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CoE: Living in a clean environment - comment by the Commissioner for Human Rights

The comment by the Commissioner for Human Rights deliberates on State's obligations related to human rights and the environment nexus.

The Council of Europe bodies overseeing the implementation of the European Convention of Human Rights and the European Social Charter have produced an extensive body of case law that delineates states parties’ obligations in the field of the environment. Despite the absence in the Convention of a specific reference to the environment, the European Court of Human Rights has clearly established that various types of environmental degradation can result in violations of substantive human rights, such as the right to life, to private and family life, the prohibition of inhuman and degrading treatment, and the peaceful enjoyment of the home. Moreover, the European Committee of Social Rights has interpreted the right to health included in the Charter to encompass the right to a healthy environment.

In many member states, National Human Rights Structures are working on human rights related to the environment, handling individual complaints, examining and reporting on environmental human rights violations, and injecting a rights-based approach in environmental policy-making. A Network of Ombudsmen was created in 2017 in the Balkans to foster regional cooperation on these matters.

Importantly, states must also guarantee procedures that allow concerned individuals to take action when confronted with environmental degradation. These include the rights to receive information about environmental issues, to participate in decision-making processes impacting the environment, and to have access to effective justice. These rights, which are enshrined in the 1998 Aarhus Convention, have also been affirmed in the case-law of the Court.

It is highlighted that states must ensure people’s rights to information, participation and redress, and demonstrate their commitment to doing so by ratifying the Aarhus Convention.

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