On October 10, 2017, Professor John Knox, the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment released a newsletter where comments on the Draft Guidelines on Human Rights and the Environment were solicited.
I was honored to produce and submit a commentary together with Professor Larry Catà Backer, under the auspices of the Coalition for Peace and Ethics. The executive summary of a much longer commentary on the Draft Guidelines on Human Rights and the Environment, and a table of our suggested revisions to the Draft Guidelines are reproduced below.
The Draft Guidelines on Human Rights and the Environment are based on articles 4, 5, and 7 of Resolution 31/8, and articles 5, 6, and 7 of Resolution 34/20 (Human Rights and the Environment). They summarize the basic human rights obligations of States on environmental matters.
The adoption of the Draft Guidelines on Human Rights and the Environment will provide an important opportunity to seek to advance the conception of the environment from its current status as one of the many variables in human rights protection, to its ontological status as the single factor that allows human life to be lived on the planet.
The potential of the Draft Guidelines on Human Rights and the Environment goes beyond providing a much needed framework for the basic human rights obligations of States on environmental matters. The Draft Guidelines on Human Rights and the Environment could place themselves at the very forefront of the most recent developments in unfolding the moral obligations implicit in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, by incorporating notions about the duties of corporate actors.
Violations of environmental rights, and environmental harm, ignore distinctions of ethnicity, gender, age, social or economic status. They occur independent of any attribute of human beings, and to not admit or allow for human agency. All victims of environmental harm may, however, enjoy a greater measure of empowerment if they had a possibility to identify themselves as members of a vulnerable population, and to petition for protection under national and international law within their jurisdiction.
It is with these considerations in mind that we suggest to the Special Rapporteur the following additional revisions for his consideration.