30 Mar 2022

Venue: International Environment House & Online | Webex

Organization: France, Costa Rica, Earthjustice, Geneva Environment Network

The Geneva Stockholm+50 Dialogues aim to showcase Geneva’s contribution to this major global conference happening in June 2022. This event was organized by the Permanent Mission of France and the Permanent Mission of Costa Rica to the United Nations in Geneva, Earthjustice, and the Geneva Environment Network, in parallel to the 49th Session of the Human Rights Council.

About the Dialogues

The Geneva Environment Network and partners are organizing the Geneva Stockholm+50 Dialogues, a series of events in support of Stockholm+50 that showcases how the Geneva communities contribute to environmental governance and the ambitions developed at this major global conference.

About this Session

In 1972, the United Nations adopted the Stockholm Declaration on the Human Environment, opening the field of international environment law and policy. In June 2022, the Stockholm+50 high-level international meeting will commemorate fifty years since this major milestone. In this perspective, the time is right to take a look at how the UN Human Rights Council and its different bodies and procedures contribute to the protection of the human and natural environment.

With the adoption of its latest landmark resolutions in September 2021, on the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment and on the establishment of a Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Climate Change, the Human Rights Council covers each of the 3 crucial environmental crises identified by UNEP and the environmental community: global pollution and poisoning, biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse, and global warming.

With various international environmental actors located in or around Geneva, this proximity provides an interesting opportunity to consider the best contributions, perspectives and interactions to be developed with the Human Rights Council in this area. The discussion followed a general guiding question: How can the work of the Council’s resolutions and bodies better contribute to the work of protecting and restoring the natural environment?


By order of intervention.

H.E. Amb. Jérôme BONNAFONT

Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations in Geneva and other international organizations in Switzerland

H.E. Amb. Catalina DEVANDAS

Permanent Representative of the Republic of Costa Rica to the United Nations Office and other international organizations in Geneva

David BOYD

UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment

Haruko OKUSU

Principal Coordination Officer, Stockholm+50‎, UN Environment Programme

Jackie SILES

Head, Human Rights in Conservation, IUCN


Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation


Executive Secretary of the Basel Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions


UN Special Rapporteur on Toxics and Human Rights


Permanent Representative of Earthjustice to the United Nations in Geneva


Welcome and Introduction

H.E. Amb. Jérôme BONNAFONT | Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations in Geneva and other international organizations in Switzerland

  • The 50th anniversary of the Stockholm Declaration is a milestone for our ambitions. Costa Rica and France are key global allies when it comes to the preservation of the environment. In 2021, we have taken the initiative to launch the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People which now unites more than 70 countries around the world, to effectively conserve at least 30% of our planet by 2030. We are aware of the profound and far-sighted ecological commitment of Costa Rica for decades.
  • Faced with the triple planetary crises (climate, biodiversity and pollution), the Human Rights Council (HRC) took an important step in October 2021 by recognising right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment.
    • Environmental degradation is already causing hundreds of thousands of deaths, and millions due to the global warming and air pollution. Those most affected are most of the time the most vulnerable people in the most vulnerable countries.
    • If left unchecked, these developments will lead to the disappearance of entire territories, accentuating border scarcity and conflicts, famines, the depletion of natural resources, migrations, and thus, all kinds of geopolitical disorders leading to the massive deprivation of human rights.
  • In the 21st century, environment and human rights cannot be considered separately. They mutually affect each other and if not addressed in a comprehensive manner, they can lead to tremendous disasters both for the planet and our fundamental human rights and well-being.

A human-centered ecology as well as an ecologically-oriented human rights approach can reinforce each other.

  • To tackle these challenges, Geneva is an important centre for environmental, multilateralism.
    • Major international organizations, such as the WMO, the host institution for the IPCC, as well as the IUCN, are based in Geneva or in its vicinity. Most of the UN and multilateral organizations have now an environmental division.

Geneva is a key place to respond to the three environmental crises outlined. It is indeed a center for the production of legal norms in the environment field, and for the introduction of environmental considerations into the bodies of international law, trade, health, labour et cetera.

