Last updated: 05 Oct 2022

The 51st Regular Session of the Human Rights Council (HRC51) is taking place in Geneva and online from 12 September to 7 October 2022. This page highlights the environmental-related activities of this session. The page is regularly updated.

The Council proceedings can be followed live on UN TV. The meeting summaries will be available on the UN Geneva website and the live-updated programme of work on Sched.

Opening of the 51st Session of the Human Rights Council

There is no room for backtracking in the face of the ongoing climate crisis.
— Nada Al-Nashif, Acting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

The opening of the 51st session of the Human Rights Council involves a global update on human rights situation by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. In the statement by the Acting High Commissioner Nada Al-Nashif, clearly highlights the interlinkages between human rights and the environment. Recognizing the impulse to return to fossil fuels in the face of the rise in energy prices, the High Commissioner urges to consider its long-term consequences, and to commit to the high ambition needed to tackle the climate crisis, expressing sympathy with those affected by the devastating floods in Pakistan.

In line with their international human rights obligations, I encourage all States to seek an ambitious outcome at UNFCCC COP27, including to address loss and damage and meet and increase climate finance commitments… How many more tragedies of this sort do we need before the urgency of the moment jolts us into action?
— Nada Al-Nashif, Acting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

As growing restrictions on civic space and fundamental freedoms, as well as the sentencing of people on charges related to their human rights work and efforts to promote a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment take place, the Acting High Commissioner also calls upon States, to continue upholding and protecting of the rights of environmental human rights defenders, by strengthening the National Protection System for Human Rights Defenders.

Human Rights, Toxic Substances and Waste

Though integral to almost all sectors of society, the lack of environmentally sound management of chemicals and waste can have long-lasting negative impacts on human health, society, and on the environment. Such negative impacts violate our human right to live in a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment.

Human rights and hazardous substances and waste are discussed at the September session of the Human Rights Council. The Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights, Marcos Orellana, presented his report on mercury, small-scale gold mining and human rights (A/HRC/51/35) at this session. He also presented the outcomes of his country visits to Mauritius (A/HRC/51/35/Add.1) and Italy (A/HRC/51/35/Add.2).

Interactive Dialogue

In the interactive dialogue with the Council, the Special Rapporteur highlights how mercury is a persistent metal that is hazardous to human health and the environment. Moreover, the usage of mercury in gold extraction in artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) is the world’s largest emitter of mercury into the environment.

The Special Rapporteur highlights how the continued usage and trade of mercury for gold extraction in gold ASM is greatly affecting the human rights of people in vulnerable situations.

In most small-scale gold mining locations worldwide where mercury is used, the human rights of miners, their families and communities, and the indigenous people and traditional owners of the land are increasingly compromised by mercury contamination
— Report to HRC51, Marcos Orellana, Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights

The report also looks into the Minamata Convention and how it still allows the trade and use of mercury in small-scale gold mining, calling upon the strengthening of the Convention through the ban of global mercury trade.

If the global community is serious about making mercury history, it must confront the largest emitter of mercury by banning its use to extract gold… Prohibiting the legal trade and use of mercury in small-scale gold mining will send a signal to these markets that a zero-tolerance approach is at hand.

It is time for the Minamata Convention to become an even stronger treaty by banning global mercury trade, revoking allowable use provisions for small-scale gold mining and ending the primary mining of mercury.
— Report to HRC51, Marcos Orellana, Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights

Geneva Toxic-Free Talks

The Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights reports every Fall to the Council and to the UN General Assembly on issues related to his mandate. The Geneva Toxic Free Talks aim to harness the opportunity of this moment of the year to reflect on the challenges posed by the production, use and dissemination of toxics and on how Geneva contributes to bringing together the actors working in reversing the toxic tide.

On the sidelines of HRC51, this year’s Toxic Free Talks took place from 21-22 September — two days of conferences and discussions, celebrating 25 years of the mandate and the struggle for the right to live in a toxic free environment.

Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Environment

Protecting 80% of the world’s biodiversity, indigenous peoples are inheritors and practitioners of unique cultures and ways of relating to people and the environment. However, as they face discrimination due to their culture or attacked as they defend their rights, protecting their human rights is an indispensable element in protecting the environment.

Indigenous women and scientific knowledge

Discussions of human rights and indigenous peoples will also take place in the upcoming September session of the Human Rights Council. The Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, Francisco Cali Tzay, will be presenting his report on “Indigenous women and the development, application, preservation and transmission of scientific knowledge” (A/HRC/51/28) at this session.

The interactive dialogue with the independent expert takes place on 28 September.

Rights to safe drinking water and sanitation of indigenous peoples

Indigenous peoples… offer us valuable ways to address the global water crisis through their traditional practices, both in terms of the sustainable management of aquatic ecosystems and the democratic governance of safe drinking water and sanitation. Today, however, mining, the construction of immense hydroelectric dams, the development of large agricultural and livestock farms, massive land- and water-grabbing processes and the development of large tourism projects in their territories are damaging and contaminating their water sources and putting their livelihoods at risk.
–Pedro Arrojo Agudo, in his annual report to the Human Rights Council

As part of the mandate, the Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, Pedro Arrojo Agudo, presented his report on “Human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation of indigenous peoples: state of affairs and lessons from ancestral cultures” (A/HRC/51/24) to the Council.

Interactive Dialogue

During the interactive dialogue with the independent expert that took place on 14 September, the Special Rapporteur highlighted how the traditional views and ancestral knowledge of indigenous peoples have allowed them to have safe access to drinking water, in their management of land, resources and water. Their care and concern for water and water bodies was “a genuine expression of sustainability and an ecosystem approach” that considers water as a common good and not as a merchandise.

Quite often, however, indigenous peoples were frequently marginalised in decision-making processes concerning water, especially as countries have denied their existence and their way of living, and thus their access to water. He urged countries to respect the rights of indigenous peoples, guarantee their rights to access to water resources, and allow them to participate in decision-making processes and planning of these resources.

Panel discussion on the rights of indigenous peoples, COVID-19 recovery and food security

The annual half-day panel discussion on the rights of indigenous people focused on the impact social and economic recovery plans in the COVID-19 context on indigenous peoples, with a special focus on food security. An annual report by the High Commissioner of Human Rights on the rights of indigenous peoples that focus on the relevant developments in human rights bodies and mechanisms and OHCHR activities with regard to the rights of indigenous peoples in the context of COVID-19 (A/HRC/51/18), was considered by the Council.

Right to Work and Climate Change

Climate change remains high on the agenda of the Human Rights Council, as a panel discussion on the future of the right to work in connection with climate change actions, responses and impacts in the context of sustainable and inclusive economies was organized by the Human Rights Council, pursuant to resolution 49/11. The panel discussion placed an emphasis on the importance of international cooperation and partnerships in this regard, to identify major challenges, experiences and best practices.

Right to a Healthy Environment

The United Nations General Assembly‘s historic decision in July 2022 to recognize that everyone has the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment has placed this landmark recognition at the forefront of the human rights agenda, following the same recognition by the Human Rights Council in October 2021. Not only is this a catalyst for accelerated action to tackle the triple planetary crisis, but it also places our attention on the most vulnerable and marginalized.

In response, various actors and stakeholders are holding side events in parallel to the 51st session of the Council as a way to continue deepening the discussions.

Implementing the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment | HRC51 Side Event

A year after the recognition of such a right, a side event by Costa Rica, Maldives, Slovenia and Switzerland on 12 September, highlighted how the promotion of the right to a healthy environment entails the fulfilment of multilateral environmental agreements, especially as we face the triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution.

