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Human Rights and the Environment: The UN Human Rights Committee Affirms the Duty to Protect

Published on September 9, 2019        Author: 

Recently, the Human Rights Committee published its views in the case Portillo Cáceres v. Paraguay (currently available only in Spanish). In this landmark decision, the Committee dealt, for the first time, with the question of the States’ duty to protect individuals from environmental degradation under articles 6 (right to life) and 17 (protection of the family) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). In doing so, the Committee followed the lead of several regional human rights institutions. The decision might help in strengthening the recognition of environmental protection as an element of human rights protection.

A brief summary of the case: The Communication was brought to the Committee against Paraguay by two peasant families who had been poisoned by high amounts of pesticide and insecticides used by neighbouring industrial farms. Whereas legal regulations existed that prohibited this conduct, no significant steps had been taken by the State to enforce the existing laws. As a result of the poisoning, one family member died, the others were hospitalized. Furthermore, the families suffered a loss of fruit trees, the death of various farm animals and severe crop damage. The families claimed that the State had failed in its duty to provide protection inasmuch as it has not exercised due diligence.

Protection of the Environment as a Human Right

Questions regarding the role of environmental protection in the context of human rights protection have recently been brought before several human rights mechanisms. Recently, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) has had the chance to define the role of environmental protection in its system (see this advisory opinion). It has not only found that there is an autonomous right to a healthy environment, but also stated that any right can be affected by environmental harm (paras. 63, 64). Read the rest of this entry…