1st Edition

UN Human Rights Institutions and the Environment Synergies, Challenges, Trajectories

By Sumudu Atapattu Copyright 2023
    346 Pages
    by Routledge

    This book presents an in-depth analysis of how UN human rights institutions and mechanisms have addressed environmental protection, sustainable development, and climate change.

    Despite the increasing involvement of UN human rights bodies in addressing environmental degradation and climate change, a systematic review of the convergence between human rights and the environment in these bodies has not been carried out. Filing this lacuna, this book surveys the resolutions, general comments, concluding observations, decisions on individual communications and press releases. It identifies principles that have emerged, explores the ways in which human rights charter-based and treaty-based institutions are interpreting environmental principles and examines how they contribute to the emerging field of human rights and the environment. Given the disproportionate effect that polluting activities have on marginalized and vulnerable groups, Atapattu also discusses how these human rights mechanisms have addressed the impact on women, children, indigenous peoples, people with disabilities, and racial minorities.

    Written by a world-renowned expert on human rights and the environment, this book will be of great interest to students and scholars researching and teaching in this important field of study.



    About the author


    Table of cases

    Table of treaties and other instruments

    Part I

    Introduction and overview of international human rights law

    1 UN Human Rights Institutions and the Environment: Framing the Issues

    1.1 Introduction

    1.2 Environmental issues covered

    1.2.1 Environmental pollution, environmental degradation and environmental protection

    1.2.2 Climate change

    1.2.3 Sustainable development and Sustainable Development Goals

    1.2.4 Other issues covered

    1.3 Methodology

    1.4 Outline of the book and overview of chapters

    2 An Overview of International Human Rights Law and the Emergence of Environmental Rights

    2.1 Introduction

    2.2 An overview of International Human Rights Law

    2.2.1 International Bill of Rights

    2.2.2 Typology of rights

    2.3 An overview of human rights institutions

    2.3.1 Treaty-based mechanisms

    2.3.2 Charter-based mechanisms

    2.3.3 Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

    2.4 Rights affected by environmental degradation

    2.4.1 Right to life

    2.4.2 Right to health

    2.4.3 Rights to food, water and sanitation

    2.4.4 Right of self-determination

    2.5 Specialized treaties on vulnerable groups

    2.6. Emergence of environmental rights and the right to a healthy environment

    2.6.1 Articulation of environmental rights

    2.6.2 Developments at the UN: The creation of special mandates

    2.7 Other global efforts to recognize environmental rights

    2.7.1 Draft International Covenant on the Human Right to the Environment

    2.7.2 Global Pact for the Environment

    2.8 Regional developments

    2.9 Developments at the national level

    2.10 Conclusion

    Part II

    Charter-based mechanisms

    3 UN Human Rights Council and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

    3.1 Human Rights Council

    3.1.1 Introduction and mandate

    3.1.2 Universal Periodic Review and working group recommendations Environmental protection Climate change Sustainable development and SDGs Indigenous rights Business enterprises and transnational corporations

    3.1.3 Resolutions of the HRC Environmental protection/degradation Climate change Sustainable development and SDGs

    3.2 Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

    3.2.1 Environmental protection/degradation

    3.2.2 Climate change

    3.2.3 Sustainable development and SDGs

    3.3 Conclusion

    4 Special Procedures Mandate Holders

    4.1 Introduction

    4.2 Appointment of a Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment

    4.3 Special Rapporteur on the Implications for Human Rights of the Environmentally Sound Management and Disposal of Hazardous Substances and Wastes

    4.4 Independent Expert on Human Rights and the Environment

    4.5 Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Environment

    4.5.1 Framework Principles on Human Rights and Environment

    4.5.2 David Boyd as Special Rapporteur

    4.6 Special Rapporteur on Cultural Rights

    4.7 Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food

    4.8 Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights

    4.9 The Working Group on Human Rights and Transnational Corporations and other
    Business Enterprises

    4.10 Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination,
    Xenophobia and Related Intolerance

    4.11 Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples

    4.12 Special Rapporteur on Climate Change and Human Rights

    4.13 Complaint submitted to special mandate holders on Rights of Indigenous Peoples in
    addressing climate-forced displacement

    4.14 Conclusion

    Part III

    Treaty-based mechanisms

    5 UN Human Rights Committee

    5.1 Introduction and mandate

    5.2 General comments

    5.3 Concluding observations

    5.3.1 Environmental pollution, environmental management and natural resource management

    5.3.2 Climate change

    5.3.3 Indigenous peoples

    5.4 Individual communications

    5.5 Conclusion

    6 Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights

    6.1 Introduction

    6.2 General comments

    6.3 Concluding observations

    6.3.1 Climate change

    6.3.2 Environmental pollution, environmental degradation, and environmental impact of mining operations and extractive industries