Such global challenges need collective action by all actors: States, international organizations, business enterprises and other stakeholders need to scale up efforts to ensure a clean, healthy and sustainable environment for all.
— H.E. Amb. Jürg Lauber, Permanent Mission of Switzerland to the United Nations Office and to other international organizations in Geneva

Such a recognition also calls for the deepening of interlinkages of the right to other human rights and discussions related to the environment.

The recognition should be followed by the strengthening of environmental laws, improving implementation and enforcement, facilitating greater public participation in decision-making processes, increasing accountability, alleviating environmental injustices and improving environmental performance in providing an equal playing field to guarantee social and economic rights.
— H.E. Amb. Shara Duncan, Permanent Mission of Costa Rica to the United Nations Office and to other international organizations in Geneva

As such, the promotion of the right to a healthy environment should not only remain within the sphere of human rights, but across all multilateral environmental negotiations, in order that States remain to have a consistent position on such a recognition. Yves Lador, representative of Earthjustice to the UN in Geneva, recounted how in certain environmental negotiations, certain delegates were not informed of their countries’ position.

From the adoption of the global biodiversity framework in Montreal in December or the next COP 27 in November, it is essential that their results correctly reflect human rights obligations, as well as the right to a healthy and sustainable environment… This requirement of coherence also concerns the work at the national level. The right to a healthy environment cannot be supported only by human rights bodies, it is essential that environmental instances be mobilized as well.
— Yves Lador, representative of Earthjustice to the UN in Geneva

Environmental Human Rights Defenders

Environmental human rights defenders (EHRDs) are those who strive to protect, promote and safeguard a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment, as recognized in HRC Resolution 40/11. From the local to the international level, the efforts of EHRDs have provoked responses to the three interlinked environmental crises afflicting our planet – the loss of biodiversity, pollution, and climate change. However, evidence suggests that they remain highly vulnerable and under attack across the globe.

Protecting the frontline: Good Practices for Supporting Environmental Human Rights Defenders | HRC51 Side Event

Based on the findings of the consultations convened to collate and compile good practices for supporting environmental human rights defenders, this side event aims at launching the executive summary of the upcoming publication “Protecting the frontline: Good practices for supporting environmental human rights defenders” and present the initiatives promoted by state and non-state actors, intergovernmental organizations, environmental human rights defenders and their networks.

This event also contributes to efforts by the Geneva Road Map to ensure the effective implementation of the right to act for the protection of the environment and to promote free and safe spaces for information and discussion on environmental matters.

Events

This calendar is regularly updated. Submit HRC51 related events through the submission form or by email.

HRC51 Side Event | Implementing the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment

12 September 2022 | 17:00 – 18:00 CEST | Palais des Nations, Room XXV & Online

Costa Rica, Maldives, Slovenia, Switzerland

HRC51 Side Event | Geoengineering & Human Rights

13 September 2022 | 12:00 – 13:00 CEST | Room XXV, Palais des Nations

CIEL, EarthJustice, QUNO, Soka Gakkai International, Third World Network, ETC Group, and FIAN International

HRC51 Side Event | Human Rights & Climate Change

14 September 2022 | 11:00 – 12:00 CEST | Room XXV, Palais des Nations

China NGO Network for International Exchanges (CNIE)

Interactive Dialogue with SR on water and sanitation

14 September 2022 | 11:30 – 13:00 CEST

HRC51 Side Event | The Right to Food and Peasant Rights in Colombia

14 September 2022 | 16:00 – 17:00 CEST | Room XXV, Palais des Nations

FIAN Colombia, FIAN International

HRC51 Side Event | Promoting and Protecting the Right to a Clean, Healthy and Sustainable Environment

14 September 2022 | 19:00 – 20:30 CEST | Geneva Academy & Online

Geneva Academy, the Permanent Missions of Switzerland and Slovenia to the UN in Geneva, Franciscans International, CIEL and EarthJustice

