Human rights versus environmental rights?

Abubakar Sadiq Mohammed writes

The very idea of “Versus” in this context creates a belief of one against the other or a sense of competition between the two very fundamental rights, fundamental because securing both human and environmental rights is crucial to the survival of the universe.

Human Rights and Environmental Rights advocates are not by themselves in competition for any laurel. In fact, they are players on the same team striving to achieve one goal — universal harmony where both man and his environment are equal key considerations.

Although, the symbiotic relationship between human life and a healthy environment has always been recognised, it is important to point out that the founding human rights documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) or the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (1966) were all very silent on acknowledging and constitutionalising rights to healthy environment. Even though Rachel Carson, in her book “Silent Spring” (1962) drew the attention of the world when she stated that a certain American document (Bill of Rights) contained no assurance that citizens would be made safe from dangerous substances distributed by the populace simply because their forebears did not foresee such problems despite their extensive wisdom and foresight.

It wasn’t until 1972 at the Stockholm Declaration that an official document on global eco-summit emerged with an overview that;

“Human kind has the vital right to fairness, liberty and acceptable conditions of life, in an environment of a value that certifies a life of dignity and well-being, and also man bears a sincere obligation to protect, preserve and improve the environment for present and future generations”.

Since then, a number of countries have included Environmental Rights in their legal documents. As at 2012, 177 out of 193 UN member nations recognize these rights through their constitution, court verdicts, environmental laws or endorsement of international agreements.

Obviously, the relationship between Human Rights and Environmental rights is as interdependent as it is intertwined. One can easily see that the human factor is at the core of both. For it could be asked, protect the environment against what and who? This seemingly simple question has generated a lot of debate in some countries especially those yet to constitutionalise Environmental Rights.

For example, the Nigerian 1999 Constitution is yet to be amended to recognise preservation of the environment a constitutional duty. So what you have are various efforts by State and Local Governments to ensure clean and safe environment. In some states, usually few hours of every last Saturday of the month (constitutional right) is restricted for people to clean up their surroundings.

Governments, especially those of heavily industrialised countries that are yet to ratify environmental agreements must know this; to enjoy all other Human Rights, man must first of all be alive in a completely harmless environment. To secure such an environment, deliberate steps must be taken to protect nature against pollution and degradation. We all owe this to ourselves and generations yet unborn.

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