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Although both human rights protection and environmental protection are relatively well-developed areas of public policy, recognition of the linkage between the two has been slow to develop. As activists, scholars, and policy practitioners have increasingly encountered situations at the intersection of these two areas, calls for the protection of environmental rights have intensified. Despite recent developments, however, no binding international agreement has had environmental rights as its primary focus. In addition, the issue continues to suffer from inattention due to the fact that it fails to fit neatly within the agenda of either the human rights movement or the environmental movement. The Spring 2004 issue of Human Rights Dialogue explores the definition, status, and relevance of the concept of environmental rights in law and politics around the world, and the extent to which a human rights lens is a helpful way in which to view environmental issues. Essays in this issue are organized around four themes: the inseparability of human rights and environmentalism; conflicts between human rights and environmental goals; the relationship between the concept and application of environmental justice and of human rights; and the enforceability of environmental rights.
Introduction: Environmental Rights
These essays collectively explore the definition, status, and relevance of the concept of environmental rights in law and politics around the world, and the extent to which a human rights lens is a helpful tool through which to view environmental issues.
SECTION 1 THE INSEPARABILITY OF HUMAN RIGHTS AND ENVIRONMENTALISM
Environmental Rights as a Matter of Survival
Ratner points out that, for Cambodia's fishing communities, whose livelihoods depend on access to fishing grounds, human rights and the environment are "related in every way."
The Ecological Roots of a Democracy Movement
Kilburn and Vanek describe how widespread environmentalism propelled the human rights agenda of a generation of young activists in the former Czechoslovakia.
Climate Change and Human Rights
For the Arctic's Inuit, climate change is having very real human rights effects. Sheila Watt-Cloutier describes their creative efforts to hold governments accountable.
Commentary on "The Inseparability of Human Tights and Environmentalism"
Johnston considers the three essays in this section, noting how they remind us that as the exploitation of world resources and the degradation of the biosphere intensify, social movements to reshape priorities and ways of life are assuming an increasingly significant role.
SECTION 2 THE CONFLICT BETWEEN RIGHTS AND ENVIRONMENTALISM
When Parks and People Collide
In much of Africa, write Peter G. Veit and Catherine Benson, efforts to safeguard wildlife have violated human rights.
Workers' Rights and Pollution Control in Delhi
According to Kelly D. Alley and Daniel Meadows, India's judicial efforts to protect the "right to life" by shutting down and relocating polluting industries in Delhi have marginalized, displaced, or dispossessed thousands of the city's working poor.
Environmental Rights vs. Cultural Rights
As Alison Dundes Renteln demonstrates, protecting cultural rights and endangered species requires a delicate balancing act.
Commentary on "The conflict between rights and environmentalism"
The essays in this section vividly illustrate that certain specific efforts to protect the environment from the “bio-degenerative consequences of human action” can run the risk of colliding with human rights norms.
SECTION 3 THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN ENVIRONMENTAL RIGHTS AND ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE
"The Chixoy Dam Destroyed Our Lives"
Monti Aguirre describes the tragedy of the Maya-Achi people of Guatemala, victims of a World Bank-funded hydro-electric dam, and their efforts to reclaim their lives.
Twilight People: Iraq's Marsh Inhabitants
Saddam Hussein drained Iraq's southern marshlands as part of a deliberate strategy to destroy the lives of the region's indigenous inhabitants. As Sayyed Nadeem Kazmi and Stuart M. Leiderman explain, restoring this fragile ecosystem should be a fundamental imperative in the new Iraq.
Mining a Sacred Land
Walton describes Freeport McMoRan's devastation of the Amungme and Kamoro people in Papua in what has become one of the best known cases of environmental injustice perpetrated by a multinational extractive industry.
Commentary on "The relationship between environmental rights and environmental injustice"
Atik examines the issues addressed in this section through claims of (1) environmental justice, (2) environmental human rights, and (3) “strong environmental rights,” the rights of the natural environment itself, in order to formulate possible solutions appropriate to each.
SECTION 4 THE ENFORCEABILITY OF ENVIRONMENTAL RIGHTS
A Nascent Agenda for the Americas
As Taillant writes, recently in Latin America the enforcement of human rights and environmental legislation has been making headway.
Environmental Rights Enforcement in U.S. Courts
Osofsky notes that, unless advocates can convince courts to accept a characterization of these problems as violations of international law, victims of severe environmental harm will be limited to domestic law and non-legal strategies for obtaining redress.
Defending Environmental Defenders
Folabi K. Olagbaju and Stephen Mills detail how two leading American grassroots organizations -- Amnesty International USA and Sierra Club -- joined hands to protect those who advocate for the environment.
Commentary on "The enforceability of environmental rights"
It is up to the NGO community to identify common concerns around human rights and the environment, and to posit a definition of environmental rights that is both broad enough to account for varying cultural contexts and specific enough to be comprehensible.
A Choice for Indigenous Communities in the Philippines
When an indigenous community is determined to protect its natural resources and rights, when a legal framework supports their rights, and when assistance is available from NGOs, effective action can obtain recognition of existing rights and protect local ecosystems.
Environmental Protection in the United States: A Right, a Privilege, or Politics?
Environmental justice in the U.S. has historically related to the need to redress the disproportionate effects of pollution on low-income and minority communities. Today, the effects of mounting pollution go far beyond these communities.
Interview with Cristobal Osorio Sanchez
Sánchez is a survivor of massacres perpetrated against the Maya-Achí community of Rio Negro, Guatemala, and one of the Chixoy Dam-affected people. He is president of the Peasant Association of the Community of Rio Negro Maya-Achí and sits on the board of the Association of Chixoy Dam Affected Communities.
Readers Respond: Environmental Rights | 10/08/04
Readers Respond: Violence Against Women | 05/18/04
ADDITIONAL RESOURCES: "Environmental Rights" | 06/24/04
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: "Environmental Rights" | 09/12/04
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