HRC51 Side Event | Child Rights & Climate Change at COP27 and Beyond

15 September 2022 | 9:00 – 10:00 CEST | Room XXV, Palais des Nations

Egypt and Child Rights Connect

HRC51 | Climate Change and Human Rights: the role of National Human Rights Institutions

16 September 2022 | 15:00 CEST | Room XXV, Palais des Nations & Online

GANHRI, Permanent Missions of Australia and Timor Leste to the UN in Geneva, OHCHR, UNEP and UNDP

Drums for the Earth

18 September 2022 | 15:00 – 18:00 CEST | Place des Nations

Malorca Internationale

Interactive Dialogue with SR on hazardous substances and wastes

20 September 2022 | 15:15 – 17:15 CEST | Room XX, Palais des Nations

Tibet’s climate crisis and the persecution of Tibetan environmental defenders

20 September 2022 | 16:00 CEST | Room XXV, Palais des Nations

Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, International Campaign for Tibet

Rights Holders Facing Toxic Threats | 25 Years of Struggle to be Free from Toxic Threat | Geneva Toxic Free Talks

21 September 2022 | 13:30–15:00 CEST | Centre Administratif de Varembé & Online | Webex

HRC51 Side Event | Mercury, Small-Scale Gold Mining and Human Rights

21 September 2022 | 16:00 – 17:00 CEST | Room XXV, Palais des Nations

Getting Rid of Toxics: The Nonpolluting Alternatives | Repairing Toxic Damages | Geneva Toxic Free Talks

22 September 2022 | 13:30–15:00 CEST | Centre Administratif de Varembé & Online | Webex

The Challenge of Warfare and War Zones’ Toxicity | Repairing Toxic Damages | Geneva Toxic Free Talks

22 September 2022 | 15:30–17:00 CEST | Centre Administratif de Varembé & Online | Webex

HRC51 Event | Loss and Damage and human rights

26 September 2022 | 14:00–15:00 CEST | CIEL & Luxembourg | Palais des Nations, Room XXV & Online

Luxemburg, CIEL, Asia-Europe Foundation

Panel Discussion on the Right to Work in Connection With Climate Change Actions (HRC res. 49/11)

27 September 2022 | 10:00 – 12:00 CEST | Room XX, Palais des Nations

Annual Panel on Rights of Indigenous Peoples (HRC res. 18/8 and 48/11)

28 September 2022 | 10:00 – 12:00 CEST | Room XX, Palais des Nations

Interactive Dialogue with SR on rights of indigenous peoples

28 September 2022 | 15:20 – 16:00 CEST | Room XX, Palais des Nations

HRC51 Side Event | Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights & Just Transitions

3 October 2022 | 13:00 – 14:00 CEST | Room XXV, Palais des Nations

Chile, EU, Finland, Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, AIDA, PSI

HRC51 Side Event | Protecting the Frontline: Good practices to support environmental human rights defenders across the world

5 October 2022 | 9:00 – 10:00 CEST | Room XXV, Palais des Nations & Online

UNEP, OHCHR, URG, GEN

Reports

  • A/HRC/51/18 | Rights of indigenous peoples – Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
  • A/HRC/51/24 | Human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation of indigenous peoples: state of affairs and lessons from ancestral cultures – Report of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation
  • A/HRC/51/28 | Indigenous women and the development, application, preservation and transmission of scientific knowledge – Report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples
  • A/HRC/51/35 | Mercury, small-scale gold mining and human rights – Report of the Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes
  • A/HRC/51/35|Add.1 | Visit to Mauritius – Report of the Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes
  • A/HRC/51/35/Add.2 | Visit to Italy – Report of the Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes
  • A/HRC/51/49 | Annual report of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Resolutions

Resolutions relating to the global environmental agenda to be tabled at this session include:

