Categories
Inter-American Human Rights System Right to a healthy environment

IACtHR Advisory Opinion on the Right to a Healthy Environment

Summary:
In this advisory opinion, requested by Colombia, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights recognized that the right to a healthy environment is a human right for a first time, and affirmed that human rights are dependent on a healthy environment. The Court stated that the adverse effects of climate change, as well as environmental degradation, have an adverse effect on human rights. The advisory opinion finds that States have an obligation to take measures to prevent environmental harms both within their borders, and in transboundary scenarios and thus extraterritorially.

While the right to a healthy environment had previously been recognized in Article 11 of the Protocol of San Salvador, this right is not subject to individual petition. In its advisory opinion, the Court recognized a justiciable right to a healthy environment by finding that this right is part of the right to progressive development in Article 26 of the American Convention. This includes protection of the environment as such, with the Court noting in para. 62 of its advisory opinion that “as an autonomous right, the right to a healthy environment, unlike other rights, protects the components of the environment, such as forests, rivers and seas, as legal interests in themselves, even in the absence of the certainty or evidence of a risk to individuals.”

In addition, the Court engaged with the obligations of the State with regard to the principles of prevention, and precaution, duties of cooperation and the procedural rights derived from obligations to respect and to ensure human rights.

Date:
15 November 2017.

Full text:
Click here to read the full text of the advisory opinion.

Suggested citation:
IACtHR, Advisory Opinion OC-23/17 on the Right to a Healthy Environment of 15 November 2017.

Recommended reading:
For more on this advisory opinion, see for example:

Maria Antonia Tigre and Natalia Urzola, ‘The 2017 Inter-American Court’s Advisory Opinion: changing the paradigm for international environmental law in the Anthropocene’, 12(1) Journal of Human Rights and the Environment (2021), available here.

Categories
Canada Emissions reductions Indigenous peoples' rights Inter-American Human Rights System Right to culture Right to health Right to property Right to subsistence/food

Arctic Athabaskan Council v. Canada

Summary:
This case, brought before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights by Athabaskan people living in Canada, concerned alleged rights violations relating to Arctic warming and melting caused by Canadian black carbon emissions. The case alleged that Canada, by failing to regulate black carbon emissions, had violated various human rights of the Athabaskan people, including their rights to health, subsistence, property, and culture.

The complaint:
The applicants in this case allege that Canada’s emissions of black carbon, which is a component of sooty fine-particle pollution and stems largely from diesel emissions and the burning of biomass, is particularly harmful to their rights and way of life because it is emitted in or near the Arctic.

The applicants submit that the warming effect of black carbon on the global climate is second only to carbon dioxide. In the Arctic, black carbon warms in two ways: it absorbs sunlight in the air, and it reduces the reflectivity of ice and snow-covered surfaces, accelerating their rate of melting.

In particular, the applicants cite their right to culture, particularly their ability to transmit their cultural knowledge to future generations, because “Arctic warming and melting has made the weather, the hunt, and the behaviors and occurrence of fish and wildlife so erratic that elders no longer feel confident in teaching younger people traditional ways.”

The also argue that warming and melting has affected the integrity of the land, compromising their right to property. This includes floods, forest fires, melting permafrost, erosion-related harms and landslides, as well as the destruction of cultural and historic sites and increased difficulty in accessing resources. The Athabaskans also invoke their right to means of subsistence, citing difficulties in accessing traditional food sources and adverse effects on biodiversity. Lastly, they cite their right to health, arguing that the loss of traditional foods has adversely affected the Athabaskan way of life. Melting permafrost is affecting water quality, and the loss of traditional food sources is forcing the people to rely on purchased food, leading to increases in the prevalence of chronic diseases.

Before the Commission, the applicants allege that the Canadian state’s acts and omissions represent an ongoing violation of their human rights, and that there are no domestic remedies suitable for addressing these violations. They argue that Canada has failed to take action to reduce black carbon emissions, and that such action could substantially remedy the Arctic warming and melting that are causing the violations at stake. They accordingly request the Commission to investigate and confirm the alleged harms; set forth the facts and applicable law, declaring a violation of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man; and recommend steps to limit black carbon emissions and protect Arctic Athabaskan culture and resources from Arctic warming and melting.

Forum:
Inter-American Commission of Human Rights

Date filed:
23 April 2013

Status of case:
Pending

Suggested citation:
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Arctic Athabaskan Peoples v. Canada, petition submitted on 23 April 2013, case pending.

Further information:
For more on this petition, see

The full text of the petition has been made available here by EarthJustice here: https://earthjustice.org/sites/default/files/AAC_PETITION_13-04-23a.pdf

For a summary of the petition, provided by EarthJustice, click here: https://earthjustice.org/sites/default/files/library/legal_docs/summary-of-inuit-petition-to-inter-american-council-on-human-rights.pdf

Further reading:
Agnieszka Szpak, ‘Arctic Athabaskan Council’s Petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and Climate Change—Business as Usual or a Breakthrough?’ 162 Climatic Change (2020) 1575–1593.

