Human Rights and Environment



By Ms. Sahar Mostafa Hafez


Health means more than an absence of disease. Health is only possible where resources are available to meet human needs and where the living and working environment is protected from life - threatening and health-threatening pollutants, pathogens and physical hazards. But health also includes a sense of well-being and security. Deficient living and working environment are associated with both physical and psychosocial health problems.

This understanding of health also means, above all, that individuals, households communities have substantial responsibility for their own health. Personal and community responsibilities for health are essential adjuncts to individual and community rights. The right of individuals to adequate shelter, health care and education (including environment education) must have as a counterpart their, commitment to the promotion and protection of their own and their neighbours' health and welfare. Indeed, each adult has the duty as a citizen to ensure that health risks within human environments are minimized and government resources wisely used. Citizens' rights and citizens' capacity to organize and act become crucial in health.

Health. Environment and Human Rights in the Developing Countries : Human Rights, as we understand them today, were first crystallized in the Western World because of various historical factors.

What is of more significance here is the fact that the Western Countries have reached such a high level of Socio-economic, Legal development that they can concentrate their effort on the observance and respect for civll and political rights alone.

In the countries of the Third world "LACAP", however, very different socio and economic environments prevail.

Problems of Human Rights have often been viewed in different ways, especially the question of how much emphasis should be placed on category of rights - civil and political, or economic and cultural.

Arguments have been advanced in favour of economic and social rights as prerequisites for the enjoyment of civil and political rights.

On the other hand, it has been argued that civil and political rights are preconditions for the realization of Economic and Social rights.

Lately, in that context of the Third world, there has been talk of a 'Trade-off' between civil and political and a right to development as the right to minimum standard of living.

Sustainable Health and Development Rights : "The right to live as a human being". It is argued that the right to development should have priority over all rights as the Socio-economic Rights according to 'The Third Generation" of United Nations Declaration of Human Rights fall within the right of Environment and natural resources.

In most developing countries the priority is development in the sense of stronger, more stable economics, where health, environmental protection, and a more equitable distribution of the economic growth take a central place.

This study places health at the centre of the discussion about the Environment and development as they all are Socio-economic Human Rights.

The other right in question is the Right to Health, a decent existence, work and occupational safety and health - the right to an adequate standard of living. Freedom from hunger, an adequate and wholesome diet, decent housing, the right to education, culture, equality and non-discrimination, dignity and harmonious development of the personality, the right to security of person and of the family, the right to peace: and the right to development are all rights established by existing United Nations covenants.

These rights represent the ideal that government strive for in providing for their citizens basic life requirements that all humans are entitled to:

All these rights depend upon a healthy environment (United Nations a, b, Sierra club legal Defense Fund, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993 a, b: Human Rights watch and Natural Resources Defense Council, 1992).

Health has also so far been absent from the public discussion about the environment and development plans and strategy yet, without health, development and protected environment have little value, and development can only be achieved through the contributions of healthy people.

Focusing on health provides many insights how a better balance can be achieved between the environment and development.

The extent to which sustainable development and health for all can be made compatible depends on a new understanding of what is meant by development in which "Health Rights" take a more central role.
"The Right of health means the right of a complete state of physical, mental and social well - being and in addition not merely the absence of diseases or infirmity". WHO Constitution.

The complex relation between health and the environment rights extends the responsibility for promoting health to all groups in society.

This understanding of health also means; above all that: Individuals, householders, and communities have substantial responsibility. Personal and community responsibility for health adjuncts to individual and community rights.

The right of individuals to adequate shelter, health care, and education (including health education) must have a counterpart their commitment to the promotion and protection of their own and their neighbour's health and welfare.

Indeed each adult has the duty as a citizen to ensure that health risks within human environments are minimized and government resources wisely used.

Citizen's Rights and Citizen's Capacity to organize and act become crucial in Health.

A Healthy Environment Right : A Healthy Environment is not only a need. it is also a right: the right to live and work in an environment conducive to physical and mental health is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

"Man has the fundamental right to freedom, equality and adequate conditions of life, in an environment of a quality that permits a life of dignity and well-being and he bears a solemn responsibility to protect and improve the environment for the present and future generation.

In this respect, racial segregation, discrimination, colonial and other forms of oppression and foreign donation stand condemned and must be eliminated.

(Principle 1 of the Declaration of the Human Environment - United Nations Conference on the Human Environment. 1972).

(General Assembly of the United Nations Resolution. 1991).

Most of these UN declaration had been conveyed to the constitutions of the most developed and developing countries for environmental health protection. Many countries have enacted specific Articles in their constitutions the Right to a Healthy Environment. We can indicate some constitutional examples in some developed and developing countries as the Right to a Healthy Environment is a fundamental human right:

Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran
Chapter II : Public Rights
Article 50 : "Protecting the environment in which the present generations live and in which future generations will develop socially is considered a public responsibility in the Islamic Republic. Therefore economic activities and other activities which may pollute the environment or destroy it irrevo-cally, shall be forbidden".

The Islamic Republic of Iran Issue, April 1983. Vol. 7. P. 34

Constitution Of Panama
Chapter VI : Health. Social Security and Social Welfare:

To combat contagious diseases by means of environmental sanitation, development of drinking water supplies, and immunization, prophlozis and treatment provided collectively and individually to all the population.

Panama - Issue, April 1980 - Vol. 12, P. 13, By "Guerra P. A. L".

Constitution of Switzerland
Article 30 : Policies of Property "Protect the environment from uses that are excessive or that harm the public interest."

Switzerland - Issue, June 1979, Vol. 15, P. 6, By Taller S. K. J.

