Published: 07 Oct 2020

The 45th Regular Session of the Human Rights Council took place from 14 September to 7 October 2020 in Geneva. This page highlights the environmental-related activities of this session.

The Right to a Healthy Environment

An appeal to the Human Rights Council to recognize without delay the right of all to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment was shared with all member states ahead of HRC45. This appeal, entitled “The Time Is Now“, was signed by more than 950 organizations from civil society, social, environmental, youth, gender equality and human rights movements, trade unions, Indigenous Peoples, and local communities, from more than 100 countries. #TheTimeIsNow

The planetary crises of climate, biodiversity loss and the COVID-19 pandemic show us the devastating costs of the way we have treated our common home, our planet. As claimed around the world, the post-COVID recovery must be a green recovery, with the human right to a healthy natural environment, already widely acknowledged at the national and regional levels (in 156 out of 193 of the UN Member States), at its core. By filling this gap in international human rights law, this recognition will highlight that human rights have to be guaranteed and effective in the face of environmental challenges.

On 14 September, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, his predecessor, and a group civil society leaders and academics sent a letter calling to the core group on human rights and the environment to make a final push to secure universal recognition of a the right of all to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, via a Council resolution followed by a resolution at the General Assembly.

On 15 September, Ambassador Sabina Stadler Repnik of Slovenia made an appeal “We must act for children and future generations” to the Human Rights Council, underlining that “As environmental challenges do not know borders, it is becoming more important than ever that the world acts together”.

On 24 September, Costa Rica (on behalf of a Group of 5 Countries – Costa Rica, Maldives, Morocco, Slovenia and Switzerland) announced that they have begun consultations to pave way towards international recognition of the right of all to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment.

On 24 September, the Universal Rights Group made a statement thanking the Core Group on Human Rights and the Environment for their leadership building momentum for recognition of the right to environment, calling on them to commit to tabling resolutions at the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly.

On 28 September, experts from Costa Rica (one of the supporting countries), the United Nations and civil society are holding an online media briefing at 16:00 CEST to further explain what a right to a healthy environment entails, why it’s important, and what happens next in the campaign.

Human Rights and the Impact of COVID-19

As mandated by the presidential statement adopted by the Council in May 2020, the High Commissioner presented an oral update, followed by an enhanced interactive dialogue, on the human rights impact of COVID-19, on Monday 14 and Tuesday 15 September.

OHCHR has a webpage dedicate to Human Rights and COVID-19.

Thematic issues | Debates with Special Rapporteurs

At this 45th session, the Council is discussing a range of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights and issues through dedicated debates with Special Procedure mandate holders.

Interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe water and sanitation

Wednesday, 16 September 2020, 3:45pm – 5:45pm CEST

The year 2020 marks the tenth year since the General Assembly (GA res 64/292) and the Human Rights Council (HRC res 15/9) recognized safe drinking water and sanitation as human rights and also signals the fact that there are 10 years left to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. This was the last presentation to the Human Rights Council of Leo Heller as the Special Rapporteur on the human rights to water and sanitation.

Reports: A/HRC/45/10, Add.1, Add.2, Add.3 and A/HRC/45/11

Interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes

Monday, 21 September 2020, 4:15pm – 6:00pm CEST
A/HRC/45/12 and Add.1, Add.2, Add.3

The Special Rapporteur called out the UN for consistently failing the victims of widespread lead poisoning in refugee camps it ran in Kosovo. The UN leadership should listen and take long-overdue action in response. Human Rights Watch wrote a news commenting the report and calling the United Nations to finally heed its own expert’s advice, clearly admit full responsibility, and finally provide a remedy to the victims.

Interactive dialogue with the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Thursday, 24 September 2020, 4:15pm – 5:15pm CEST
A/HRC/RES/33/25, A/HRC/45/61 and A/HRC/45/38

Interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples

Thursday, 24 September, 5:15pm – 6:00pm and Friday, 25 September 2020, 3:00pm – 3:45pm CEST
A/HRC/45/34, Add.1 and Add.3

Biennial panel discussion on the right to development

The Biennial panel discussion on the right to development, held on 17 September, was the occasion to remind that more cooperation is needed to overcome the global climate crisis.

Beyond the health emergency, COVID-19 is a profound human crisis, deeply rooted in discrimination and inequalities. Coupled with the climate emergency, the pandemic is the gravest global threat in generations. We must close gaps in health and social protection systems – building resilience to future crises. Fighting the pandemic demands renewed multilateralism, political will and strong leadership at all levels, it calls for bold policies, financial and technical support to countries and communities in need including through urgent debt relief. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet

Three aspects are essential: trade (1), science, technology and innovation (2), and international cooperation and solidarity to help developing countries to fund their responses to COVID-19 (3). More solidarity and cooperation are also needed in two crucial areas: climate change and the digital economy. Isabelle Durant, Deputy Secretary-General of the UN Conference on Trade and Development

Report: A/HRC/RES/42/23

Annual panel discussion on the rights of indigenous peoples

The panel discussions held during the Council Sessions provide stakeholders with opportunities to hear from subject-matter experts and raise questions. At this session, an Annual panel discussion on the rights of indigenous peoples, on the theme Protection of indigenous human rights defenders will take place Wednesday, 23 September 2020, 4:00pm – 6:00pm CEST.