  • A synergy between all the actors involved in nomadic actions can be fruitful in advancing international environmental law and better currencies for human rights.
    • The work of the HRC provides us with an approach in terms of fundamental rights such as the right to a healthy environment, the right to safe drinking water or the protection of Environmental Defenders that complements and reinforces the work made by other UN bodies.
    • I am aware that a good spirit of cooperation and dialogue is already existing among Special Rapporteurs and their counterparts in other UN organizations.
    • But the scattered pattern of the actors involved as well as the very diverse rules of functioning can sometimes make it difficult to keep an overall vision and to federate the efforts. This is the reason why occasions like today’s event are truly helpful in advancing our common agenda.
  • In the same spirit, enhancing the relationship between human rights and environment protection structure develop a multi-stakeholder approach to discussions and negotiations. States but also civil society, NGOs, private organizations have to develop jointly norms as well as programs of work. This approach of multilateralism has to prosper.
    • In practical terms, the concrete implementation of the rights to a healthy environment as well as the right to water and sanitation can only be based on international instruments dedicated to pollution control or waste management.
    • On the subject of pollution, for example, toxic substances and waste management, the triple COP of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions, which will be held in Geneva in June 2022, will once again be an opportunity to make a concrete and tangible progress in international environmental governance, as well as for the strengthening of the instruments that can contribute to guaranteeing a healthier environment over the long term, and therefore, the concretization of some basic human rights.

H.E. Amb. Catalina DEVANDAS | Permanent Representative of the Republic of Costa Rica ‎to the United Nations Office and other international organizations in Geneva

  • One thing that is very important for us in Costa Rica is about how can we use the HRC to move our agenda forward. In the 48th Session in September 2021, Costa Rica together with four other countries decided to step up and raise the bar of what the HRC can achieve. We adopted a landmark resolution 48/13: a right that has been an existence for decades and is in fact incorporated into the legal frameworks of more than 155 States. The recognition of this right is now said to be replicated by the UN General Assembly to enhance the breath of multilateral support in New York.
  • This universal recognition of this right has also set a benchmark for this year’s June commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Stockholm Declaration for Human Environment. This is something that we have also been discussing with all civil society groups.
  • Stockholm+50 represents a key moment of reflection for our global community: on what we have achieved, but mainly on our collective failures and how to swiftly enact the urgent transformations that we need. Many beacons can guide us or work: we have science, the common good, transparency and inclusivity, people on the planet with the same level of care and attention, and of course, human rights.

Resolution 48/13, comes as at a critical moment in our plight. It is a strong human rights tool to break the barriers that have been preventing the world to achieve large scale environmental justice. What we mostly need is a sound political leadership, an honest true commitment supported by enhanced and additional financial resources. This is the key of the question.

  • Environmental Human Rights Defenders have shown an impressive leadership. We have to be forever grateful to the brave efforts of women, Afro-descendants and indigenous people across the world who have been standing up against the devastation caused by human action through powerful cooperation, and often sadly with the silence of some of our political leaders.
  • The truth is that Environmental Human Rights Defender cannot and should not be left alone to save our lives from the climate biodiversity, ocean, and pollution crisis. They need our full support, the full support and protection of states

In this light, Costa Rica has respectfully called on all States, but especially on the COP-26 and COP-27 Climate Change Presidencies, and also on the COP-15 Biodiversity Presidency, to continue strengthening their leadership, ambition, and commitment with human rights by explicitly incorporating the human right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment and beyond a human rights based approach in older working documents statements in organising discussion, events, and promoting the widespread implementation of resolution 48/13 within their respective Conventions, and of crucial importance to pledge significant new financial contributions to the developing world, with ease of access and without overburdening their already heavy levels of debt.

  • Lastly, let me assure that the in Geneva is far from done. Costa Rica will untiringly continue to raise the ambition of the Human Rights Council and the Geneva system. The Council as a crucial player in the UN has a moral responsibility to engage directly with all the UN Conventions and Programs on Environment. Otherwise, it would not be properly fulfilling its mandate to promote universal respect for the protection of all human rights, fundamental freedoms for all, and make recommendations to their implementation.
  • The Council has the mandate to make recommendations. We offer Costa Rica’s support to present and future members of the Council to discuss and agree on innovative ways in which a rights-based approach can be incorporated into all environmental multilateral forum at regional and national levels through the council’s work.
  • I hope that we can keep working together to strengthen the Council contributions to the Environmental Human Rights.

