UNIVERSITÉ DE GENÈVE
GLOBAL STUDIES INSTITUTE
Mapping Human Rights Obligations Relating to the Enjoyment of a Safe, Clean, Healthy and Sustainable Environment
Individual Report on the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Union
Report No. 14
Prepared for the Independent Expert on the Issue of Human Rights Obligations Relating to the Enjoyment of a Safe, Clean, Healthy, and Sustainable Environment1
2.The following report reviews case law of two regional courts in Europe – the European Court of Human Rights (ECrtHR) and the European Court of Justice of the European Union (CJUE) -- regarding the relationship between human rights and the environment, including the application of European Union (EU) environmental law related to human rights.
3.This report is one of a series of reports that examine human rights obligations related to the environment, as they have been described by various sources of international law. Other reports in the series examine obligations as they have been elaborated under the United Nations’ core human rights treaties; other regional human rights systems; the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples; and multilateral environmental agreements and non-binding international environmental instruments.
4.This mapping exercise supports the work of the United Nations Independent Expert on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. Human Rights Council resolution 19/10 requests the Independent Expert, inter alia, to study the human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, and to identify and promote best practices on the use of human rights obligations and commitments to inform, support and strengthen environmental policy making.
5.The Independent Expert is undertaking this mapping exercise to provide greater conceptual clarity to the application of human rights obligations related to the environment. The goal is to provide a strong evidentiary basis, grounded primarily in existing international human rights law, for the clarification of the human rights norms relevant to the environmentThese reports all synthesize and draw from a representative sample of primary materials associated with each area of research.
6.The ECrtHR, based in Strasbourg, was established in 1959 with the mandate to rule on individual or State applications alleging violations of the civil and political rights set out in the Convention for the protection of Human Rights and fundamental Freedoms (entry into force in 1953). Since 1998, individuals can apply to the Court directly.2 The Court and the Convention are an essential part of the European human rights system framed by the 47 Member States of the Council of Europe.
7.The ECrtHR has been described as a dynamic and creative court.3 It favors a teleological interpretation of the Convention and it has referred to the Convention as a “living instrument”.4
8.According to the ECrtHR, “it is of crucial importance that the Convention is interpreted and applied in a manner which renders its rights practical and effective, not theoretical and illusory. A failure by the Court to maintain a dynamic and evolutive approach would indeed risk rendering it a bar to reform or improvement”.5
9.Furthermore, the Court considers “its jurisdiction “extend[s] to all cases concerning the interpretation and application of [the] Convention which are referred to it in accordance with Article 48 […] and that in the event of dispute as to whether the Court has jurisdiction, the matter [is] settled by the decision of the Court”.6
10.This report relies upon several academic articles and the Manual on Human Rights and the Environment7 published by the Council of Europe in 2012 to review ECrtHR case law. Abstracts from case law have been accessed from HUDOC (Human Rights Documentation online Database). The European Union legislation presented in the report has been researched on EUR-LEX online database. Both primary and secondary legislation are available on the website. Decisions from the European Court of Justice were accessed on the Court’s website curia.europa.eu and the search terms “environment” “healthy”, “sustainable”, "Article 191", "Article 6", "Article 11" and "Article 37" were used to find relevant decisions.
11.ECrtHR case law and EU law do not expressly recognize a right to a healthy environment. However, a meaningful corpus of jurisprudence and legislation has been elaborated to protect the individual from the risk of a dangerous environment. This law is generally not about protecting the environment for its own sake, but rather protecting individuals and their interests, including their privacy, home and well-being. A healthy environment can be perceived as a prerequisite for the enjoyment of the rights protected by the European Convention on Human Rights. The EU’s high environmental standards also contribute to guaranteeing a healthy environment for the enjoyment of human rights.
12.The remainder of this report is divided in two main parts. The first part examines States’ human rights obligations related to the enjoyment of a healthy environment as they have been developed in the ECrtHR. The second part synthesizes the EU legislation and case law on environmental protection that is relevant to human rights, including the implementation of the Aarhus Convention.8
13.Human Rights threatened by Environmental Harm in case law of the European Court of Human Rights