Constitution of Peoples Republic of China
Chapter 1 : Central Principles
Article 26 : "The state protects and improve the living environment and the ecological environment and remedies Pollution and other public hazard".

People Republic of China, Issue April 1983, K. 8, Vol. 3.

Constitution of Turkey
VII Health, the Environment and Housing:
A. "Health Services and conservation of the Environment, Article 56". Everyone has the right to live in a healthy balanced environment.

It is the duty of the state and the citizens to improve the natural environment, and to prevent environmental pollution."

Turkey Issue April 1984, Vol. 16, P. 21, By Flaz H. G.

Constitution of Mexico
Article 25 : "Under the criteria of social equity and productivity, the social and private sector of the company shall be supported and fostered making sure that they adhere to the modalities dictated by public interest and the use, for the general benefit, of the productive resources ensuring its conservations as well as the environment."

Mexico - Issue (1982 - 1984], Vol. 10, P. 16, By Flanz H. G. and Blaustein P. A.

Constitution of Greece
Part Two : Individual and Social Rights
Article 24 : "The protection of the natural and cultural environment constitutes a duty to the state. The state is bound to adopt special preventive or repressive measures for the preservation of the environment.

Greece - Issue March 1976, Vol. 6, P. 31, By "Elanz H. G."

Constitution of Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia

Part Two : The Social System
Chapter 1 : The Socio-Economic System: Conservation and Improvement of the Human Environment:

Article 87 : "Working people and citizens, organizations of associated labour, socio­political communities, local communities and other self managing organizations and communities shall have the right and duty to assure conditions for the conservation and improvement of the natural and man-made values of the human environment, and to prevent or eliminate harmful consequences of air, soil, water or noise pollution and the like, which endanger these values and imperil the health and lives of people."

Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia Issue Dec.1974 Vol.: Supplement, P. 82.

Constitution of Thailand
Section 65 : ''The state should conserve the balance of environment and eliminate pollution which jeopardize the earth and hygiene of the people."

Thailand - Issued Oct. 1979, Vol. 15, P. 12, By "Bunnag M."

Constitution of Spain
Article 45 : "Everyone has the right to enjoy an environment suitable for the development of the person as well as the duty to preserve it."

"The public authorities shall concern themselves with rational use of all natural resources for the purpose of protecting and improving the quality of life and restoring the environment, supporting themselves on an indispensable to repair the damage caused."

Spain - Issue, Oct. 1979, Vol. 14, P. 10, By "Flanz, H. G,"

Constitution of Union of Soviet Socialist Republic
Article 18 : "In the interest of the present and future generations, the necessary steps are taken in the USSR to protect and make scientific, rational use of the land and its mineral and water resources, and the plant and animal kingdom to preserve the purity of air and water, ensure reproduction of natural wealth, and improve the human environment."

Union of Soviet Socialist Republic - Chapter 2 Economic System ­Vol. 16, P. 22.

Constitution of Socialist Republic of Vietnam
"The State encourages and assists citizens in their scientific and technical, literary and artistic pursuits with a view to raising the quality of life, socialist construction and national defence".

Socialist Republic of Vietnam ­ Issue, May 1981, Vol. 17, P. 16, By "Flanz H. G. / Shaw K."

So the most comprehensive system to improve the healthy environment right is the duties of the state besides the state's obligation toward the society at large, the individual members of the society themselves also owe a fundamental duty to protect the healthy environment. Therefore, constitutionally the state and the citizen is required to protect and improve, although citizen has the right and duty together to a healthy environment as the following way principles:

Every one has the right to acquire the resources on which health depends: safe food and water, fuel and a secure 'shelter.

The right to be protected not only from physical, chemical and biological hazards, but also from, socia-economic hazards like drugs crime and violence which are encouraged by poverty.

Everyone also shares the responsibility for ensuring that this right is duly acknowledged.

Everyone also shares responsibility for health and for passing on to the next generation a world whose resources are not depleted and whose natural systems are not degraded.

There is a powerful synergy between health, environmental protection, and sustainable resources use.

Government have the responsibility of setting up the strategic and institutional framework within which action is taken. They should put in place the services, financial and other incentives, and controls that courage individuals, households, communities, business and the integrated bureaucracies to promote concept of health, environment rights and sustainable resource use, within three main global objectives:

A. Achieving a sustainable basis "The right to health for all".

B. Providing a balanced environment that promotes Health Environment Rights.

C. Making all individuals and government and non-government organizations aware of their responsibility for health and its environmental basis and principles of Human Rights and Duties together as whole system in a society.

At the end there is one useful suggestion to be added for ensuring full implementation and effective enforcement for protecting and promoting a healthy environment within legal and constitutionally control. It is essential that state canary down a new article to our Egyptian constitution that "every one is entitled to live in a health balance environment". Health Environmental Right as a fundamental human right.

As Krishna lyer rightly says :
"The constitution commands us, the law forbids us. Let us be nature patriots. Regulatory legislation to control pollution is a must since the rule of law must defend the rules of life. And life will survive only if the biosphere is safe. But law is a paper tiger unless education makes society militantly aware of the risks of pollution."



Author : Ms. Sahar Mostafa Hafez is Expert in the National Centre for Sociology and Criminological Research, Cairo, Egypt. She is a researcher.

Article Source : Anuvibha Reporter ( Special Issue : Dec. 2000 )
Ahimsa, Peacemaking, Conflict Prevention and Management Proceedings and Presentations
Fourth International Conference on Peace and Nonviolent Action ( IV ICPNA )
New Delhi : Nov. 10-14, 1999


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