UN / OAS: Governments Must Strengthen, Not Weaken, Protection of the Environment During the Pandemic

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    The United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, David R. Boyd and the Special Rapporteur on Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights (REDESCA), Soledad García Muñoz of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) issued a joint statement last August to highlight the challenges related to the COVID-19 Pandemic and the global environmental crisis. It reads as follows:

    “The current Pandemic has revealed the already fragile state of environmental protection in many countries of the Americas. It has exacerbated existing patterns of inequality, and it is no coincidence that areas with higher levels of environmental pollution and higher death rates from the COVID-19 Pandemic are the same in which people historically discriminated against, live”.

    The environment and human rights situation in the Americas was already a cause for concern before COVID-19. Rather than seeing governments improve environmental safeguards in response to the Pandemic, several regressions have been observed, with consequences for the enjoyment of the right to a healthy environment in the region.

    Such unfavorable policy decisions are likely to lead to accelerated deterioration of the environment and have negative impacts on a wide range of human rights, including the rights to life, health, water, culture and food, as well as the right to live in a healthy environment.

    We call on national states to strengthen their environmental laws, policies, programs and regulations. The States have the obligation to prevent further damage and to establish strong institutional frameworks, complying with the obligations contained in regional and universal human rights instruments, in particular those contained in the Protocol of San Salvador and the Escazú Agreement.

    In this regard, the States must suspend or refrain from approving or investing in any large-scale industrial or agricultural activity if they have not applied the appropriate consultation and participation mechanisms in accordance with international standards, including the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples.

    They must ensure that all environmental protection institutions have adequate funding, personnel, and equipment to continue their policing and enforcement tasks in their respective jurisdictions.

    In the event that a decision needs to be taken to reform specific environmental regulations, those decisions must respect both procedural and substantive human rights elements. All decisions must be made in a transparent manner, with broad public participation and providing access to justice for individuals, communities and other interested organizations.

    States must ensure that all changes respect the principles of non-discrimination and non-retrogression. A crucial aspect of public participation is the protection of environmental human rights defenders.

    States must adopt all pertinent measures to protect environmental human rights defenders and prompt investigation and prosecution of those responsible for threats or acts of violence against these persons.

    In conclusion, the increasing risk of infectious diseases is caused by a “perfect storm” of human actions that damage ecosystems and biodiversity, such as deforestation, land clearing and conversion for agriculture, wildlife trade, the expansion of the human population, settlements and infrastructures, the intensification of livestock production and climate change.

    In the Americas, as in the rest of the world, human health is inextricably linked to the health of ecosystems, and putting every effort in protecting and restoring nature is an outstanding long-term investment.”

    Manifested by UN Special Procedures Office

    The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, is part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. The Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN human rights system, is the general name for the Council’s independent investigation and monitoring mechanisms.

    The Special Procedures mandate holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not part of the UN staff and are independent of any government or organization. They act in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.

    The Office of the Special Rapporteur on Economic, Social, Cultural, and Environmental Rights was created by the IACHR to guide, develop, and deepen its efforts to promote and protect economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights in the Americas, taking into account the interdependent nature and indivisible from all human rights.

    The IACHR is a principal and autonomous organ of the Organization of American States (OAS), whose mandate arises from the Charter of the OAS and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has the mandate to promote the observance and defense of human rights in the region and acts as an advisory body to the OAS on this matter. The IACHR is made up of seven independent members who are elected by the General Assembly of the OAS in their personal capacity, and do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

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