Environmental Degradation as a Threat to Life: A Question of Justice?

Author:Jirimie Gilbert
Position:LL.M in International Human Rights Law, Irish Centre for Human Rights, National University of Ireland, Galway
Pages:81-97
ENVIRONMENTAL
DEGRADATION
AS
A
THREAT
TO
LIFE:
A
QUESTION
OF
JUSTICE?
JEREMIE
GILBERT*
In
today's
society,
environmental
degradation
is
one
of
the
root
causes
of
the
threat
to
human
life.
However,
the
question
of
environmental
protection
is
often viewed
as
a
political
and scientific
one
so
a
large
part
of
environmental protection
is
not
a
matter
of
law
and
justice.
Nonetheless,
besides
this
political
question
there
is
the
question
of
fundamental
rights.
The
United
Nations Special
Rapporteur
for
the
Sub-Commission
on
Prevention
of
discrimination
and
Protection
of
Minorities, Fatima
Ksentini,
in
her
final
report
on
human
rights
and
the
environment
recognized
the
reciprocal
relationship between
human
rights
and
the
environment.' There
is
a
need
to
take
into
consideration
environmental
issues
and
their
consequences
on
human
life
as
"environmental
damage
affects
enjoyment
of
human rights
and
that human
rights
affects
environmental
conditions,
and
that
protection
of
each
requires protection
of
the
other
as
well".2
The
protection
of
the
environment
may bear
on
many human rights, but it
most
directly
affects the
rights that
protect
the
integrity
of
persons
and
their
immediate
surroundings.
Some
environmental
harm
must
be
considered
as
a
violation
of
fundamental
rights,
and
because
traditional
international law
is
restricted
to
sovereign states
human rights
protection must
be
the
complementary alternative for
peoples
suffering environmental destruction.
Therefore,
in
some
cases
through
ecosystem
disruption
and
destruction,
deforestation,
desertification, contaminations
of
the
environment
(air,
water,
soils
and
biota)
human
life
is
threatened
and
human
rights protection
is
needed
as
it
is
usually
the
less
protected peoples
in
terms
of
legal
protection
who
are
threatened.
As
highlighted
by
Popovi6:
"When
the
LL.M
in
International
Human
Rights
Law, Irish
Centre
for Human
Rights,
National
University
of
Ireland,
Galway.
1
U.N.
ESCOR
Commission
on
Human Rights,
Sub-Commission
on
Prevention
of
Discrimination
and
Protection
of
Minorities,
Review
of
Further
Developments
in
the
Fields
Which
the
Sub-Conunission
Has
Been
Concented,
Human
Rights
and
the
Environment:
Final
Report
Prepared
by
Ms.
Fatnla
Zohra
Ksenuini,
Special
Rapporteur,
U.N.
Doc.
E/CN.4/Sub.2/1994/9
Final
Report.
2
Popovi6,
"In
pursuit
of
Environmental Human
Rights:
Commentary
on
the Draft
Declaration
of
Principles
on
Human Rights and
the
Environment"
(1996)
27
Columbia
Human
Rights
Law
Review
387,
at
391.
©
Jrfmie
Gilbert
and
Dublin
University
Law
Society
Trinity
College
Law Review
[Vol.
6
environment
suffers,
people
suffer;
when
the
suffering
implicates
human
rights,
relevant
norms
and
procedures should
apply".
3
The choice
to
focus
on
the
link
between
life and
threat
to
the
environment
is
based
on
the idea
that life
is
the
most
important purpose
of
human
rights
protection.
As
captured
by
Ramcharan:
There
can
be
no issue
of
more
pressing
concern
to international
law
than
to
protect
the
life
of
every
human
being
from
unwarranted
deprivation.
If
international
law
is
unable
to
fulfil
this
basic
task
then
for
what
does
it
exist?
4
Human rights
law has
evolved considerably over
the past
half-century.
Most
of
this
evolution
has
occurred
at
the
international
level.
In
recent
years
the creation
of
mechanisms
to
promote
accountability
has
become
a
focal
point
of
activity
for
international lawyers.
As
a
very
important
aspect
of
the
international
protection
of
life
is
the
trial
of
persons
guilty
of
gross
violations
of
the
right
to
life,
in
this regard
it
would
be
relevant
to
study
whether
the
development
of
international criminal
law
could
allow
for
the
punishment
of
those persons. The idea
of
such
a
study
is
based
on
a
simple
reading
of
the
everyday
news,
as
at
least
once
a
week
there
is
a
threat
to
the
environment
that
may
lead to
a
threat
to
human life. Human
life
and
environmental
quality
which
permits
life
are
interlinked,
thus when
human
rights pretend
to
protect
life
there
is
a
need to
recognised
this
deep
and
basic
relationship
between
human
and
their
environment.
Therefore,
the
purpose
of
this
paper
is
to
appreciate
if
international
human
rights
law
is
able
to
protect
life
when the
threat
is
based
on
the
destruction
of
the
natural
environment.
The
first
issue
is
to
appreciate
whether
international
human
rights
law
has
an
approach
to
the right
to
life
that
is
broad
enough
to
protect
individuals
against
threats
to
their
lives
through
environmental
destruction.
The
second
issue
is
linked
with
the
fact
that environmental
damage may
threaten
a
person
or
a
group
of
person.
In
several
cases
the
destruction
of
the
natural
environment
has
put
in
jeopardy
the
survival
of
a
group
or
people.
Thus,
it
is
important
to
appreciate
if
through
the
prohibition
of
crimes
against
humanity
and
crimes
of
genocide,
international
criminal
law
offers
'justiciability'
to
the
victims
of
such
crimes
that
are
threatening peoples
through
the
destruction
of
their
environment.
Thus
this
paper
seeks
to
explore the
possible
link
by
which
the
future
International
Criminal
Court
might
be
the
path
to
protect
individuals
whose
life
has been
abused through
environmental
destruction,
'
Ibid.,
at
389.
4
Ramcharan,
The
Right
To
Life
in
International
Law
(Martinus
Nijhoff,
1985),
at
8.

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