  • Technical assistance and capacity-building to address the human rights implications of the nuclear legacy in the Marshall Islands (Marshall Islands) (HRC/51/L.24/Rev.1)
    Recognizing the need to realize the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment of people in the Marshall Islands, the resolution requests the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to provide technical assistance and capacity-building to the National Nuclear Commission of the Marshall Islands in advancing its national strategy for nuclear justice and determining its technical assistance and capacity-building needs to pursue transitional justice in its efforts to address the legacy of nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands.
  • Human rights and indigenous peoples (Guatemala, Mexico) (HRC/51/L.31)
    The resolution proposes to extend the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples for a period of three years, with reference to highlighting the effects of climate change on the realization of human rights of Indigenous Peoples.
  • The human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation (Germany, Spain) (HRC/51/L.40)
    The resolution proposes to extend the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and access to sanitation. Recalling the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, the resolution also highlights the importance of the gender dimension in the realization of these rights.
  • National human rights institutions (Australia) (HRC/51/L.16)
    Recognizing the effects of climate change on the full realization of human rights, especially of indigenous peoples in vulnerable situations, part of the resolution highlights the role national human rights institutions in a human rights-based approach in climate action, and aims to strengthen the role of such institutions in each country.

The draft resolutions can be found on the HRC51 website.

Call for Submissions

Special Procedures

The special procedure mandate-holders are independent human rights experts who help advance human rights, by reporting and advancing from a country-specific or thematic perspective, some of which are related to the environment. Calls for submissions are made to help mandate-holders prepare their reports to the Human Rights Council.

Links and Resources

Past HRC Sessions

Environment @ HRC50 | Environment @ HRC49 | Environment @ HRC48 | Environment @ HRC47 | Environment @ HRC46 | Environment @ HRC45 | Environment @ HRC44 | Environment @ HRC43

Who to Follow on Twitter

#HRC51

@UN_HRC | UN Human Rights Council
@FVillegasARG | H.E. Amb. Federico Villegas, Permanent Representative of Argentina to the United Nations Office at Geneva, President of the Human Rights Council in 2022
@UNHumanRights | The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN Human Rights)
@NadaNashif | United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights
@SRclimatechange | Ian Fry, SR human rights & climate change
@SRtoxics | Marcos Orellana, SR on toxics and human rights
@RelatorDd | José Francisco Calí Tzay, SR indigenous peoples
@ISHRglobal | The International Service for Human Rights
@FranciscansIntl | Franciscans International
@Geneva_Academy | Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights
@hrw | Human Rights Watch
@URGthinktank | Universal Rights Group (URG)
@YvesLador | Special Representative of Earthjustice in Geneva
@duycks | Senior Attorney – Climate and Energy Programme at the Center for International Environmental Law
@katha_nina | Katharina Rall, Senior environment researcher at HumanRights Watch
@ChildRightsCnct | Child Rights Connect
@CERI_Coalition |
Children’s Environmental Rights Initiative (CERI)
@CRINwire | Child Rights International Network

Videos

Livestreamed events during the 51st session of the Human Rights Council.

Geoengineering & Human Rights

13 September 2022 | 12:00 – 13:00 CEST | Room XXV, Palais des Nations

CIEL, EarthJustice, QUNO, Soka Gakkai International, Third World Network, ETC Group, and FIAN International

→ More on Climate-Altering Technologies and Measures

Mercury, Small-Scale Gold Mining and Human Rights

21 September 2022 | 16:00 – 17:00 CEST | Room XXV, Palais des Nations

Special Rapporteur on Toxics and Human Rights | Co-sponsored by the United Nations Environment Programme, the International Positive Education Network (IPEN), and the Geneva Environment Network

Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights & Just Transitions

3 October 2022 | 13:00 – 14:00 CEST | Room XXV, Palais des Nations

Chile, EU, Finland, Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, AIDA, PSI

Protecting the Frontline: Good practices to support environmental human rights defenders across the world

5 October 2022 | 9:00 – 10:00 CEST | Room XXV, Palais des Nations & Online

UNEP, OHCHR, URG, GEN