Reports: A/HRC/RES/18/8, A/HRC/RES/39/13 and A/HRC/RES/42/19

Thematic Resolutions

The Council adopted various resolutions that were submitted and other texts.

Resolution on the Rights of the Child

A resolution on the Rights of the Child, focusing on realizing the rights of children through a healthy environment, is being presented by the European Union and Group of Latin America and Caribbean Countries (GRULAC). This resolution will urge States to ensure that the best interest of the child is a primary consideration in environmental decision-making.

On 21 September 2020, the Children’s Environmental Rights Initiative (CERI) together with the Child Rights Connect Working Group on Environment delivered a statement to the Council during an interactive dialogue with the UN Special Rapporteur on hazardous substances. It demands a strong resolution that commits States to place children’s rights at the heart of environmental policies and action, and to formally recognizes children’s right to a healthy environment.

On 7 October, HRC45 adopted the Resolution “Rights of the child: realizing the rights of the child through a healthy environment“, presented by the European Union (Germany), deciding for a full-day meeting on SDGs & requesting the High Commissioner to report to HRC49.

Resolution on SR Toxics Mandate

On 6 October, HRC45 adopted by consensus, the resolution “Mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes“.

Resolution on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation

On 6 October, HRC45 adopted resolution on the Human Rights to safe drinking water & sanitation, requesting the UN Secretary General and the Hight Commissioner for Human Rights to provide the Special Rapporteur with resources & assistance necessary to fulfill his mandate, and decided to continue consideration of this matter at HRC51.

Universal Periodic Review (UPR)

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a unique process which involves a periodic review of the human rights records of all 193 UN Member States. The ultimate goal of UPR is the improvement of the human rights situation in every country with significant consequences for people around the globe.

At HRC45, the issue of climate change was raise in the recommendations from states for Grenada and Kiribati. Fiji and Marhsall Islands recommended the integration of human rights in climate change adaptation and mitigation policies.

Reports:

  • A/HRC/44/13: Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review – Grenada
  • A/HRC/44/13/Add.1: Report of the Working Group on the UPR of Grenada – Addendum
  • A/HRC/44/15: Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review – Kiribati
  • A/HRC/44/15/Add.1: Report of the Working Group on the UPR of Kiribati – Addendum

Mandate Holders

Water and Sanitation

The council appointed new mandate-holders including the Special Rapporteur on Water and Sanitation, Pedro ARROJO-AGUDO of Spain.

Climate Change

On 25 September, the Geneva Interfaith Forum for Climate Change, Environment and Human Rights delivered a joint statement calling for the establishment of a special procedures mandate on Human Rights and Climate Change. A new Special Procedures mandate would ensure a long-term focus on climate change issues at the Human Rights Council and bring a human rights dimension into climate change policies. It would contribute to enhancing complementarity between the climate change legal framework and the international human rights regime. Here, independent human rights monitoring bodies can play a valuable and more important role. Moreover, the creation of a new mandate would strongly convey the message that human rights must be integral to climate change discussions.

On 30 September 2030, the President of the Republic of Palau, the President of the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), and the President of the Republic of Nauru, with the President of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) and the President of the Republic of Kiribati participating virtually, convened a MPS Special Leaders’ Meeting in Koror, Palau, where they very timely supported the RMI’s proposal to seek a Special Rapporteur on Climate Change in the Human Rights Council. Presidents stressed that Climate Change is an issue of National and Regional Security for the nations of the Pacific.

Independent Side-Events

Side-events cannot take place inside the Palais des Nations during the 45th session, in the COVID-19 context. In case stakeholders decide to organize virtual events or events outside of the Palais des Nations, these events will not be included in the online application “Sched” as Council side events. Any event happening on the sidelines of the session will be considered as an independent event.

Who to follow on Twitter

#HRC45

@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 | UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment
@SRToxics | UN Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights
@SRWatSan | UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation
@RelatorDd | UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous people
@SabinaRStadler | H.E. Amb. Sabina R. Stadler, Permanent Representative of Slovenia to the United Nations Office at Geneva

@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
@katha_nina | Researcher at Human Rights Watch, focus on environmental health & climate change
@ChildRightsCnct | Child Rights Connect
@CERI_Coalition | Children’s Environmental Rights Initiative (CERI)
@CRINwire | Child Rights International Network

Links

Past HRC Sessions