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Discussion with the Independent Expert on Human Rights and the Environment
March 11, 2014

Interactive Dialogue following the preliminary report of the Independent Expert on Human Rights and the Environment

(John Knox)

Statement by Lisa Brodey

Human Rights Council 25th Session
Geneva, March 11, 2014

Thank you, Mr. Vice-President 

The United States thanks the Independent Expert on Human Rights and the Environment for preparing a comprehensive and thoughtful report, as well as for his focus on undertaking a “fresh examination of the primary materials.” We look forward to reviewing the 14 subsidiary reports on which it was based.  The United States appreciates the detail and thoroughness of his report and believes it provides an excellent basis for continuing our discussion of the relationship between human rights and the environment.We agree that the effective enjoyment of human rights could be threatened by environmental harm and underscore that the free exercise of human rights often contributes to good environmental policy.We take note that the Independent Expert addressed climate change issues.

The United States appreciates the report’s focus on procedural rights. We share the emphasis on the importance of the right to take part in the conduct of public affairs, including in relation to environmental decision making, and we strongly support the principle of “non-discrimination in the application of environmental laws.” Likewise, the United States strongly supports the right of all individuals to express themselves freely and without threat to their personal safety.  That right protects environmental activists, as the Independent Expert describes.

The report also appropriately highlights that other possible human rights obligations relating to the environment are in varying stages of development and have differing levels of acceptance. No human rights obligations specific to the environment have been established in any globally applicable, binding instrument or as a matter of customary international law.  We would have preferred that the Independent Expert not use the term “obligation” with respect to those norms that have not risen to the status of legal obligations.

We agree that states must uphold their existing international human rights obligations, and we also agree that states should cooperate to address environmental issues, some of which may have impacts beyond our national borders, such as climate change.  Both endeavors may be informed by one another.

Although we take different positions from those presented by the Independent Expert in certain aspects of the report, we nevertheless look forward to continuing to work with him on this important subject.

We would be interested in hearing the International Expert’s views as to possible issues that should be explored to further our understanding of the relationship between the environment and human rights.