David BOYD | UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment

  • Over the past decade, the Human Rights Council has been at the forefront in knocking down the walls between human rights and the environment that previously existed. My predecessor, Professor John Knox, in his first six years of his mandate, produced reports such as the Comprehensive Mapping Report to the Framework Principles on Human Rights in the Environment that provided groundbreaking evidence of how intimately connected human rights and the environment are.
  • John’s work laid the groundwork for the HRC resolution 48/13 last 8 October, where the HRC recognized for the first time at the global level that everyone, everywhere has the right to live in a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. This is a tremendous and historic moment in the evolution of human rights at the international level.
  • But much work remains to be done. It’s important to consider that over the past two years the COVID-19 pandemic has caused an incredible disruption. Yet even then, pollution and toxic substances as well as climate-related natural disasters have caused two to three times as many deaths as the COVID-19 pandemic. Governments have spent literally trillions of dollars on vaccines, social programs and other efforts to blunt the impact of the pandemic. And yet in responding to the global environmental crisis – the climate emergency, the collapse of biological diversity and the pervasive pollution of our planet – governments have been much slower to respond.
  • Let’s be perfectly clear: the impacts of the global environmental crisis constitute a human rights crisis and the impacts fall disproportionately upon the shoulders of people who are already living in poverty, people who are marginalized, or otherwise disadvantaged – exacerbating the challenges that they face in their day-to-day existence.
  • As we move forward, I believe there are three critical roles for the HRC to play.
    1. The first is to be a global champion for the right to a clean healthy and sustainable environment.
    2. The second key role is to advance the implementation of this right.
    3. Finally, the Human Rights Council also can play a critical role by ensuring that during the Universal Periodic Review process, States’ performance in terms of fulfilling the right to a clean healthy and sustainable environment is a consistent focus of the Universal Periodic Review process.
  • Those are just a handful of ways in which the Human Rights Council can continue its leadership role in protecting the right to a clean healthy and sustainable environment.

Video Message from David Boyd, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment

Haruko OKUSU | Principal Coordination Officer, Stockholm+50‎, UNEP

  • Stockholm+50 is implemented under the auspices of the UNGA resolution 75/280 and 75/326, where UNEP Executive Director Inger Anderson has been appointed by the Secretary General of the UN to act as the Secretary General of the International Meeting and which has designated UNEP as the focal point to cooperate and coordinate with other UN agencies and partners for the implementation of this international meeting.
  • Stockholm+50 is a commemorative event, and it is not expected to have any negotiated outcome. However, this commemorative and non-negotiable nature is also providing an opportunity for us to really look at the progress made in the last 50 years, as well as the challenges that lie ahead from the lessons learned for the last 50 years, and focus on how Stockholm+50 can catalyze actions, based on negotiated outcomes and processes and commitments that have been made by other multilateral forums such as HRC resolution 48/13.
  • We also can use this as a stepping stone or jumping board, to explore cross-cutting issues, such as the linkages between human rights and environment, which are often dealt with under separate silos.

Stockholm+50 allows us to be bold. We can bring in uncomfortable dialogues, unusual dialogues to the table. We can be ambitious, inclusive and be action oriented without having to go down to the negotiation table.

  • There are three organizing principles of engagement: intergenerational responsibility, inclusive participation, and looking for interconnections between generations and also between the sectors, and implementation opportunities.
  • Logistics. The meeting is going to be held on 2-3 June in Stockholm.
    • The convocation letter announcing the meeting has been issued earlier this month, and the invitation letters from the Secretary General will be out to the heads of State very soon. The invitation letters from the Secretary General of the International Meeting to other UN agencies and MEAs are going out as we speak.
    • The structure of the meeting will consist of a plenary session governed by the United Nations General Assembly rules and in procedures.
    • Leadership Dialogues. There are three Leadership Dialogues that are creating substantive context to the meeting, as well as a third pillar looking at stakeholder engagement at the national regional and different sectoral levels to make sure that this inclusivity is really going to be brought into the mainstream of the meeting.
    • We just completed the Preparatory Meeting this Monday at the UN General Assembly Hall in New York and you’ll be able to follow the proceedings that has been recorded on UN web TV.
  • Participation. We’d really like to see how to mobilize the human rights communities based in Geneva to join their voices and to put an offer, a commitment, a contribution, proposals, and the dialogue to the Stockholm+50 table.
    • We believe that the meeting offers an opportunity to explore emerging areas in support of a healthy planet that includes very important areas for your interest which are trying to look at making universal the recently recognized human right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment.
      • In Leadership Dialogue 1 which is looking at reflecting on the urgent need for actions to achieve a healthy planet and prosperity of all, which includes looking at rights-based approaches, an effective multilateralism, to address intergenerational responsibility and equity.
      • In Leadership Dialogue 2, which is about achieving a sustainable and inclusive recovery from COVID-19 pandemic, there has been mentioning of the importance of looking at just an inclusive and sustainable recovery and transitions.
  • In a nutshell, we’d really like this community to really explore how the human rights community can really contribute and lend its voice and expertise in addressing the overall theme about how we can really cooperate together to approach for a healthy environment for all, for the prosperity of all.

