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Online Discussion “Constructing the Human Right to a Healthy Environment”

What would the next generation of human rights include? Are the states ready to expand their obligations regarding environment? On March 24, we discussed the relation between human rights and environment with John Knox, Henry C. Lauerman professor of international law at Wake Forest University School of Law. The discussion was led by Dr. Donatas Murauskas (Vilnius University Law Faculty).

We started the discussion with acknowledgment of importance of environmental obligations even during international conflicts, touching upon the topic occupying our minds today – Russian aggression in Ukraine.

Professor Knox talked about the distinction between ecocentric and anthropocentric rights. He provided interesting examples on how in some countries objects of nature are given personhood. Prof. Knox is one of proponents of the right to a healthy environment. We talked about the reasons he became interested in this emerging new right. Professor indicated that during his career he was persuaded that the right to a healthy environment should be included into universal human rights catalogues – including his early experience at the Department of State and, more recently, becoming first United Nations Special Rapporteur, on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment.

During the discussion we also clarified the concept of the right to a healthy environment. Prof. Knox underlined that this right is basically framed by three elements: states’ procedural obligations, substantive obligations, and obligations of non-discrimination. All elements are subject to discussions regarding their actual scope. We also discussed whether climate change is the topic that determines negative approach of some states to include human right to a healthy environment into regional (international) catalogues of human rights.

The discussion was enriched by interventions of students who asked important questions, such as the scope of responsibility of other persons (not states) in the context of environmental protection.

You may find the discussion on YouTube. This event was part of the course “Protection of Human Rights in Practice” at Vilnius University Law Faculty.