What does the right to a healthy environment mean for wildlife crime?


Aceh Police and the Aceh Natural Resources Conservation Agency show a rare balmy leopard confiscated from its owner in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, in January 2021. Owning and turning protected animals into pets is a violation of the conservation law as the Indonesian government continues to fight illegal wildlife trade in black market animals. EFE / EPA / HOTLI SIMANJUNTAK

In early October 2021, the 47 members of the United Nations Human Rights Council officially recognized the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. The vote was overwhelming – it was adopted unanimously with 43 votes and four abstentions from China, India, Japan and Russia – and historic: a healthy environment is a human right.

The right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment – or in short, the right to a healthy environment (RTHE) – is the recognition that intact ecosystems and populations of animals and plants, as well as a stable, sub- all human rights tend: “All human rights ultimately depend on a healthy biosphere,” as UN Special Rapporteur for Environment and Human Rights, David Boyd.

The rights to life, to the best possible standard of physical and mental health, our right to food, water and hygiene, to the means of subsistence and to participation in cultural life, etc., are as important as the right to a healthy environment. As we write these lines in 2021, the current global COVID-19 pandemic is a stark reminder of the inextricable link between the environment and human rights.

The recognition of this right by the United Nations gives us the opportunity to reflect on what this means for the work of protecting the environment from wildlife crime.

Wildlife crime poses a serious threat to a healthy environment

First, let’s say the obvious: We are at the heart of a formidable and unprecedented global environmental crisis, of which Commerce Illegal Wildlife (IWT), also known as Wildlife Crime, is a significant part. The latest IPBES report suggests that around 1 million species are already threatened with extinction, many of them within decades, unless action is taken to reduce the intensity of drivers of biodiversity loss, including wildlife crime is a key factor. Simply put, the illegal harvesting of wild flora and fauna compromises the integrity of ecosystems and a healthy and sustainable environment. Illegal logging, for example, has negative impacts on a wide range of ecological and social benefits. It causes deforestation and forest degradation, impoverishes biodiversity, increases carbon emissions while reducing carbon storage, thus playing an important role in global warming and climate change.

Wildlife crime undermines human rights

RTHE recognizes that environmental damage interferes with the enjoyment of human rights. The illegal wildlife trade is one of the most lucrative forms of transnational organized crime, undermining communities by depleting the natural resources on which they depend, increasing poverty and contributing to corruption. Wildlife crime also threatens good governance and human security, and reinforces criminal networks that may engage in other activities that further contribute to human rights violations. IWT also poses health risks, as three-quarters of all emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic (including those from wild and domestic animals) and threaten the principle of intergenerational equity, where future generations are at risk. live in an ecologically impoverished world.

The decline or disappearance of a particular species could have a devastating impact on an indigenous community, its rights and the rights of future generations. Take the example of devil’s claw (Harpagophytum procumbens). This medicinal plant grows in the savannah on the dry margins of the Kalahari in southern Africa and has anti-inflammatory properties used to treat arthritis and rheumatism. The plants are collected by local gatherers, including the once nomadic indigenous San and Damara peoples, for use in traditional medicine and for sale; it is often the only source of cash income for these very socially disadvantaged communities, whose right to food and health care is at stake. The right to a healthy environment makes it clear that it is the responsibility of states to take effective measures to ensure the conservation and sustainable use of ecosystems and biological diversity on which the full enjoyment of human rights depends.

The convergence of the environment and human rights allows complementary approaches

While a healthy environment is crucial for the realization of human rights, how we protect the environment is important, and the RTHE makes it clear that in all our efforts to ensure that our environment remains healthy, we must respect and protect human rights. This is the only way forward if we want to protect nature in an efficient, equitable and sustainable way.

As with most environmental damage, the consequences of wildlife crime are felt most severely by those already in vulnerable situations.

As with most environmental damage, the consequences of wildlife crime are felt most severely by those already in vulnerable situations. To craft fair and effective responses to wildlife crime, we need to ensure that ‘do no harm’ principles are at the heart of IWT responses, and that we take inclusive and holistic approaches. For example, we need to pay more attention to how women are affected by wildlife crime – and responses to wildlife crime – and empower indigenous peoples to shape their own. responses to wildlife crime. It also means ensuring that any law enforcement support contributes to strengthening the rule of law, combating impunity and promoting international human rights laws and standards. The human right to a healthy environment provides that while governments have a duty to protect the human right to a healthy environment, they must do so while respecting human rights, including human rights. procedural, ensuring meaningful participation in environmental decision-making through freedom of expression and association, for example, access to justice and environmental education.

By clearly articulating the convergence of environment and human rights, the human right to a healthy environment helps to pave the way for those working to protect the environment. Other ways to achieve this are to identify entry points such as the Universal Periodic Review under the Human Rights Council through which specific environmental issues can be highlighted for remedial action. , or specific issues requiring more attention, such as the protection of environmental human rights defenders, and the empowerment of indigenous peoples and local communities.

Understanding the right to a healthy environment through the lens of wildlife crime reminds us that tackling wildlife crime through a rights-based approach contributes to the realization of human rights and that addressing wildlife crime through a rights-based approach contributes to the realization of human rights. protection of human rights can help tackle wildlife crime effectively and fairly.


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