Today, we celebrate Human Rights Day - a day to promote respect for human life, security, dignity and basic rights.
The observance of Human Rights Day this year has a special significance. This year we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which set a common standard for human dignity and a code for the peoples of the world to live by.
Every woman, man and child has the right to a safe and healthy environment.
To the extent that our lives are intertwined with our environment, environmental damage is a violation of our human rights.
Many of the fundamental rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights have significant environmental dimensions. The right to life. The right to health. The right to safe and healthy working conditions. The right to adequate housing and food.
Clearly, the full potential of human rights cannot be fully realized within a degraded or polluted environment. The fundamental right to life can be denied by deaths caused by acute exposure to radioactivity or contaminated drinking water. It can be denied by exposure to toxic chemicals through careless hazardous waste disposal or industrial practices. It can also be denied by the marginalization of farmers and the poor through soil depletion and deforestation.
The environmental dimension of human rights include not only protections such as the right to life, health, traditional livelihood, and culture, but also encompass the right to information about the environment; the right to express opinions about environmental issues; the right to environmental education; the right to associate peacefully with others for the purpose of protecting the environment; the right to participate in decisions affecting the environment; and the right to administrative or judicial redress for violations of protected rights.
These fundamental freedoms anchor the full realization of all human rights in an open and just society.
By focusing on what decisions were made, who had access to information about them, and who took part in the decision, the conditions under which environmental damage occurs can be better understood. Only when the people who are directly affected by environmental destruction have a voice in what manner environmentally significant actions are taken, is lasting environmental protection possible.
Only through unfettered and informed public debate can human rights be protected. Only through a similar process of open debate and citizen involvement can the environment be successfully protected.
The United Nations Environment Programme has long held that citizen participation in government decision making is the key to environmental protection and sustainable economic development.
The achievement of sustainable development and environmental protection is inextricably bound up with the observance of human rights instruments.
On the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we need to join the efforts of environmental protection and human rights protection. Together, they constitute the essential building blocks of a sustainable future for the entire planet. We can protect the environmental health of the planet only by protecting the civil rights of its inhabitants.
Note to journalists:
In Nairobi, The 50th Anniversary Celebrations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights will open at the Maison Francaise, Monrovia/Loita Streets, (tel. 336263), at 5.00pm on Thursday 10 December.
Following the reading of a message from the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, various exhibitions will be opened. This will be followed by a coctail and concert by Italian and Kenyan performers. The Goethe-Institut will host a panel discussion on "Rule of Law and Development," starting 4.30pm.
For more information, please contact:
Tore J. Brevik,
UNEP Information and Public Affairs on
tel: 623294, fax: 623692,
UNEP News Release 1998/129