Interactions Between Fields | Preserving Biodiversity & Ecosystems

Jackie SILES | Head, Human Rights in Conservation, IUCN

  • We all know that conservation work can at times be the drivers of human right abuses. We have to continue to work to ensure that all environmental activities save our human rights because this failure cannot be part of the way we protect our planet. Now, not only is this the right thing to do but it’s essential because we cannot do conservation without protecting and human rights. The question here is why this is important?
  • Because we are living in unprecedented times, when the globe is warming and are affecting people’s livelihoods, when pandemics jump from animals to human and crutch overall systems, times when the status quo just won’t work anymore because we cannot afford to live like business as usual. For a long time, business-as-usual included systematic marginalization of our people, women, girls and indigenous people resulting in inequitable and differentiated impacts.
  • These human rights issues also undermine our attempts to save the planet. Many studies and in my own experience working for almost 25 years and the environmental sector showed that women and indigenous people are also essential to solving the environmental problems. And yet for that reason they are also persecuted for their defence of the shared environment.
  • This is why the IUCN focuses on addressing this marginalization and exploitation of women and indigenous people within the coattails of the Environmental Action.

As the HRC decided last year, we all have the right to a healthy and environment, and we need to step up our protection for those who are not only the most vulnerable but also the most powerful. They are the most vulnerable because our system failed to prioritize them. Yet they are the most powerful because they are unique contributors to the progress that benefits all of us through their protection and sustainable management of nature.

  • How can we work together across the human rights and conservation fields to ensure no one is left behind?
  • Today, IUCN is the only international governmental organization that includes indigenous people’s organization as full and effective members. Our more recent work at the  Conservation Congress at Marseilles last year was the first time that indigenous organizations were brought as a part members of the assembly. Through this space, IUCN welcomes indigenous peoples to create our global conservation priorities because this is an essential step to respect the rights of indigenous peoples. We are also working with indigenous members to realize that self-determined conservation priorities. We are also working with them to ensure that biodiversity finance is placed in their hands and to guide the stewardship of nature
  • How can we protect the defenders? We have been working with our Commission on Environmental, Economic and Social Policy (CEESP) to highlight the voices and experiences of defenders. Our Congress passed last year a resolution of protecting environmental human rights defenders, including the links for the first time to a global discussion that recognizes the use of gender-based violence as a tactic to silence and suppress women defenders. More is needed to specifically highlight their challenges and to support their work and their safety.
  • The Human Rights Council resolution on a collective right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment and also expert reports on the situation of indigenous environmental defenders defending their territory support this. But we should craft ways to explore how we can advance this together to leverage each other’s added value for the benefit of the tenders.
  • In the conservation sector, we have been facing the fact that gender responsive approaches would not be possible if we do not consider gender safety. As climate change and environmental degradation worsens our living condition, including our access and ability to manage and benefit from natural resources, so do social bonds breaks down. The resulting tensions give rise to domestic and intimate partner violence with struggling families turning to sexual exploitation and even child marriage as a negative coping strategy to respond to droughts and climate weather events.

Gender neutral and blind programming can inevitably worsen the conditions. We have a collective responsibility to ensure all people have their dignity and safety accounted for while we address gender-based violence and risks. Failure to do so is a human rights failure too.

  • We have been working to expose this issue and we launch our landmark publication (Gender-based violence and environment linkages: the violence of inequality) in 2020. Since then we have been creating a center support projects, practitioners, and even policymakers to close this this gap. We are also launching a ground mechanism that this year to support this challenge and there is much that we can do together to prevent gender-based violence and risks for all people.

