human race.  Human Rights Advocates Inc. also noted that the growth in commodification of housing had led to worldwide increases in inequality between the rich and the poor.  Earthjustice regretted that while the United Nations had recognized the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, it had still not recognized the right to breathe clean air as an essential component of the right to a healthy and sustainable environment.  Earthjustice called on States to follow the seven steps set out by the Special Rapporteur to fulfil their human rights obligations relating to clean air.

Friends World Committee for Consultation expressed gratitude to the Council for its continued work to clarify the human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment.  The Special Rapporteur was asked: what additional steps could the Council take to further the global recognition of the right to a healthy environment?  Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (in a joint statement with International Service for Human Rights) expressed great concern at reports of grave and systematic reprisals by the Egyptian Government against those who had cooperated with the Special Rapporteur.  The United Nations was urged to ensure an urgent and robust system-wide response to these reports.  Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights agreed with the Special Rapporteur that access to justice was about giving voice to the deprivation of dignity and enabling rights holders to challenge the underlying policy decisions that had created the conditions in which they lived.  States were called upon to address substantive barriers to access justice.

Human Rights Now expressed its continuing concern about the failure of the Japanese Government to protect the human rights of people affected by the Fukushima nuclear disaster.  As of December 2018, there had been over 273 cases of thyroid cancer among affected children.  International Lesbian and Gay Association said that in the Republic of Korea, the accessibility to housing for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons was both a human rights and a poverty issue.  Looking to Asia more broadly, across the continent the freedom of movement for some woman was highly restricted and controlled.  Minority Rights Group said it had been documenting for years the situation of minorities in Egypt and the issues of forced displacement and denial of the right to return.  The forced displacement of Christians was the consequence of the legal and administrative difficulties they faced around the renovation of churches.

International-Lawyers.Org stressed that while solutions to air pollution existed, political will and necessary resources for the implementation of these policies were lacking.  The right to clean air was an intrinsic human right, so there had to be a focus on developing countries.  Indigenist Missionary Council asked how could indigenous people be strengthened to act as actors to protect the air? The report identified that indigenous people were the most affected but could also be the agents of change?  International Federation Terre des Hommes said that children were among the groups most at risk from air pollution.  Despite the devastating effects of poor air quality on children’s lives, concerns for their rights were not duly considered in measures to prevent and control air pollution.

iuventum e.V. stressed that household air pollution was especially acute for women, as a result of their primary role in cooking.  This issue further delayed their participation in the decision making process.  They called for minimum standards of clean air and water, as well as having general good practice in place.  Maat for Peace, Development and Human Rights Association expressed their readiness to meet with the Special Rapporteur on their next visit to Egypt.  They also called on the Government of Egypt to note the recommendations made by the Special Rapporteur.   Make Mothers Matter stated that addressing the issue of air pollution would require action at household, local and international levels.  At the household and local levels, women and especially mothers must not be considered only as victims, but as vectors of transformation. 

Concluding Remarks

DAVID R. BOYD, Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, emphasized that when efforts were made to tackle climate change, it was essential that these also addressed air pollution.  In response to questions from Member States, the Special Rapporteur promised to conduct more country visits to developing countries, and noted a recent visit to Fiji.  The precedent set by the United Nations and the Human Right Council in recognizing the human right to clean water and sanitation had had an important impact around the world, with a growing number of constitutions recognizing access to water and sanitation, as well as important court decisions and national laws recognizing this right.  Mr. Boyd pointed to his home country of Canada, where following the Council’s recognition of this right, the Government had changed its position in both law and practice, including a concerted effort to bring water to indigenous communities which had lacked access to this fundamental right.  The Special Rapporteur also highlighted that the development of an international covenant or global treaty on the right to clean air would be fundamental for advancing this right worldwide.  Mr. Boyd recalled the commitment made during the Paris Agreement for high-income countries to provide $100 billion per year to address climate change and air pollution in low-income countries, which was underlined as a tremendous resource for assistance.  It was emphasized that encouraging businesses was not a very effective way to achieve a pollution-free economy, but rather States needed to regulate businesses towards this end.  Assessing the implications of switching to renewable energy was emphasized as vital to ensure that new forms of energy did not cause further human rights impacts.  In conclusion, Mr. Boyd highlighted the incredible progress made globally towards renewable energy, as well as the important role of indigenous people and women in not only achieving cleaner air, but also in moving countries forward towards achieving their Sustainable Development Goals.

LEILANI FARHA, Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context, reminded that women often did not have a safe space to claim their rights to land and housing.  There had been a 40 per-cent decline in access to justice, she noted and added that she would like to see a reversal of that.  The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants was very strong on the right to adequate housing.  If States adopted rights-based housing strategies, they would be much closer to achieving adequate housing for all, while taking into account the standard of the maximum available resources.  As for the interplay between the environment and the right to adequate housing, the Special Rapporteur said that she had raised that issue in October 2018, in the context of informal settlements, and she hoped to have a statement issued on that matter.  In terms of the right to adequate housing for persons with disabilities, there were several positive examples.  Several countries had established independent monitoring bodies to ensure that persons with disabilities had access to justice.  National human rights institutions could play a very important role in determining whether complainants could go for court hearings.  Finally, Ms. Farha expressed satisfaction that delegations were alarmed about the fact that 1.8 billion people did not have access to adequate housing.

Right of Reply

Brazil, speaking in a right of reply, reiterated Brazil’s long-term commitment to the rights of indigenous peoples across the country.  As evidence, for the first time in history, the current Government had appointed an indigenous woman as a Government Minister.  In addition, in response to the tragic collapse of a dam in Minas Gerais, a specific hotline had been made available to people with disabilities, as part of the rescue effort.  Regarding the disaster in Minas Gerais, the Government gave its commitment to maintaining a transparent dialogue with any stakeholders that wished to engage with them.

For use of the information media; not an official record
HRC/19/16E