The decision, the first time the Commission has addressed the links between the environment and human rights, was made at its annual meeting which ended today in Geneva.
Mary Robinson, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Klaus Toepfer, the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, have been invited to organize an international seminar to explore how environmental and human rights principles can be strengthened.
Mr Toepfer welcomed the historic move saying: "Many of the fundamental rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights have significant environmental dimensions".
"Environmental conditions clearly help to determine the extent to which people enjoy their basic rights to life, health, adequate food and housing, and traditional livelihood and culture. It is time to recognize that those who pollute or destroy the natural environment are not just committing a crime against nature, but are violating human rights as well," he said.
"Human rights cannot be secured in a degraded or polluted environment," said Mr Toepfer. "The fundamental right to life is threatened by soil degradation and deforestation and by exposures to toxic chemicals, hazardous wastes, and contaminated drinking water."
"For this reason, we believe that the successful implementation of environmental treaties on biodiversity, climate change, desertification and chemicals can make a major contribution to protecting human rights. We would welcome the Commission's continued work on the environmental dimensions of human rights, including enforcement and compliance," he said.
The results of the seminar will be considered at the Commission's next session in March 2002 and will feed into the review of progress towards sustainable development that has been achieved since the 1992 Rio Earth Summit.
This ten-year review will form the basis for the World Summit on Sustainable Development, to be convened in Johannesburg in September 2002.
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