Pedro ARROJO-AGUDO | Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation

  • Since I took office a year ago, I have always insisted that we are facing a paradoxical crisis: the global water crisis on the water planet, with two billion people with no guaranteed access to say drinking water. Climate change may make many territories uninhabitable due to a physical lack of water; however, most of these 2 billion people are not properly thirsty because of a lack of water around them. Impoveraged people living next to polluted rivers or aquifers, and in waters polluted by toxic substances such as pesticides from industrial agriculture or discharges from mining and industry.
  • This is why I insist that this global water crisis in the world is rooted in the confluence of two structural major flows in a way of life and development: the flow of inequity and poverty generated from profoundly unjust and immoral economic systems, and the flow of unsustainability that we have provoked in our aquatic ecosystems, turning water from being the key factor of life into the most terrible vector of disease and death that humanity has ever known.
  • There are two axes on which I propose to focus our efforts:
    1. First is making peace with our rivers, wetlands, lakes and aquifers. If we do not restore the health and functionality of these of the rivers, wetlands and aquifers, we will not make real progress on SDG 6.
      • It is necessary to move from managing water as a simple resource to ecosystem management based on a paradigm of sustainability. Rivers can no longer be managed as water channels, but as living ecosystems.
    2. Second is promoting democratic governance of water as a common good, from a human right-based approach. The challenge we face with this global water crisis is not  a business opportunity, but a democratic and ethical challenge. An ethical reflection on the values and functions of water is necessary.
      • Based on this reflection, I propose to distinguish the ethical categories that should be used to prioritize the different users and functions of water, followed in this order.
        1. Water for life.
        2. Water for public interest users.
        3. Water for economic development.
      • We need to focus on seeing water for life, in the uses of and functions of water as a life support system for both humans and for the biodiversity of which we are a part. The minimum amount to guarantee the drinking water and sanitation services necessary for a dignified life as a human right, is water for life. Water to produce the food needed by vulnerable communities linked to the human right to food, is also water for life. Water flows and the quality necessary to ensure the sustainability of aquatic ecosystems, linked to the human right to the healthy environment, is also water for life.
      • It’s very important to understand that arguing scarcity in the water for life space is just unacceptable, because water for life’s uses and functions must be warranted as a priority.
      • We need to build democratic governance based on these ethical priorities. We need to build a sustainable and democratic water governance from a human rights-based approach.
  • For these, market logic is not the right tool. I am not against the free market. I’m against using the market to manage values that the market does not understand and does not know how to manage. “No hay que pedirle peras al olmo.” Don’t ask pears from an elm tree. If you want pears, look for them in pear trees.
  • As part of advancing the universal fulfilment of the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation that is meeting SDG 6, advancing in the recovery and conservation of the good ecological status and health of our aquatic ecosystems in the current climate change outlook, and recovering the good state of our underground aquifers as they are the water lungs of nature are converging challenges today.
  • I tell you all to take advantage of the next World Water Conference in New York in 2023 by developing joint strategies to restore the good state of rivers, aquifers, wetlands and aquatic ecosystems in general, are essential in advancing the compliance with SDG 6.

Interactions Between Fields | Reversing the Toxic Tide

Rolph PAYET | Executive Secretary of the Basel Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions (BRS)

  • We have been working very closely with the SRs and the Council, as well as the UN organizations. In one of our COPs 4 years ago, we had the deputy of the Human Rights Council addressing our COPs. This lends to the importance that we give to the issue of human rights in relation to chemicals and waste, and also in creating awareness among our parties and observers on the issue of human rights.
  • In terms of human rights, when it comes to chemicals, it’s principle one of the Stockholm Convention actually prescribes the right to life:
  • “Man has the fundamental right to freedom, equality, and adequate conditions of life in an environment, over quality that permits a life of dignity and well-being.”
  • What you as close as can get in terms of human rights is the right to health. The right to health is an inclusive right. It extends not only to timely and appropriate health care but also to the underlying determinants of good health, such as occupational health but also environmental conditions as the quality of food, air, soil, and oceans.
  • The Stockholm Convention in particular focuses on protecting vulnerable groups, including children, fetuses, infants and also women. And as you probably all know and if I had me before The chemicals that had fallen to the Convention is designed to protect those vulnerable groups from the impacts of those chemicals which can cause cancer, deformities, delayed development, and a host of other health impacts. In many countries, women are still expected to perform the bulk of the domestic work, where they are exposed to indoor air pollution but also the management of waste including the burning of plastics and other types of hassle wastes. In farming, 40% of agricultural work in developing countries is done by women and girls. Because girls and women are more likely to be illiterate than men, they are on the front lines and as such are affected by the overuse and abuse of pesticides regulated under the Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions.
  • There is also the issue of cultural norms that also impact on women and girls vulnerability. We have an estimated 13,000 chemicals used in beauty and hygiene products, and only about 10% have been evaluated for safety, where some of those are linked to health issues.
  • We also have, for example, the Inuit community in the Arctic that depends on seals, whales and other mammals for very much of their livelihoods. Long-reach transport of many of these chemicals is accumulating in some of these species and as a result is being transferred into the bodies of the people dependent upon those species.
  • In light of the new right to a clean and healthy and sustainable environment and the right to clean water and sanitation, we also need to focus on the issue of the pollution of water: chemicals that are not only brought about by human pollution as a result of sewage or pollution from pesticides but from everyday chemicals that we use that go through our washing machines such as microplastics and a number of other chemicals from detergents and other products that we use at home. All these contribute to water pollution.
  • The right to adequate food is also a very important area of work especially with the Rotterdam Convention, where we work with the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) to ensure the safe and sound use of pesticides. The Rotterdam Convention lists at least 33 pesticides of which a number are highly hazardous, and it calls upon countries to put in place measures and controls to ensure appropriate and safe use of those chemicals.
  • The right to adequate housing is also an important area, especially in the pollution of certain materials in various domains such as in construction. For example, the Rotterdam Convention has been negotiating for many years to list asbestos, as it is still affecting several populations around the world. We are still striving and urging parties to list and to reduce exposure of asbestos to communities, especially in housing and its other uses.
  • Now, we work very closely with the Special Rapporteurs. We would have liked to work with the other SRs, where we need to get together, talk together. Together by working with those SRs, it can help us to identify the gaps, the synergies and the opportunities to advance this discussion forward.