    6.3.3 Sustainable Development and Sustainable Development Goals

    6.3.4 Indigenous rights

    6.3.5 Human rights defenders

    6.4 Resolutions, statements and press releases

    6.5 Conclusion

    7 Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women

    7.1. Introduction and mandate

    7.2. General recommendations

    7.2.1 Sustainable development and SDGs

    7.2.2 Environmental impact assessments and free, prior and informed consent

    7.2.3 Climate change

    7.3. Concluding observations

    7.3.1 Climate change

    7.3.2 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

    7.3.3 Environmental pollution

    7.3.4 Renewable energy

    7.3.5 Women human rights defenders

    7.4 Conclusion

    8 Committee on the Rights of the Child

    8.1 Introduction and mandate

    8.2 General Comments

    8.2.1 Proposed General Comment on Environment and Climate Change

    8.3 Concluding observations

    8.3.1 Climate change

    8.3.2 Environmental health/pollution/degradation

    8.3.3 Children’s rights and the business sector

    8.3.4 Sustainable Development/SDGs

    8.3.5 Other issues discussed/recommendations made

    8.4 Individual complaints

    8.4.1 Amici curiae brief of Special Rapporteurs

    8.4.2 CRC Committee decision

    8.5 Conclusion

    9 Other Treaty Bodies

    9.1 The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

    9.1.1 General comments

    9.1.2 Concluding observations

    9.1.3 Disaster risk reduction and climate change

    9.1.4 Other relevant provisions

    9.2 Committee on the Protection of Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their

    9.2.1 General comments

    9.2.2 Concluding observations

    9.3 Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

    9.3.1 General recommendations

    9.3.2 Concluding observations

    9.4 Conclusion

    10 UN Human Rights Institutions and the Environment: Reflections, Challenges, Trajectories

    10.1 Introduction

    10.2 Principles, guidelines and standards

    10.3 General comments

    10.4 Individual communications

    10.5 Critiques

    10.6 Challenges

    10.7 Fragmentation, cohesion, or cross-fertilization?

    10.8 A research agenda for the future




    Sumudu Atapattu is Teaching Professor and Director of the Global Legal Studies Center at the University of Wisconsin Law School. She is also the Executive Director of the campus-wide interdisciplinary Human Rights Program. She serves as the Lead Counsel for Human Rights at the Center for International Sustainable Development Law based in Montreal, Canada, is on the advisory board of the McGill International Journal of Sustainable Development Law and Policy, and is affiliated faculty at the Raoul Wallenberg Institute for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, Sweden. She has published widely in the fields of international environmental law, climate change and human rights, environmental rights, and sustainable development.

    "This latest work of Sumudu Atapattu is a much-needed contribution to the field of study of climate change and human rights.The devastating impacts of climate change are worsening as actors around the world engage to safeguard human life and protect the rights of all, including those most vulnerable and exposed.Professor Atapattu helps the academic as well as the policy and activist communities better understand how a human rights framing helps victims of environmental degradation. In whatever environmental arena one finds oneself, this book is a required tool and an important asset." 

    Ambassador Dessima Williams, Formerly, Special Advisor on Sustainable Development Goals and Director, Office of the President of the UN General Assembly, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Grenada to the UN & Chair, Alliance of Small Island Developing States


    "UN Human rights institutions are increasingly addressing the human rights impact of environmental degradation including climate change and unsustainable development, despite their mandates’ silence on these issues.In this volume, Sumudu Atapattu lends her expertise to this emerging field and provides a comprehensive overview of how these human rights bodies have addressed these interlinkages. This volume fills a gap in the scholarly literature and should be of interest to scholars, students, activists, government officials, think tanks, and practicing lawyers."

    Professor Carmen G. Gonzalez and Morris I. Leibman, Professor of Law, Loyola University Chicago School of Law


    "This brilliant survey by Sri Lankan international lawyer Sumudu Atapattu comes at a propitious moment -- viz., the adoption by the UN General Assembly of Resolution on "the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment", preceded by a UN Human Rights Council Resolution. As explained by the author, it is not the intention of this study to engage in a discussion of scholarly writing or a literature review of the multiple global and regional human rights institutions so surveyed, but to examine the practice of these institutions in relation to environmental issues and whether there are any principles, standards and consistencies, giving birth to a new interdisciplinary area, and concluding with a critical analysis of the potential fragmentation and cross-fertilization in this emerging field."

    Professor Peter H. Sand, Institute of International Law, University of Munich, Formerly Legal Adviser for Environmental Affairs, World Bank, Commissioner for environmental damage, UN Compensation
    Commission, Geneva