South Africa 28.1.2014 09:00 am

Environment is a human rights issue

FILE PICTURE: Shacks are seen on the Jukskei River in Alexandra, northern Johannesburg: Tracy Lee Stark

FILE PICTURE: Shacks are seen on the Jukskei River in Alexandra, northern Johannesburg: Tracy Lee Stark

The International Human Rights Watch (HRW) has criticised the failure of governments, international agencies and non-governmental organisations to see environmental issues through the prism of human rights and address them together in legislation.

Juliane Kippenberg and Jane Cohen argued in an article forming part of the HRW World Report for 2014 that the environmental and human rights movements had to work together to ensure that those who damaged the environment and trampled on human rights were held accountable.

They said those who suffered from environmental degradation should have a platform to be heard, participate in debate about environmental issues and seek redress.

The HRW researchers said governments’ response to environmental degradation was often weak, disconnected and oblivious to the critical impact that climate change, pollution and other environmental problems had on human rights.

World leaders had, in 2012, missed the chance to bridge the false divide between development and environmental protection, despite the Rio+20 Summit bringing together more than 100 heads of state or government and 45 000 people for the biggest United Nations conference to date, they said.

Water pollution stock image courtesy of Stock.xchng.

Water pollution stock image courtesy of Stock.xchng.

“(They) completely whittled down rights language in the final document ‘The Future We Want’. International laws and regulations are important tools for protecting the environment, but they tend to focus on technical aspects of regulation, emissions, and processes, and – like the 2004 Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants – often fail to comprehensively address the health and human rights impact of environmental degradation, if they address them at all.

“And while international financial institutions aim to promote development, their actions sometimes violate human rights and result in further environmental degradation.”

Air pollution stock image courtesy stock.xchnge

Air pollution stock image courtesy stock.xchnge

Kippenberg and Cohen said what was lacking was a broader framework that analysed the impact on human rights and protected the right to health, food, water, and livelihoods – core economic rights – as well as civil and political rights.

“When governments are not held accountable, they are less likely to remediate contaminated sites and ensure full access to justice to those whose rights have been violated,” they said.

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