Marcos ORELLANA | UN Special Rapporteur on Toxics and Human Rights

  • There has already been engagement (between human rights and the chemicals and waste cluster) that has been constructive and productive.
    • For example, the Human Rights Council, through resolution 45/17 adopted in October 2020, renewed the toxics and human rights mandate. It placed emphasis on the information regarding “developments, gaps, and shortcomings in the effectiveness of international regulatory mechanisms concerning hazardous substances and wastes.”
    • Similarly, the HRC resolution in October 2021 that recognizes for the first time at the global level the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, also puts the emphasis on and affirms that the promotion of this right requires the full implementation of multilateral environmental agreements.
  • This resolution and this global recognition is a watershed moment in international policy, making, in the interaction between human rights and the environment, as it finds its inception in the Stockholm 1972 Conference.
    • We should not forget, looking at the preparatory works of that Conference, that human rights support the conceptual narrative and foundations of the Stockholm Declaration in the proclamation, in the principles, in the language used.
    • In the preparatory works, there were heated debates on several issues, but not on the human rights issues, and so there’s a lot upon which we can build in our generation. We are harvesting what others with their foresight had the vision to plant.
  • In addition to these resolutions, there have been several reports that have engaged the collaboration between the toxics and waste instruments and human rights.
    • For example, the report on plastics and human rights that I presented to the General Assembly last year analyzes how the Basel Convention and the Stockholm Convention are addressing plastics.
    • Similarly, the thematic report on the right to science engages the issue of  Science Policy Interface Platforms. It looks in detail at how the Rotterdam Convention is failing to transform the recommendations of its scientific committee into actual measures, and thus the COP is failing to act on the scientific advice. This is an agenda item that will come live in the meeting of BRS scheduled this coming June.
    • Third is a thematic report that has been recently presented by SR David Boyd to the Council on the right to live in a non-toxic environment as an element of the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. Expressing the suggestion of collaborating working together, this is a report that David and I worked together closely. It identifies multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) in the toxics and waste cluster as good practices. But there are implementations and compliance issues that remain challenges.
  • MEAs have the most compliance mechanisms. If we look back, the Montreal Protocol opened the door to these mechanisms that were modeled after the human rights oversight mechanisms. However, these MEAs lack the possibility for individuals, for NGOs, and for civil society to present communications to these mechanisms to trigger investigation of compliance.
    • This is where the role of the mandate acts, as way of proxy, because the mandate receives often voluminous information regarding the lack of compliance with MEAs. These mechanisms are really important because they allow for the focus on attention: what are the issues that are urgent that call for the greatest attention?
    • In Basel, for example, is it the implementation of the plastic amendment? Is it the ongoing cases of illegal traffic of wastes? The example of the shipment of more than 200 containers of wastes from Italy to Tunisia comes to mind.
    • This issue of compliance certainly remains an open question and a rights-based approach would call for reform of these compliance mechanisms, so that they can incorporate the opportunity for individuals and civil society to present communications.
  • Another point that I wish to make is the collaboration between the SRs, my predecessor, myself and the BRS Conventions. For example, messages at BRS COPs, the opportunity to speak at the previous ones, the expectation that that collaboration will continue, the collaboration on capacity building initiatives, and the opportunity I’ve had to work closely with the Secretariat. On Rotterdam, webinars and other initiatives on pesticides and human rights.
  • As conclusion, a few points.
    • Engagement between the Special Procedures of the Council, the Council, the BRS and more generally the toxics and wastes cluster is needed today more than ever because the humans faced to exposure to toxics reminds us that these problems are not abstractions. They have real world implications for real people.
    • We see something similar in Basil, Rotterdam, Stockholm and Minamata Conventions which often resist explicit human rights language. There are good seats upon which to build but, for example, there are certain gaps in Basel that perpetuate the north-south transfer of e-waste that expose informal workers to the hazardous chemicals in these waste streams
      • Similarly, we see limitations in the Minamata Convention that allow for small-scale gold mining to continue to contaminate the bodies of indigenous peoples that have nothing to do with mining. There are also shortcomings in the Rotterdam Convention that do not tackle the export of pesticides that are prohibited for health and environmental reasons in their countries of origins.
  • Solutions to these problems are legitimate and effective when anchored in a human rights-based approach, transparency, participation, accountability. We have a good foundation to build upon but we still have much to do to reverse the toxic tide.

