The Supreme Court of the Netherlands rules human rights are jeopardized by climate breakdown

Published by Brent Patterson on

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On December 20, CBS News reported, “The highest court in the Netherlands [has upheld] rulings that humans have a fundamental right to be protected from the potentially catastrophic effects of climate change by their government.”

“Presiding Judge Kees Streefkerk … ruled that Articles 2 and 8 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR) — the right to life and the right to respect for private and family life — brings climate change under the umbrella of human rights protections.”

That court ruling calls on the Dutch government to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 25 per cent below 1990 levels by the end of 2020.

David Boyd, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, says this is “the most important climate change court decision in the world so far, confirming that human rights are jeopardized by the climate emergency.”

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has previously stated, “As a global environmental hazard, climate change affects the enjoyment of human rights as a whole and therefore, it is at the core of the indivisible, interdependent and interrelated nature of each and all human rights as initially emphasized by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

The UN Environment Program report Climate Change and Human Rights also notes, “Although [the UN Human Rights Council] has not yet issued a clear declaration on the obligations of governments or other actors to respond to the human rights implications of climate change, there is ample evidence that certain obligations do exist.”

Some of the rights noted in that report include the right to life, right to health, right to housing, right to an adequate standard of living, right to food, right to water, right to property, and the right to self-determination.

John Knox, who was the UN Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment from 2015 to 2018, has argued, “Human rights law requires each State to do more than merely refrain from interfering with human rights itself; it also requires the State to undertake due diligence to protect against such harm from other sources.”

Knox has also called on the UN General Assembly to recognize the human right to a healthy and sustainable environment.

In March 2018, The Guardian reported, “It is time for the United Nations to formally recognise the right to a healthy environment, according to the world body’s chief investigator of murders, beatings and intimidation of environmental defenders.”

That article adds, “His appeal, the culmination of more than five years of investigations, comes amid a major push for the UN and member states to do more to protect those who defend the land, water, air, forests and wildlife.”

Knox says, “If we can’t protect [land and environmental rights defenders], then how can we protect the environment we all depend on?”

In the Latin American countries where Peace Brigades International accompanies human rights defenders, 58 land and environmental rights defenders were killed in 2018. 24 were killed in Colombia, 16 in Guatemala, 14 in Mexico, and 4 in Honduras.

Land defenders also face risks in Canada.

The Guardian now reports, “Canadian police were prepared to shoot Indigenous land defenders blockading construction of a natural gas pipeline in northern British Columbia… The RCMP commanders also instructed officers to ‘use as much violence toward the gate as you want’… The RCMP were [also] prepared to arrest children and grandparents…”

This refers to the RCMP raid on unceded Wet’suwet’en territory on January 7, 2019. Land defenders had set up two checkpoints on that territory in opposition to the construction of a fracked gas pipeline (for a Liquefied Natural Gas export terminal) that does not have the free, prior and informed consent of the hereditary leadership of that nation. The Narwhal has reported, “According to the provincial government, phase one of the LNG Canada project is expected to emit about four megatonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually, the equivalent of adding 856,531 cars to the road.”

After the raid, Bruce McIvor, lawyer, historian and principal of First Peoples Law commented, “Forget about wringing our hands over ‘reconciliation’—the fact that the Chiefs and their supporters found themselves facing heavily-armed RCMP officers is a testament to a complete and shameful failure of the rule of law.”

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