Environmental Concerns and the Interdependence of Human Rights. A Path to Political Responsibility?

AuthorSylvie Paquerot
ProfessionAssociate Professor, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Ottawa
chapter 12
sylVie paq uerot*
translated FroM the oriGinal French
By sadie scapillato
Our development practices have led us to a state of global systemic crisis.1
The pace of economic globalization is only increasing, with far-reaching
and sometimes devastating ef‌fects upon the environment. The environ-
mental consequences of development must be understood in order to de-
velop new theories and practices that are relevant in t his increasingly global
context. Environmental issues in turn frequently involve a wide range of
human rights issues, from civil and politica l to economic, social, and cu l-
tural. Rights do not exist in a vacuum, isolated a nd independent of one an-
other; rather, all rights are inherently interrelated, each dependent upon
the others for its existence and free exercise. Indeed, this principle — the
interdependence of rights — was formally recognized by the international
community during the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights in Vien-
na: “All human rights are universal, indiv isible and interdependent and
The goal of this paper is to illustrate the signif‌icance and scope of the
interdependence of rights by drawing upon the example of the Ligue des
* Associate P rofessor, Faculty of Socia l Sciences, University of Ot tawa.
1 The expression “globa l systemic crisi s” is often used to convey the str uctural di-
mension of the situ ation and its systemic and mu ltidimensional n ature. See, among
several others , online: LEAP ww w.leap2020.eu.
2 World Conference on Human Right s, Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, 1993,
UN Doc A/CONF.157/23, 32 ILM 1661 at 2 4 [World Conference, Vienna Declaration].
366 sylvie paquerot
droits et libertés du Québec’s gradual incorporation of environmental
issues into its mandate. This is followed by a ref‌lection upon the strategic
advantage that an u nderstanding of the interdependence of environmental
issues and human rights can bring to citizen-led political initiatives. The
paper concludes with a discussion of the notion of public responsibilit y that
is implicit in article 28 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which
states, “Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the
rights and freedoms set fort h in this Declaration can be fully rea lized.”3
The current global cr isis presents a crucial opportunity to discuss the
broad spectrum of interrelated r ights issues and how they may be under-
stood and reconciled. If we accomplish this, we will have fulf‌i lled the ne-
cessary conditions for all r ights to be exercised, and in so doing we wi ll
make important strides towards overcoming our sense of powerlessness
as citizens.
There is nothing particularly groundbrea king about linking human rights
and environmental issues. Indeed, this link was explicitly recognized by
the international commu nity in 1972 at the UN Conference on the Human
Environment in Stockholm. 4 It was proclaimed that “both aspec ts of man’s
environment, the natura l and the man-made, are essential to h is well-being
and to the enjoyment of basic human rights [and] the right to life itself.”5
The right to a healthy environment was recognized as the f‌irst principle
in the Stockholm Declaration: “Man has the fundamental right to freedom,
equality and adequate conditions of life, in an environment of a quality
that permits a li fe of dignity and well-being.”6 Since 1972, a number of steps
have been taken in the international system and in several national legal
systems to implement this principle. Retracing those steps shows that the
path from general principle to legal formulation and ef‌fective implementa-
tion has been long and winding i ndeed.
3 Universal Declaration of Human Right s, GA Res 217 (III), UNGAOR, 3d Ses s, Supp No 13,
UN Doc A/810, (1948) 71 [Declaration].
4 Declaration of the United Nations Conference on t he Human Environment, GA Res 2994
(XXV II), UNGAOR, 1972, UN Doc A/CON F. 48/14/Rev. 1 (1973); 11 ILM 1416, (1972)
[Stockholm Declaration].
5 Ibid, art 1.
6 Ibid, principle 1.

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