Human Rights Council Concludes Interactive Dialogue with Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Environment and Starts Interactive

OHCHR

The Human Rights Council this morning concluded an interactive dialogue with David R. Boyd, Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, and started an interactive dialogue with Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

At the beginning of the meeting, the Council concluded its interactive dialogue with David R. Boyd, Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment.  The interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur started on Thursday, 10 March, and a summary can be found here.

In the discussion, speakers strongly supported the Special Rapporteur’s mandate and thanked him for his excellent work, noting that the establishment of a Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment was an achievement in itself. They welcomed the report which emphasised the need for a safe environment as the pandemic had made the world realise that the right to health was a requirement for other rights.  Calls were made for Member States to make progress in recognising the right to a safe and clean environment as well as for collective international efforts which were deemed crucial to leave a healthy planet for future generations.  Concerns were expressed about the alarming rate at which the world’s ecosystem was deteriorating.  Developing countries were making efforts to reduce and mitigate their impacts and were facing fires, floods, and climate migration; developed countries must step up their obligations for a safe and clean environment.  

In his concluding remarks, Mr. Boyd said too often, the international community focused on its differences – it needed to focus on its similarities.  All humans needed to breath clean air, eat healthy food, live in a toxic-free environment, and enjoy biodiversity.  Nobody on Earth was further behind than those living in disadvantaged sacrifice zones – and these were millions, fellow humans, and they should not be left behind.  Peace was a fundamental element for the enjoyment of human rights – peace with each other and peace with nature.  The common future depended upon it.

Speaking in the dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, healthy, clean and enjoyable environment were Paraguay, Philippines, Food and Agriculture Organization, Egypt, Germany, Nepal, UN Women, Djibouti, Libya, Fiji, United Nations Children’s Fund, Slovenia, Malaysia, Iraq, France, Cuba, Ecuador, Venezuela, Luxemburg, Maldives, China, Senegal, Burkina Faso, India, Namibia, Marshall Islands, Armenia, Saudi Arabia, Cameroon, Switzerland, Indonesia, Palestine, Austria, Russian Federation, Cambodia, Benin, El Salvador, Peru, Panama, Morocco, Algeria, Chile, Togo, Sudan, Republic of Korea, Bangladesh, Uruguay, Tunisia, United States, Azerbaijan, Botswana, Vanuatu, Nigeria, Croatia, United Nations Environmental Programme, Georgia, Malawi, Bolivia, Cyprus, Kenya, UN Habitat, Tanzania, Iran, Kazakhstan, Cabo Verde, Qatar, Timor-Leste, Ukraine, Pakistan and United Kingdom. 

Also speaking were Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions, National Human Rights Council of Morocco, Centre for International Environmental Law, Sikh Human Rights Group, Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Right Livelihood Award Foundation, International Association of Democratic Lawyers, Advocates for Human Rights, Earth Justice, Franciscans International, Fian International, and Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling.

The Council then started an interactive dialogue with Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Mr. Melzer regretted that, despite repeated requests, the majority of the States he had reached out to had failed to respond to the consultations conducted in preparation for his report.  It was difficult to avoid the impression that, apart from ceremonial expressions of support and appreciation during interactive dialogues in Geneva and in New York, the overwhelming majority of States remained largely indifferent with regard to the topics addressed, the conclusions reached, and the recommendations made in thematic reports.  While Governments readily demanded respect for human rights in other States, particularly when criticising political adversaries, they rarely, if ever, demonstrated genuine political will to effectively address alleged violations or shortcomings arising in their own jurisdictions.  

In the ensuing interactive dialogue, speakers said the report was an easily-accessible resource for decades of comprehensive research. The detailed frameworks that existed on torture were, however, meaningless without active implementation: torture needed to be prohibited not just in law, but also in practice.  Perpetrators should be brought to justice, and the conditions allowing torture to occur had to be eliminated.  The failure of States to provide information and on follow-up to recommendations contained in reports was of concern. There should be thought and action to take advantage of the international mechanisms that had been provided to the international community in order to protect and promote human rights to a greater extent.  Cooperation with the mandate holder was vital.  States were insufficiently committed to banning torture.