Open Discussion / Q&A

Q: What is the strategy around the recognition of the right to healthy environment in New York?

It would be good to have the General Assembly recognizing it as well, but we heard from David Boyd that actually the Commissioner of Status of Women has concluded its work and the text of the agreed conclusion does not go as far as we would have wished it to go. So, what would be the strategy and what would be the timeline around that?

H.E. Amb. Catalina DEVANDAS

  • This is part of what our delegations and delegations of the core group comprised by the Slovenia, Maldives, Morocco, and Costa Rica are now working on in New York. Initially, there was conversations about the Commission of Status of Women and how to channel the idea of the recognition in a resolution there. It was later considered that it was better to have a stand-alone resolution that, in principle, it is currently being drafted.
  • There are no exact dates or timeline for that. The idea was to work towards it this year before the Presidency of the General Assembly of Maldives ends. The commitment is there, we are counting on the support of all Member States as we had here. We doubt there will be bigger opposition than the one that we had here, but the question remaining is how to do that.
  • We call on all states to support it as it is important to remember that the resolution was recognized by the Council and we do not want to reopen that conversation. Therefore, the General Assembly resolution should take this conversation a step forward, discussing more about how States would like to translate the resolution int policy and practice. The Council had the mandate to do it and it did it. What we are doing is just moving the conversation ahead but not reinforcing the notion of the recognition that was already made here in Geneva.


  • New York opted for a nature-based strategy for safe drinking water for their citizens. This nature-based strategy resulted from a socioeconomic agreement with the farmers in the water basin in order to avoid contamination.
  • This strategy was profitable for the rural communities upstream but it was the cheapest way of having safe and high-quality drinking water, water for the citizens living in New York.

Q: What are the contributions you could see coming from the dialogue that will happen in Stockholm and that could contribute to the different linkages made today?

What will happen in Stockholm in June will not be a negotiated outcome as this is a commemoration. Stockholm+50 represents both an opportunity to taking stock of what has been done over the past 50 years and identifying current challenges and discuss how to bring these elements forward.

H.E. Amb. Jérôme BONNAFONT

  • If we want to act in a pragmatic manner, we must act based on science, knowledge, and awareness. As long as people do not know the consequences of what they do to the environment or to other human beings, they cannot be taken accountable for it. Knowing means becoming accountable for it.
    • Therefore, the science-based approach, which is the root base of environmental work, has consequences on the link between environmental policies and human rights. Thus, the main contribution to be stressed at Stockholm +50 is mainstreaming a science-based approach.
  • Secondly, there is the question of human rights defenders. Environmental activists are attacked as frequently as human rights defenders. Therefore, there is a natural alliance between those two activists communities of human rights defenders and environmental defenders. At Stockholm, we need to talk about how to you protect human one defenders and environmental activists.
  • The third question to be addressed in Stockholm is how to introduce human right considerations actively and concretely in the environment treaties and bodies, and environmental considerations in the human right work.
    • As stressed by other panelists, there is a discrepancy among instruments as some have made this step whereas others are reluctant in doing so. This situation resembles the WTO’s for example, human rights considerations are extremely difficult to include but also extremely necessary when it comes to bonded labour or things like that. The key words in this context are working together and synergies.
    • Whether it be in Stockholm plus 50 or in the Human Rights Council to be aware that what we are doing in one body is not distinct from what we are doing in another body. If we put links between all these things, we have the right approach, whereas if we keep compartmentalizing the work – institution by institution, treaty by treaty – then we miss our targets.

Q: What do you perceive as opportunities and specific initiatives to be seized in Stockholm to help and strengthen these linkages between the two fields?

Costa Rica has a long tradition of involvement in the environmental and human rights fields. It is therefore not a coincidence the Escazú agreement is named as such.

H.E. Amb. Catalina DEVANDAS

  • For us, there is no separation between the two fields. Everything that we do in relation to the environment has to be human rights based. We cannot afford to lose any opportunity. Every single forum, common processes and discussions either in Geneva, in New York, in Nairobi or in any of the upcoming COPs is a fundamental space to advance in the solution to the three environmental crises.
  • In addressing those crises, we need to only to avoid acting in silos and favor coordination based on science, we also need to increase the level of ambition and commitment. We cannot do that unless we walk the talk. This entails us to start implementing, putting the finances where they should be making the right priorities, making sure to act in a critical way. It no longer is a matter of raising awareness, at this point we cannot afford not to have the leadership.

