Beyond COVID-19, human rights can help save the planet

The Secretary General of the 47-nation Council of Europe, Marija Pejcinovic Buric, the Chair of the Committee of Ministers and Alternate Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Hellenic Republic, Miltiadis Varvitsiotis, and the President of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly, Rik Daems, have issued the following statement ahead of World Environment Day on June 5:

“Alongside the huge challenges brought by the coronavirus pandemic, it is clear that climate change and damage to our natural environment pose an immense threat to our well-being.

“The European Convention on Human Rights, which turns 70 this year, helps to protect our lives, our families and our homes against environmental threats – and in all other circumstances.

“The European Court of Human Rights has already ruled in some 300 cases linked to the environment, covering issues ranging from dangerous industrial activities to waste management and pollution.

“Among other things, the Court’s case-law has helped to guarantee people’s right to pass on and receive information about environmental issues, to join forces with others, to take part in decisions which affect them and to challenge official decisions in court.

“We have also seen how the Convention can be used at national level to press governments to take faster and more drastic steps to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

“Moreover, the European Social Charter has been interpreted as covering the right to a healthy environment, leading to several important decisions and conclusions from the European Committee of Social Rights prompting state action on environmental issues.

“As countries across Europe emerge from lockdown and look to the future, we must make full use of the tools we have – including human rights – to help build and maintain a healthy environment for generations to come.

“We should also consider how to further sharpen those tools to make them as effective as possible.

“We therefore fully support the declaration adopted last month by the previous, present and future Chairs of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers calling on the organisation to start working towards a new legal text on human rights and the environment.

“Furthermore, we eagerly look forward to the High Level International Conference on ‘Human Rights for the Planet’, to be held at the European Court of Human Rights on 5 October, and the discussions on democracy’s contribution to saving the environment which are scheduled to take place at this year’s World Forum for Democracy in Strasbourg from 16 to 18 November.

“We are convinced that respecting human rights and protecting the environment go hand-in-hand. We should make full use of, and further strengthen, the powerful tools that we have to help build a better future for us all.”