Speaking in the discussion on torture were: European Union, Chile (on behalf of a group of countries), Denmark (on behalf of a group of countries), Egypt, Paraguay, Angola, Libya, Fiji, Malaysia, Iraq, Cuba, Ecuador, France, Venezuela, Luxembourg, Maldives, China, Burkina Faso, India, Japan, Namibia, Armenia, Cameroon, Pakistan, Palestine, Argentina, Russian Federation, Indonesia, Yemen, South Africa, Belarus and United States 

The webcast of the Human Rights Council meetings can be found here.  All meeting summaries can be found here.  Documents and reports related to the Human Rights Council’s forty-ninth regular session can be found here.

The Council will next meet at 3 p.m. this afternoon, when it will conclude its interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on torture, followed by an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment

The interactive dialogue with David R. Boyd, Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, started on Thursday, 10 March and a summary can be found here.

Discussion

In the discussion, speakers strongly supported the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the environment and human rights and thanked him for his excellent work, saying that the establishment of a Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment was an achievement in itself.  They welcomed the report which emphasised the need to a safe environment as the pandemic had made the world realise that the right to health was a requirement for other rights.  The importance of a non-toxic environment and the climate emergency were highlighted as well as the impact of war and terrorist acts on the quality of water, air, soil and on biodiversity.  Some speakers worried about the toxification of the planet and mentioned that Ukraine was in an environmental crisis too as the Russian attack was polluting the air and water of Ukraine.  The danger of greenhouse gas needed to be mitigated, and relocating communities affected by climate change was not enough.  Calls were made for Member States to make progress in recognising the right to a safe and clean environment as well as for collective international efforts which were deemed crucial to leave a healthy planet for future generations.  Concerns were expressed about the alarming rate at which the world’s ecosystem was deteriorating.  

Speakers further emphasised the need for a positive interaction between plants, animals and humans.  Production systems must be transformed to respond to the needs of people and the planet.  There was a need for an active cooperative action focused on vulnerable people who were more affected by the impact of pollution and toxic waste.  Businesses must assume their responsibility in protecting the environment.  The importance of addressing environmental challenges and attaining Sustainable Development Goal six was also highlighted.  Women were more at risk due to their predominant place in illegal work environments which were less regulated and put them more at risk, which put their reproductive rights at risk.  For many girls, the damage was done even before they reached their reproductive age.  In some at risk communities, one out of four children were dying due to an unhealthy environment, due to their exposure to toxic components such as lead.  Children’s developing physiology made them uniquely vulnerable to toxic environments. 

Interim Remarks

DAVID R. BOYD, Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, said regarding the transition to a circular economy, this was vital for the world to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, and was also key in achieving an improvement of human rights.  Plastics caused damage to human rights, from their production to their disposal, and they should be free of toxics and recyclable at all points of their existence.  The circular economy also required a rapid phase-out of fossil fuels.  His next report would explain how a clean environment could serve as a catalyst to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, and he was also working on reports on gender and the right to a clean environment, and business and the right to a clean environment.  He also had a series of shorter reports on topics including environmental and human rights due diligence, extraterritoriality, and others.  The mandate was also creating a handbook on the implementation of the right to a clean, safe and healthy environment.  On overcoming silos between human rights and the environment, the Human Rights Council had done an outstanding job bringing these together, and understanding that there was no separation between the two.  However, work needed to be done on educating colleagues on this, as the potential of human rights-based approaches to dealing with the climate crisis was misunderstood and underestimated. 

On specific actions that could address the environment, urgent action should be taken at the local and national levels to clean it up, and ensure that the burden of pollution should not be increased on already vulnerable communities.  Air pollution must be addressed urgently.  Replacing polluting cookstoves in low and middle-income countries could save millions of lives every year, predominantly women and girls.  All States needed to strengthen environmental laws, and recognise World Health Organization standards and implement them in their national legislation.  The use of highly hazardous pesticides should be phased out in all States, and wealthier States should not allow the importation of products that were produced with chemicals that were not allowed to be used within their own borders.  In terms of next steps, laws and policies needed to be strengthened at every level: global, regional, national, sub-national.  More States should join the Aarhus Convention, and develop regional agreements on environmental matters.  A key step was to address environmental injustices – in too many places it was poor and marginalised communities that were bearing the weight of climate impacts.  Stronger institutions, more capacity, more resources and training of policy makers and judges needed to take place.  Enhanced international cooperation was vital for the implementation of this right.

