Why the recent UN declaration on human rights should be taken seriously


By Joel E. Correia 4 minutes Lily

Yet it is more than a moral posture. Resolutions like this usually lay the groundwork for effective treaties and national laws.

I am a geographer who focuses on environmental justice, and much of my research investigates the relationships between development-induced environmental change, natural resource use, and human rights. Here are some examples of how similar resolutions have opened the door to stronger actions.

How the concept of human rights has expanded

In 1948, in the aftermath of World War II, the newly formed United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in response to the atrocities of the Holocaust. The declaration was not legally binding, but it established a basis of rights intended to ensure the conditions of basic human dignity.

This first set of rights included the right to life, religious expression, freedom from slavery, and a standard of living adequate for health and well-being.

Since then, the scope of human rights has expanded, including several legally binding agreements for countries that have ratified them. The United Nations Conventions against Torture (1984) and Racial Discrimination (1965) and on the Rights of Children (1989) and Persons with Disabilities (2006) are just a few examples. Today, the International Bill of Human Rights also includes binding agreements on economic, cultural, civil and political rights.

Today’s triple planetary crisis

The world has changed dramatically since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was written, perhaps most notably in terms of the scale of the environmental crises people face around the world.

Some experts say the “triple planetary crisis” of man-made climate change, widespread loss of biodiversity and unmitigated pollution now threatens to exceed the planetary boundaries needed to live safely on Earth.

These threats can affect the right to life, dignity and health, as can air pollution, contaminated water and pollution from plastics and chemicals. This is why advocates have advocated for the UN to declare a right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment.

The smog has sometimes gotten so bad in Delhi that the government has closed elementary schools. [Photo: Sajjad Hussain/AFP/Getty Images]

The UN has been discussing the environment as a global concern for more than 50 years, and several international treaties over that time have addressed specific environmental concerns, including binding agreements on biodiversity protection and the closure of the hole. of ozone. The 2015 Paris climate agreement to limit global warming is a direct and legally binding result of the long struggles that followed the initial declarations.

The resolution on the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment was approved without opposition, although eight countries abstained: Belarus, Cambodia, China, Ethiopia, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Syria.

The human right to water

Voluntary declarations of human rights can also help change state policy and provide people with new political tools to demand better conditions.

The human right to water is one of the most striking examples of how UN resolutions have been used to shape state policy. The resolution, adopted in 2010, recognizes that access to adequate amounts of safe drinking water and sanitation is necessary to realize all other rights. Diarrheal diseases, largely due to unsafe water, kill half a million children under the age of 5 every year.

Human rights advocates have used the resolution to pressure the Mexican government to reform its constitution and adopt a human right to water in 2012. Although the concept still faces challenges, the idea of he right to water is also credited with transforming access to water in marginalized communities. in Bangladesh, Costa Rica, Egypt and other countries.

The rights of indigenous peoples

Another example is the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It acknowledges the specific histories of marginalization, violence and exploitation that many Indigenous peoples around the world have endured, as well as contemporary human rights violations.

The resolution outlines the rights of indigenous peoples, but stops short of recognizing their sovereignty, which many criticize as limiting the scope of self-determination. Within these limits, however, several countries have incorporated some of its recommendations. In 2009, Bolivia incorporated it into its constitution.

The Enxet and Sanapaná indigenous peoples of Paraguay demonstrate in 2015 to demand the restitution of land and the protection of their human rights. [Photo: Joel E. Correia]

The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples addresses the right to free, prior and informed consent on development and industrial projects that would affect indigenous peoples. This has been a powerful tool for Indigenous peoples to demand due process through the legal system.

In Canada, Paraguay and Kenya, indigenous peoples have used the resolution to help win important legal victories in human rights courts with rulings that have led to land restitution and other legal gains.

tools for change

The United Nations declarations of human rights are ambitious standards that aim to ensure a more just and equitable world. Even though statements like this are not legally binding, they can be vital tools that people can use to pressure governments and private companies to protect or improve human well-being.

Change may take time, but I believe this latest bill of human rights will support climate and environmental justice across the world.

Joel E. Correia is Assistant Professor of Latin American Studies at the University of Florida. This article is republished from The conversation under Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


About Author

Comments are closed.