Published: 20 Jul 2020

The 44th session of the UN Human Rights Council took place in Geneva from 30 June to 17 July 2020. During the session, the Council reviewed reports on a wide range of human rights issues and situations of concern and engaged in over 30 interactive dialogues with human rights experts, groups and mechanisms. The High Commissioner presented an oral update on human rights and the impact of COVID-19. This page highlights the environmental-related activities of this session.

Human Rights and the Impact of COVID-19

The High Commissioner presented an oral update on human rights and the impact of COVID-19, on 30 June 2020.

Without rapid and decisive national and international action, the pandemic will put an end to hopes to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

The Secretary-General’s Call to Action for Human Rights is a strong and principled framework for coordinated action to realise a rights-based recovery, including the human right to a healthy environment.

We need to build a new economy that is environmentally sustainable, equitable and fair and inclusive. I encourage all States to ensure that economic aid and stimulus packages for businesses stipulate that beneficiary companies should follow the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights .

Rights of the child through a healthy environment

Every year, the Human Rights Council dedicates a full day to discuss a specific children’s rights theme. This year, the Annual full-day meeting on the rights of the child, took place on Wednesday 1 July, and focused on the theme: Realizing the rights of the child through a healthy environment (concept note)

Morning panel 10:00-12:00 (CEST)A healthy environment as a child rights concern: setting the scene”  

Chair: H.E. Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger, President of the Human Rights Council
Opening statement: Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Moderator: H.E. Walter Stevens, Ambassador and Head of the European Union Delegation to the United Nations Office and other international organizations in Geneva

Panelists:

  • Clarence Nelson, Member of the Committee on the Rights of the Child  
  • Maria Neira, Director – Environment, Climate Change and HealthWHO 
  • Junior, Child environmental human rights defender  

This panel was an opportunity to identify good practices while providing guidance on how to integrate a comprehensive child rights-based approach into environment-related law, policy and practice and bringing concrete suggestions on how States, the international community and the private sector can be held accountable and fulfill their obligations to realize children’s rights through a healthy environment. 

Afternoon panel 15:00-17:00 (CEST): “Ensuring children’s rights through a healthy environment: a call to action” 

Chair: H.E. Socorro Flores Liera, Vice-President of the Human Rights Council
Moderator: H.E. Ricardo González Arenas, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Uruguay to the United Nations Office and other international organizations in Geneva

Panelists:

  • David Boyd, Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment  
  • Sanjay Wijesekera, Director of ProgrammesUNICEF and Henriette Ahrens, Deputy Director of Programmes, UNICEF 
  • Juliana, Child environmental human rights defender (Children’s Environmental Rights Initiative)   

This panel was the opportunity for States, international organizations, the private sector, civil society organizations, academics and other participants to identify and share concrete commitments to realize children’s rights through a healthy environment.

Various institutions and high-level experts from around presented a joint Call to Action to the HRC outlining 7 key commitments that governments must make to protect children’s right to a healthy environment.

Statements and Calls

It is time for global recognition of the human right to a healthy environment – recognition that can lead to stronger policies, at all levels, to protect our planet and our children.
Michelle Bachelet, High Commissioner for Human Rights, at HRC44 Annual Day on the Rights of the Child

Interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights

On 7 July 2020, 45 states took the floor during the interactive dialogue. They welcomed Olivier de Schutter for his new mandate as Special Rapporteur and commended Alston for his final report. States were concerned by the impact of Covid-19 on the people living in poverty. The economic and social situation in which they live make them the most vulnerable populations during the pandemic. Direct and indirect consequences of the Covid-19 are threatening the human rights of people living in poverty all around the world. It is crucial to implement inclusive and rights-based responses.

States agreed with the opinion of the Special Rapporteur, regarding the need of a universal social protection. It should be one of the main tools to eradicate poverty. It was observed that inclusive political participation of people in poverty is needed, as mentioned by the Special Rapporteur and the report presented during the debate.

States observed that the Sustainable Development Goals are the main framework to eradicate poverty.
It was shared by most of the states that international cooperation and solidarity need to be strengthened to eradicate poverty, especially during these uncertain times.

