Access to safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment as a human right

Human Rights Day is observed every year on 10 December. It commemorates the day on which the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – a milestone document that proclaimed the inalienable rights which everyone is inherently entitled to as a human being, regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

The formal inception of Human Rights Day took place in 1950, when the Assembly passed Resolution 423 (V) inviting all states and interested organisations to adopt 10 December of each year as Human Rights Day.

Drafted by representatives of diverse legal and cultural backgrounds from all regions of the world, the declaration sets out universal values and a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations. It establishes the equal dignity and worth of every person. Together with states’ commitments to its principles, the declaration has uplifted the dignity of millions and laid the foundation for a more just world.

Decades later in 2015, when UN member states unanimously adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, human rights and development were placed at the heart of the sustainable development goals’ agenda. Human rights are driven by progress on all these goals, which are driven by advancements in human rights.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 24% of all global deaths, roughly 13.7 million deaths a year, are linked to the environment, due to risks such as air pollution and chemical exposure.

Undoubtedly, environmental degradation, climate change and unsustainable development constitute some of the most pressing and serious threats to the ability of present and future generations to enjoy human rights, including the right to life, and the rights to health, development, housing, water and food.

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The human rights implications of environmental damage are most acutely felt by those segments of the population that are already in vulnerable situations, including indigenous peoples, older persons, persons with disabilities, as well as women and girls.

The passing of resolution 48/13 by the UN Human Rights Council at its 48th session in October 2021 was lauded by all stakeholders. For the first time, having a clean, healthy and sustainable environment is recognised as a human right.

Resolution 48/13 called on states around the world to build capacities, share good practices and work together with other partners to implement this newly recognised right.

It also noted that the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment is related to other rights that are under existing international law, such as the Paris Agreement 2015, the Minamata Convention 2013, the Stockholm Convention 2001, the Rotterdam Convention 1998, the Convention on Biological Diversity 1992 and the Ramsar Convention 1971.

Through a second related resolution (48/14), the council established a special rapporteur dedicated to promoting and protecting human rights globally in the context of climate change. Malaysia co-sponsored both resolutions.

Malaysia’s priority in addressing climate change is part of the country’s pledges for its membership of the Human Rights Council for the term 2022-2024. It is also in line with the 12th Malaysia Plan (2021-2025), as unveiled by the prime minister towards prosperous, inclusive and sustainable growth for all.

To celebrate this positive development, the 2021 Human Rights Day forum focused on the impact of environmental degradation and climate change on the enjoyment of human rights, as well as explored sustainable environmental solutions. The multi-stakeholder panel session aims to bring different perspectives on the topic.

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Objectives
The main objectives of the forum were as follows:

  • To commemorate Human Rights Day, celebrated on 10 December annually
  • To promote public awareness of and support for human rights and the works of various organisations, including government departments dedicated to promoting human rights
  • To promote the spirit of cooperation and interaction between various stakeholders, particularly the government, NGOs and civil society
  • To increase awareness of the impacts of environmental degradation and climate change on human rights

Jointly organised by:

  • Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam)
  • Ministry of Foreign Affairs
  • Legal Affairs Division, Prime Minister’s Department
  • The UN in Malaysia
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