Human Rights and the Protection of the Environment
The relationship between international human rights law and the protection of the environment is developing at unusual speed. At the global level, the establishment of a Special Rapporteur on human rights in the context of climate change by the UN Human Rights Council in 2021 was followed by the landmark declaration by the UN General Assembly in 2022 that there is a universal human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. This built on the 2017 Opinion of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights that the right to a healthy environment was an individual and autonomous right, and developments in national jurisdictions around the world recognizing the significance of human rights obligations to environmental responsibilities. At the same time in the related field of international criminal law, efforts to create a new international crime of ecocide have gained pace since a diverse panel of international lawyers proposed a definition in summer 2021 to be incorporated as the fifth crime in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. In this three-week course, we will explore these and other recent legal developments, which appear to be accelerating in line with the climate crisis. We will examine the potential and limitations of international human rights law and international criminal law to protect the environment, with attention to the interrelationship between human health and well-being and that of the wider ecosystem.