Discussion

Speakers welcomed the establishment of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate, shared his views, and underlined the importance of eradicating pollution.  They called for an effective management of the risk of pollution to the environment, described as the most challenging threat to human rights in the coming years.  Water was a basic necessity and the right to water needed to be protected with the right legal policies and laws to regulate any environmental impacts.  In order to reach the 2030 agenda, change was needed.  Speakers voiced concerns about plastic pollution and saluted the adoption by the environment assembly last week of a resolution drafting a legally binding instrument banning plastic pollution.  They were encouraged by such actions.  

Some speakers regretted that populations under protracted armed conflicts were exposed to higher levels of toxic substances.  They referred to the war in Ukraine and regretted the environmental damage done by Russia’s aggression.  Calls were made on Russia to cease its aggression and allow Ukraine to regain control of all its nuclear facilities.  Climate change and pollution were the biggest threats affecting the enjoyment of human rights.  Developing countries were making efforts to reduce and mitigate their impacts and were facing fires, floods, and climate migration; developed countries must step up their obligations for a safe and clean environment.  One speaker mentioned the importance of protecting women and girls’ rights in the mining industry.  All extractive industries brought money to the community while employing the majority of the male workforce.  This had consequences on women and girls who had to bring food and clean water to the community yet were not included before and during commercial negotiations.  They encouraged governments and companies to plan and finance their actions in consultation with local communities and called on stakeholders to mitigate the impact of this industry.

Concluding Remarks

DAVID R. BOYD, Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, said he wished to draw the attention of the Council to the annex on good practices from 100 other States in the report.  The question of international cooperation was fundamentally essential: there were more than 100,000 chemicals in commerce today, and less than 10 per cent had been assessed as to their impact on the environment.  It would take decades to regulate them one by one – they had to be regulated by family group.  Too often the international community focused on its differences – it needed to focus on its similarities.  All humans needed to breath clean air, eat healthy food, live in a toxic-free environment, and enjoy biodiversity.  Nobody on Earth was further behind than those living in disadvantaged sacrifice zones – and these were millions, fellow humans, and they should not be left behind.  Peace was a fundamental element for the enjoyment of human rights – peace with each other and peace with nature.  The common future depended upon it.

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Torture

Documentation

The Council has before it (A/HRC/49/50), the report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment entitled torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Presentation of the Report

NILS MELZER, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, said that he had been appointed as the next Director of International Law, Policy and Humanitarian Diplomacy for the International Committee of the Red Cross, which was why he had submitted his resignation as Special Rapporteur effective 30 March.  He regretted that, despite repeated requests, the majority of the States he had reached out to had failed to respond to the consultations conducted in preparation for his report.  

It was difficult, Mr. Melzer said, to avoid the impression that, apart from ceremonial expressions of support and appreciation during interactive dialogues in Geneva and in New York, the overwhelming majority of States remained largely indifferent with regard to the topics addressed, the conclusions reached, and the recommendations made in thematic reports.  Virtually no Government confronted with alleged violations, or with legislative, regulatory or judicial shortcomings, had shown a satisfactory level of cooperation with the mandate.  While Governments readily demanded respect for human rights in other States, particularly when criticising political adversaries, they rarely, if ever, demonstrated genuine political will to effectively address alleged violations or shortcomings arising in their own jurisdictions.  On the contrary, in practice, States tended to systematically deny credible allegations; to justify or trivialise clearly abusive practices; to avoid accountability for undisputable violations; to reject or procrastinate over necessary normative and institutional reforms; and to leave victims without any form of redress and rehabilitation.  

