Human Rights and the Environment

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Human Rights and the Environment

Human Rights and the Environment in 2013

United States views on international law [1] in relation to Human Rights and the Environment: On March 6, 2013, the U.S. delegation to the 22nd session of the HRC delivered a statement at the interactive dialogue following the preliminary report of the independent expert on human rights and the environment. That statement is excerpted below and available at (link resource)

Some Aspects of Human Rights and the Environment

The United States thanks Professor Knox for preparing a comprehensive and thoughtful report that looks at the broad range of issues we encounter when we talk about the relationship between human rights and the environment. We appreciate the detail and thoroughness of this preliminary report and believe it provides an excellent basis for continuing our discussion of these issues. Countries around the world face many of the challenges the report describes. International cooperation can play a key role in our meeting such challenges. In particular, we support the report's focus on procedural rights and the identification of “human rights vital to environmental policymaking” as especially promising avenues for the Independent Expert to explore in more depth. In this regard, the United States notes that it strongly supports the right of all individuals to express themselves freely, including environmental activists as the Independent Expert describes.


We also applaud his attention to best practices, which have proven to be useful tools as they provide valuable information and insight into the cause and effect of policies. At times, specific case studies may not be directly relevant to a country's particular circumstances. However, best practices can provide the foundation for aspirational goals, increase understanding through lessons learned, or allow countries to accelerate progress in a related area. The United States appreciates the Independent Expert's empirical approach, and we would welcome his clarification of the meaning of “evidence-based approaches” with respect to obligations. We would also like to request greater clarification about how the Independent Expert intends to address Millennium Development Goal Number 7. We anticipate that maintaining a broad view of the concept of the goal (ensuring environmental sustainability), rather than delving into the elements that comprise it (for example, exploring the human rights aspects of the fact that the 2010 biodiversity targets were not met), will make for a more productive and more broadly applicable outcome.


We also note that a number of aspects of the relationship between human rights law and the environment, particularly with respect to substantive obligations, are neither well understood nor established. While an examination of human rights obligations relating to transboundary and global environmental harm — for example with regard to climate change — falls within the mandate of the Independent Expert, these are particularly complex and novel issues. We would urge the Independent Expert to take a measured approach that focuses on describing the international law as it stands rather than seeking to develop or create new norms.


We take a different view from that presented by the Independent Expert on certain other aspects of the report as well, such as in the discussion of third-party harms and in some of the nuances of the discussion of various vulnerable groups. The discussion of the relevance of human rights to the protection of non-human rights aspects of the environment is also worth reconsideration. We caution that pursuing this line of inquiry could be a distracting and inconclusive exercise.



  1. Human Rights and the Environment in the Digest of United States Practice in International Law

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