Promoting and protecting the rights of persons with disabilities in the context of climate change

On 8 July the council held a panel discussion on the rights of persons with disabilities in the context of climate change. People with disabilities, representing 15% of the world’s population or around 1 billion individuals, may experience climate change impacts differently and more severely than others.   The study submitted by OHCHR at the request of Council Resolution 41/21 finds that poverty is one of the key components affecting the exposure of persons with disabilities to the impacts of climate change. Others are discrimination and stigma, as well as intersecting factors related to gender, age, ethnicity, geography, migration, religion and sex.   Persons with disabilities are among those least able to access emergency support. Both sudden onset natural disasters and slow onset events can seriously affect their access to food and nutrition, safe water and sanitation, health-care services and medicines, education and training, adequate housing and decent work. Data collection and disaggregation by disability is fundamental.  For climate action to be genuinely inclusive, it needs the meaningful, informed and effective participation of persons with disabilities and their representative organizations.

Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity

On 9 July, was the presentation of the report by the Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity. The 2020 report focuses on key issues that lie at the intersection of human rights-based international solidarity and climate change.

The asymmetrical distribution of wealth through the global economy reinforces the profoundly unfair reality that those who have contributed the least to the problem at issue tend to feel its greatest effects. Climate change exacerbates social vulnerabilities based on gender, ability, poverty, age, place of birth, indigeneity.
The principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities grounds each State’s pledge under the Paris Agreement – known in that treaty as a “nationally determined contribution”.
Of relevance to human rights-based international solidarity, the developed countries should provide finance to developing countries for mitigation and adaptation, as well as technological support. The developed countries should take the lead in reducing emissions. Human rights-based international solidarity also demands that countries go further by tackling structural inequities connected to climate change.

There is still a deep chasm between States’ behavior thus far (including their pledges) and what is needed to prevent further climate change and to avoid the grave dangers that this portends.

Although current State efforts to redress climate change are inadequate, some countries are setting examples of positive expressions of human rights-based international solidarity. In 2019, 73 States announced that they were working to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. A number of regional laws and practices as well as extensive global laws and practices that manifest human rights-based international solidarity in the context of climate change. Regular global summits generate momentum for cooperative actions among the diverse actors: States, indigenous peoples, regions, cities, youth, civil society groups, and United Nations bodies, among others.

Appointment of mandate holders

The Human Rights Council also appointed new mandate holders, including for the position of Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes. We welcome Marcos A. Orellana, from Chile, as the new Special Rapporteur, and thank Baskut Tuncak for the energy he put in his mandate. As highlighted by John Knox, former Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, Baskut moved this mandate forward with a consistent and compelling vision. He deserves enormous credit for raising awareness of the global crisis caused by the proliferation of toxics, chemicals and pollution, and he leaves a great legacy for his successor.

Resolution on climate change adopted

At the end of the session, the Council took action on decisions and resolutions.

In a resolution (A/HRC/44/L.5) on human rights and climate change, adopted without a vote, the Council decided to incorporate into its programme of work for the forty-seventh session, on the basis of the different elements contained in the present resolution, a panel discussion focusing on the adverse impact of climate change on the full and effective enjoyment of human rights by older persons and best practices and lessons learned in the promotion and protection of the rights of older persons, and also decided that the panel discussion will have international sign interpretation and captioning.  The Council requested the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to submit a summary report on the panel discussion to the Human Rights Council at its forty-ninth session, and to make the report available in accessible formats, including Plain Language and Easy-to-Read.  The Council also requests the Office of the High Commissioner to conduct, from within existing resources, a study on the promotion and protection of the rights of older persons in the context of climate change, including their particular vulnerabilities.  Furthermore, the Council requested the Secretary-General and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to provide all the human and technical assistance necessary for the effective and timely realization of the above-mentioned panel discussion and the summary report thereon.

Reports

  • A/HRC/44/30 | Analytical study on the promotion and protection of the rights of persons with disabilities in the context of climate change – Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
  • A/HRC/44/44 | International solidarity and climate change – Report of the Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity

Press and News Releases

Links

Who to follow on Twitter

#HRC44

@UN_HRC | UN Human Rights Council
@tichy_e | H.E. Amb. Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger, Permanent Representative of Austria to the United Nations Office at Geneva, President of the Human Rights Council in 2020
@UNHumanRights | The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN Human Rights)
@mbachelet | United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
@SREnvironment | Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment

@obioraokaforc | UN Independent Expert on Human Rights and International Solidarity
@CRINwire | Child Rights International Network

@ISHRglobal | The International Service for Human Rights
@URGthinktank | Universal Rights Group (URG)
@Geneva_Academy | Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights
@YvesLador | Special Representative of Earthjustice in Geneva
@duycks | Senior Attorney – Climate and Energy Programme at the Center for International Environmental Law
@ChildRightsCnct | Child Rights Connect
@CERI_Coalition |
Children’s Environmental Rights Initiative (CERI)

Past HRC Sessions