Monday, February 13, 2017

February 2017 Newsletter From John Knox, Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment--From Bio-Diversity and Human Rights to the Dakotah Access Pipeline

John H. Knox, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment (former Independent Expert on Human Rights and the Environment) and Henry C. Lauerman Professor of International Law has been advancing his mandate. (See HEREHERE, HERE, and HERE, HERE, HEREHERE. and HERE) .

Professor Knox has just released his February 2017 progress report on the work of his office. It makes for interesting reading. Two points are worth noting. The first touches on the Annual Report on Biodiversity and Human Rights. The report strengthens the case for the increasingly important aggregation of issues of environment and sustainability on the one hand, and fundamental human rights on the other. Both fields have evolved with knowledge of the other but committed to their own self referencing autonomy grounded in their inward looking core premises and the maintenance of field and jurisdictional boundaries.  The resulting incentives to develop along different paths and to only occasionally join for mutual benefit on what may be perceived to be shared goals has hampered the work of both areas. This divergence is not unique to environmental human rights discourses; the ideologies, practices and outlooks of business and those of human rights have also moved along parallel but not converging lines, to the great detriment of both.  It is recognized that
 The loss of biodiversity may interfere with the enjoyment of a wide range of human rights, including the rights to life, health, food, livelihood, water, housing, culture. The rights of indigenous peoples and others particularly reliant on healthy ecosystems are especially subject to threat. Biodiversity and human rights are closely linked and interdependent. The full enjoyment of many human rights depends on healthy ecosystems; at the same time, effective biodiversity policies depend on the exercise of human rights, including rights to information and participation, and require taking into account the rights of those who live in protected areas or who are otherwise directly affected by the policies. (Biodiversity and Human Rights)
Lamentably, the operationalization of the sentiments in statements of this kind points to where substantial work still needs to be done. In the absence of the development of shared principles, and of methodologies  and pathways toward linkages, the statement will remain essentially hortatory.  What may be required is the sort of quite targeted fact finding that supports better joint approaches (e.g., how does biodiversity loss specifically affects specific human rights in specific contexts, etc.).  Without that sort of joint work little progress, other than a refinement of rhetoric, will be possible. To that end, the human rights community has a responsibility to embed issues of environment and sustainability in ways that have not been fully developed in their field. As Prof. Knox notes: "Despite the close linkages, the two areas have often developed in parallel and in isolation from each other. Their relationship is not well-understood or clearly defined. There is a gap in assessing biodiversity/ecosystems policies from a human rights perspective. Furthermore, there is a need to clarify States’ human rights obligations pertaining to policies on biodiversity/ecosystems." (here)

The second touches on the Dakotah Access Pipeline. The Special Rapporteur has joined with the Special Rapporteur  on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to halt construction and engage in consultation with affected communities and with the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association criticizing the use of state power in the context of the protests. In the face of the reconstruction of American approaches to both international law and multilateralism the consequences and impact of the call to halt construction will be interesting, even if that reaction is merely to ignore the call itself. Indeed, both the call to halt construction and the criticism of internal security forces nicely evidences the limits of the conventional approaches to international legalization within which these were framed.

The Newsletter follows with links to the reports. 

Dear friends and colleagues,

I apologize for the delay since the last newsletter! Since September, I took a country visit to Madagascar, participated in the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, joined in statements on the Dakota Access Pipeline, and – most recently – published my most recent report to the Human Rights Council, which addresses the relationship between biodiversity and human rights. I will formally present the report to the Council on 7 March.

Report on biodiversity and human rights. I recently released my annual report to the Human Rights Council, which addresses biodiversity and human rights. It explains that full enjoyment of human rights, including the rights to life, health, food and water, depends on the services provided by ecosystems, that the provision of ecosystem services depends on the health and sustainability of ecosystems, and that in turn they depend on biodiversity. The full enjoyment of human rights thus depends on biodiversity, and the degradation and loss of biodiversity undermine the ability of human beings to enjoy their human rights. The report also outlines the obligations of States to protect biodiversity in order to protect human rights, including the heightened obligations States owe to indigenous peoples and local communities that closely depend on biodiversity for their cultural and material needs.

Country mission to Madagascar. In October, I visited Madagascar and met with government officials, civil society and others. We discussed a number of issues, including the conservation of Madagascar’s unique flora and fauna, mining conflicts, illegal trafficking, and the effects of climate change, which is contributing to a drought that is devastating people in southern Madagascar, as well as many other places in Africa. My end-of-mission statement is available in English here, and in French here. The report on the visit will be published soon.

Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biodiversity. I participated in meetings at the Conference, which was held in December in Cancun, Mexico, including with representatives of indigenous peoples and local communities that are working to protect biodiversity, which helped to inform my report to the Human Rights Council on biodiversity and human rights.

Statements on the Dakota Access Pipeline. The Standing Rock Sioux tribe in the United States, joined by many other indigenous peoples and others, have been opposing and peacefully protesting the construction of a crude oil pipeline because of concerns that it could adversely affect their drinking water. I have endorsed statements by Vicki Tauli-Corpuz, the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, calling on the United States to halt the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, consult with the affected communities in good faith, and ensure their free and informed consent prior to the approval of the project, and by Maina Kiai, the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, criticizing U.S. security forces for using excessive force against the protestors.

Events at the Council session in March. During the week of 6-10 March, I will participate in several events at the Human Rights Council, including: meeting with civil society on Monday, 6 March, at 9.30 in the Palais Wilson; participating in a side event on Monday at 13:00, in the Palais des Nations, on environmental human rights defenders; presenting my report to the Council on Tuesday, 7 March, at 15:00, during an interactive dialogue; and participating in another side event, on Thursday, 9 March, at noon, on biodiversity and human rights.

As always, thank you for your interest in and support for the mandate!

Best regards,

John H. Knox
UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment
Henry C. Lauerman Professor of International Law
Wake Forest University School of Law

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