Mr. Melzer said that far too often, States’ cooperation with his mandate fell short of the ambitious standards established by the Council.  Far too often, if anything at all could be achieved for the beneficiaries of his mandate, it was only through public pressure, forceful mobilisation, and the physical and mental exhaustion of his entire team.  He regretted that the very limited resources at his disposal did not allow him to act on more than a small fraction of the allegations of torture received by his office; that his reports were not numerous enough to highlight more areas of suffering and abuse requiring urgent attention; and that many of his communications were not rapid or forceful enough to make a difference for the individuals concerned.  But even if all of the work accomplished by his office had helped to protect just a single person from the horrors of torture, even if it had helped bring hope, justice and rehabilitation to just a single survivor, then it had already been worth the effort, the Special Rapporteur concluded.

Discussion

In the ensuing interactive discussion, speakers welcomed recent efforts made by the Special Rapporteur to shed light on the extent of States’ cooperation with the mandate, which was an essential part of the protection of human rights.  The report listed a number of positive impacts of previous reports – these impacts were important and encouraging.  However, the impact on public awareness, knowledge and behavioural change that constant focus on the mandate created should also not be ignored.  Which elements of torture prevention should be in focus in the coming years, a speaker asked?  The mandate’s practical proposals on how to conduct interrogations during criminal investigations were noted.  How could the interaction between the mandate and countries be improved, as well as interaction between the mandate and other mandates.

The issue of the invasion of Ukraine was raised, with a speaker noting that Russia had, by this, shown its disregard for international law, and that this might also be relevant to the mandate in the future.  The report was an easily accessible resource for decades of comprehensive research.  The detailed frameworks that existed on torture were, however, meaningless without active implementation: torture needed to be prohibited not just in law, but also in practice.  Perpetrators should be brought to justice, and the conditions allowing torture to occur must be eliminated.  The fight against impunity required more impetus.  Once an end was put to the manipulation of human rights for political purposes, there would be more time for actual implementation.  Pre-fabricated information provided by third party States should not be accepted by mandate holders. The Special Rapporteur should be impartial and refrain from bias.

Speakers said that it was disturbing that States only engaged generally with the mandate. The failure of States to provide information and follow-up to recommendations contained in reports was of concern.  There should be thought and action to take advantage of the international mechanisms that had been provided to the international community in order to protect and promote human rights to a greater extent.  Cooperation with the mandate holder was vital.  States were insufficiently committed to banning torture.  There was a lack of progress for the effective elimination of torture: thematic reports were more relevant than ever, and the Council should continue to work to eliminate torture and ill treatment.  States were reminded of their commitments in this regard; they should adopt the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, which was its operational arm.

Interim Remarks

NILS MELZER, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, explained that the relationship between mandate holders and States needed to be improved to avoid impunity.  Regarding torture and inhuman treatment, he said that States had to acknowledge that preventive measures were not a matter of policy as they were legal obligations.  States should acknowledge that the many reports that were drafted every year should be used every year and therefore that they had to establish the procedures that were required to utilise those reports.  He said he was absolutely aware that it was a laborious process that required resources.  He asked States to not look at Special Rapporteurs as accusers or enemies but more like doctors that diagnosed.  A bad diagnosis from a doctor was not to be ignored, he continued, and States should take allegations seriously, as friendly advice, and cooperate to make their situation better.

Discussion

Speakers said that issues concerning migrants and refugees were not given enough space in the report, in particular with regard to certain situations.  The work of the Special Rapporteur was difficult, and yet very important.  Although the impact of a mandate holder’s work was not always obvious, the work of Mr. Melzer would be recognised in the future.  Accountability was important in order to reduce occurrences of torture.  Justice and healing were vital for the future, and the international community should better use analysis of the reports of the Special Rapporteur to bring an end to torture.

Link: https://www.ungeneva.org/en/news-media/meeting-summary/2022/03/morning-human-rights-council-concludes-interactive-dialogue

/Public Release. This material from the originating organization/author(s) may be of a point-in-time nature, edited for clarity, style and length. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s).View in full here.