Categories
2006 Biodiversity Emissions reductions Extraterritorial obligations Freedom of movement Indigenous peoples' rights Inter-American Human Rights System Private and family life Right to culture Right to health Right to property Right to subsistence/food United States of America

Sheila Watt-Cloutier et al. v. the United States of America

Summary:
Filed in 2005 by members of the Inuit people living in Canada, this application concerned the climate change-related responsibility of the United States of America. The Inter-American Commission of Human Rights refused to examine the case on the grounds that the information provided was insufficient.

More information on the petition:
In this petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Sheila Watt-Cloutier, an Inuk woman and Chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference living in Canada, sought relief from human rights violations related to climate change caused by the acts and omissions of the United States. Ms. Watt-Cloutier, on behalf of herself, 62 other individuals, and all of the Inuit of the arctic regions of the United States of America and Canada, sought relief against the effects of climate change, which — it was argued — have the potential to affect every aspect of the life of the Inuit people, including the quality of the permafrost, land and water, biodiversity and food sources, and cultural rights. The petitioners relied on the United States’ obligations under the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, and other instruments that shape these obligations under the Declaration, including the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, the International Convention on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

This case was extraterritorially framed: it was brought by Inuit people living in Canada, but against the United States of America for its climate change-related human rights impacts. The petitioners argued that the acts and omissions by the United States had violated the Inuit’s rights to the benefits of culture, to property, to the preservation of health, life, physical integrity, security, and a means of subsistence, and to residence, movement, and inviolability of the home under the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man and other international instruments.

Outcome:
On 16 November 2006, the Commission refused to consider the petition because it considered that it had provided insufficient information. Specifically, it found that the petition did not “enable us [the Commission] to determine whether the alleged facts would tend to characterize a violation of rights protected by the American Declaration”.

The Commission held a hearing in 2007 concerning the case, however it did not revisit its decision not to examine the complaints made.

Forum:
Inter-American Commission of Human Rights

Date filed:
7 December 2005

Suggested citation:
IACHR, Sheila Watt-Cloutier et al. v. USA, petition rejected on 7 December 2005

Full text of the petition:
The text of the petition is available at climatecasechart.com. Click here to access it.

The video of the 2007 hearing is available here.

Further information:
For more on this petition, see:

Agnieszka Szpak, ‘Arctic Athabaskan Council’s petition to the Inter-American Commission on human rights and climate change—business as usual or a breakthrough?’ 162 Climatic Change (2020) 1575–1593.

Categories
Access to a remedy Indigenous peoples' rights Inter-American Human Rights System Nicaragua Right to property

Mayagna (Sumo) Awas Tingni Community v. Nicaragua

Summary:
The Awas Tingni community, an indigenous community of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua, had no real property title deed to its ancestral lands. The community contested a concession to a corporation to carry out road construction work and logging exploitation in the forest where the community was located. The community requested that no further steps be taken to grant the concession without the consent of the community. Before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the community argued that the State did not ensure access to an effective remedy, nor obtain the community’s consent before granting the concession on the community’s land. Moreover, it contended that the state had not demarcated the communal lands of the Community.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights found that the Nicaraguan State had violated the American Convention on Human Rights, specifically the right to judicial protection under Art. 25 in connection with Art. 1(1) and 2 of the Convention, as well as the right to property under Art. 21 in connection with Art. 1(1) and 2 of the Convention.

Date of judgment:
31 August 2001

Rights invoked:
Art. 1 (obligation to Respect Rights), Art. 2 (domestic Legal Effects), Art. 21 (right to property) and Art. 25 (right to judicial protection) of the American Convention on Human Rights

Merits:
Regarding art. 25 of the American Convention on Human Rights, the Court held that the State had not adopted adequate domestic measures for delimination, demarcation and titling of the community’s land. Moreover, the State had failed to process the remedy filed by the community within a reasonable time. Therefore the Court held that Nicaragua had violated art. 25. The Court also ruled that the State had not effectively delimited and demarcated the limit of the territory regarding which the community had property rights. As a consequence, the community did not know with certainty how far their property extended geographically. The Court determined that Nicaragua had violated art. 21 of the Convention (right to property).

Remedies:
The State was required to adopt, in its domestic law, pursuant to art. 2 of the American Convention on Human Rights, legislative, administrative and any other measures necessary to create an effective mechanism for delimination, demarcation and titling of the property of indigenous communities. Moreover the State was requires to carry out the delimination, demarcation and the titling of the corresponding lands of the members of the community. The Court also noted that its judgment constituted a form of reparation. In addition, the State was required to invest, as a form of reparation for immaterial damages, in works or services of collective interests to the benefit of the community, as well as being required to pay the community 30’000 dollars for costs and expenses regarding the proceedings.

Separate opinions:
See the dissenting opinion of Judge Montiel Argüello regarding the violation of Arts. 21 and 25.

Suggested case citation:
IACtHR, Mayagna (Sumo) Awas Tingni Community v. Nicaragua, Judgment of 31 August 2001