Whether it is a Stockholm, or at the Escazú COP, we need to use every single opportunity to remind ourselves that – without being androcentric – that human rights-based approach is needed to solve the crisis that we have ahead of us.

  • The discussions on what Geneva and  the Human Rights Responses can contribute is still pending. We are still very far away from integrating all the human rights machinery in the right way to the discussion on the environment. It is complicated to acknowledge that we have to still separate environmental defenders from human rights defenders. We cannot afford to do that anymore. We have the mechanism to defend and to promote and hopefully to avoid dreadful consequences than many of the defenders of the environment are facing around the world.


  • First, the Conference of the Parties of the Escazú Agreement is an opportunity to continue to make progress in the implementation of the right to a healthy environment. The Escazú Agreement commits the parties to guarantee of this right. It is not just in the preamble, there is an actual obligation to guarantee the right and the articulation of the procedural elements of that right to access information, participation, justice, and environmental defenders give expression to that.
    • In the pre-COP that took place a couple of weeks ago, the proposal prepared by Costa Rica, Saint Lucia, Uruguay, and Panama on rules of procedure for the compliance committee for that agreement, took stock of what could be described as best practice in compliance committee throughout the landscape of Human Rights and Environment.
    • It incorporates individual communications, general comments, country visits and other tools. This proposal was very warmly received at the pre-COP and it provides a strong basis for the Escazú Agreement to serve as a model and guidance for the further developments in the policy and law in this area.
  • Secondly, we often hear that a narrative of Stockholm of the focus on human environment is stale and has been replaced by the sustainable development paradigm. I want to challenge that understanding because if we look at the preparatory works of Stockholm+50, we see already the integration between environment and development. This point was presented forcefully in the conference itself.

The sustainable development paradigm does not replace Stockholm. It builds on it, it finds its seats in Stockholm, it would not exist without Stockholm+50. Human rights were not absent in Stockholm. They were present and serve as the found the conceptual foundation of the narrative of the declaration that resulted from that conference. There is an opportunity to continue building under the sustainable development paradigm and under that conceptual foundation, the integration between human rights and the environment. All of this is encapsulated under the umbrella of the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment.

Intervention from Egypt

  • The Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights and Environment and on Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation mentioned the importance of ecologically-oriented approaches based on ecosystems, management. We welcome the words of Pedro Arrojo-Agudo regarding the upcoming meeting on the review of SDG6 the comprehensive review conference taking place in New York in May 2023.
    • We invite all stakeholders – including the Special Rapporteurs – to submit their views to this review to ensure to have a comprehensive way of discussing a human rights related to water and how they relate to SDG6 implementation.
    • Since 2010 the Council has been engaged on the issue of safe drinking water and sanitation, but we really feel we need to take this a step further and a step forward to look at how to we can have a more comprehensive way to address SDG6 beyond safe drinking water and sanitation.
  • Secondly, as president of COP27, Egypt is keen to have an inclusive approach to address particular vulnerabilities and persons that are particularly vulnerable to climate change. Therefore, we have really talked about this being a COP for Africa and for implementation.
    • We are engaged within a series of dialogues with organizations here in Geneva, particularly those working in the humanitarian sector, to look at how climate change is intersecting with humanitarian crisis and how we can have a reasonable and balanced focus on those that are most vulnerable that should not left behind.


Haruko OKUSU

Stockholm, Sustainable Development and Human Rights Approaches are indeed mutually supportive to each other. If this has started to grow apart in the last 50 years, Stockholm+50 is the time to bring them back close and to show in what way they can be implemented in a mutually supportive manner.

  • This should occur by looking at: what does a rights-based approach to achieving a healthy planet mean? What does a just transition for jobs and skills mean to us and what does equity mean for involving youth, women and indigenous communities as agents of change rather than just vulnerable communities that we need to take care of? These are the points we expect to hear at Stockholm+ 50 from your expertise and your standpoints.
  • I would like to encourage you to be involved in the Leadership Dialogues and Informal Working Groups. The latter are meeting to discuss about key messages and recommendations for actions that will be tabled in Stockholm.
    • The next informal working group meetings will happen in mid to late April followed by one in mid-May. Registration for the actual meeting which is going to open in the next couple of weeks and is useful also to consider looking for side events, special events, or associated events such as this one to really promote this work and to see how we can bring human rights issues as a main pillar for the Stockholm+50 discussions.


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