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Good morning, this is Michelle. A little over a year has passed since the Human Rights Council recognised the people’s right to live in a healthy environment. It was hailed as a historic political declaration, but is it enough to force governments to act?

Some think we need to get leaders in the negotiation room to strike an official deal – unnecessary and painfully long, others argue.

photo journaliste

Michelle Langrand


Making the right to a healthy environment official

Photo article

Only a few weeks after an environmental disaster in the Oder River, Poland has resumed the expansion of the German-Polish border river in September, 2022. (Credit: Keystone/DPA/Patrick Pleul)

When the former president of the Human Rights Council Nazhat Shameem Khan struck the gavel on 8 October 2021, marking the approval of a resolution recognising the human right to a healthy environment, the room filled with applause. It had taken over 10 years of campaigning from environmental rights activists but also diplomats to get the necessary support for the text to pass. Ten months later, New York followed suit, with 161 state members of the UN general assembly voting in favour of the proposal.

But what does the UN stamp mean for people everywhere drinking from polluted rivers or breathing in toxic fumes from a factory across the border? What obligations does a state have towards its people to halt the degradation of the planet or to protect activists that defend it?

These are some of the questions discussed by some 70 diplomats, academics and rights advocates at the Glion Human Rights Dialogue held in Le Mirador spa resort in Chardonne, Switzerland in May and summed up in a report released last month. The two-day retreat, organised by the Universal Rights Group and hosted by Switzerland and Lichtenstein, is meant to encourage an open debate on human rights issues between diplomats, advocates and experts, away from the public eye.

One of the discussed proposals was to agree on a new treaty, but countries are wary of adding one more deal to the list of ongoing negotiations, especially in the current fraught multilateral context.

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