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Human Rights Council holds panel on ensuring children’s rights through a healthy environment and concludes annual full-day meeting on the rights of the child

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Continues Interactive Dialogue on the Annual Report of the High Commissioner and her Oral Update on the Human Rights Implications of the COVID-19 Pandemic

The Human Rights Council this afternoon concluded its annual full-day meeting on the rights of the child with a panel discussion entitled “Ensuring children’s rights through a healthy environment: a call to action”. It also continued its interactive dialogue on the annual report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and her oral update on the COVID-19 pandemic.

Panel Moderator Ricardo González Arenas, Permanent Representative of Uruguay to the United Nations Office at Geneva, opened the panel by noting that children were particularly vulnerable in the face of climate change and environmental damages. If the world listened to children, it would see that politicians’ decisions often did not reflect their wishes, especially with regard to the environment.

David R. Boyd, Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, speaking via video message, noted that governments had ignored warnings about coronaviruses and environmental destruction for decades, allowing diseases to spill over from animals to humans. Mr. Boyd said he had met with children and youth across the world, noting that they were key actors on this issue.

Sanjay Wijesekera, Director of Programmes at the United Nations Children’s Fund, speaking via video message, stated that this was a defining issue of our time, particularly highlighting the role of children as agents of change in today’s discussion. Youth continued to gain space and opportunities to showcase their climate action, calling for increased commitment from States.

Carmen Juliana, A child environmental human rights defender from Colombia, speaking via video message, said she was 15 years old, and a high school student living in the heart of south-western Antioquia, Colombia. She was participating in this meeting to demand the fulfillment of the environmental rights of Latin American children and youth, which historically had been ignored and violated.

In the ensuing discussion, speakers said children across the globe were showing leadership on environmental issues and demanding that their voices be heard. These voices and leadership should be celebrated; the current ecological and climate crisis had finally reached the level of attention and awareness that it deserved.

Speaking during the interactive debate were European Union, Iceland on behalf of a group of countries, Monaco, Fiji (video message), Sierra Leone, Japan, Colombia, Iran, Panama, Cuba, Germany, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, South Africa, Iraq, Morocco, North Macedonia, Nepal, Slovenia, United Nations Environment Programme - Regional Office for Europe, Myanmar, Belarus, Poland, Kenya, Indonesia and Georgia.

The following civil society organizations also took the floor : Terre Des Hommes Federation Internationale, Conselho Indigenista Missionário CIMI (video message), Associazione Comunita Papa Giovanni XXIII, Health and Environment Program, Global Institute for Water, Environment and Health and Earthjustice.

The first part of the full-day meeting on the rights of the child took place in the morning meeting with a panel discussion on setting the scene for a healthy environment as a child rights concern. A summary can be found here.

The Council then continued its interactive dialogue on the annual report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The dialogue started in previous meetings and summaries can be found here and here.

Speakers thanked the High Commissioner for the report, reiterating that the COVID-19 pandemic represented a significant challenge for every State, and disproportionately impacted vulnerable populations such as women and girls, persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and people of African descent. This was the greatest crisis faced by humanity and speakers urged States to put aside their differences in the global efforts to combat the virus and its effects.

Speaking during the interactive dialogue were Italy, Belarus, Mexico, Mauritania, Bangladesh, Jordan, Luxembourg, Ukraine, Indonesia, Cameroon, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, South Africa, Botswana, Morocco, Colombia, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, El Salvador, Malta, Bahrain, Cambodia, Iraq, Netherlands, Greece, Mozambique, Ireland, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Sudan, Egypt, Burundi, Viet Nam, Maldives, Panama (video message), North Macedonia, Iran, Nepal, Switzerland, Nigeria, Honduras (video message), Iceland, Republic of Korea, Slovenia, Tanzania, Kyrgyzstan, United Arab Emirates, Myanmar, Serbia and Armenia.

The Council will next meet on Thursday, 2 July, at 10 a.m. to continue the interactive dialogue on the annual report of the High Commissioner. It will then hear the introduction of reports on Nicaragua, Venezuela and Ukraine under the agenda item on the annual report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and reports of the Office of the High Commissioner and the Secretary-General.

Annual Full-Day Meeting on the Rights of the Child

Panel Discussion on Ensuring Children’s Rights through a Healthy Environment: a Call to Action

Statements by the Moderator and the Panellists

RICARDO GONZÁLEZ ARENAS, Permanent Representative of Uruguay to the United Nations Office at Geneva and panel moderator, noted that children were particularly vulnerable in the face of climate change and environmental damages, which particularly affected their human rights. But children also represented the future. If the world listened to children, they would see that politicians’ decisions often did not reflect their wishes, especially with regard to the environment. Around the world, children were becoming important advocates for the rights associated with the environment, exercising their right to be part of a debate that was particularly relevant to their future. Listening to the voice of children and empowering them was an integral part of States' commitment to human rights. That was why the panellists were pleased to have child advocates join them in this annual debate. Mr. González Arenas encouraged the exchange of good practices and the strengthening of cooperation and technical assistance aimed at helping States to fulfil their obligations and commitments in this area.

DAVID R. BOYD, Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, speaking via video message, stated that humans were not treating earth with the respect it deserved. Hundreds of millions of children missed school, missed playing with their friends and missed nature. Governments had ignored warnings about coronaviruses and environmental destruction for decades, allowing diseases to spill over from animals to humans. States had also ignored scientists’ warnings about the gravity of the global climate crisis. Young people were key actors on this issue, and Mr. Boyd said he met with children and youth across the world, emphasising that all young people loved this planet and nature, while also fearing the future. They demanded climate action during the marches last year and for governments to take steps, listen to the climate scientists and respond to their calls. The world must respond to children’s calls to action, and the Council must pass a resolution to recognise that everyone, especially children, has the right to a safe and clean environment. States needed to scale up in replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy, preventing pollution by shifting towards a circular economy.

SANJAY WIJESEKERA, Director of Programmes at the United Nations Children’s Fund, speaking via video message, emphasised that millions of children suffered disease and harm from environmental effects. This was a defining issue of our time. In today’s discussion, the role of children as agents of change was particularly highlighted, as youth continued to gain space and opportunities to showcase their climate action, calling for increased commitment from States. The United Nations Children’s Fund provided children with skills and information on this issue, elevated their voices in the global climate discourse, and included them in climate negotiations in platforms such as the Conference of Parties. The way the world responded to the COVID-19 crisis could be an opportunity to reimagine a greener, more sustainable future. Mr. Wijesekera called on all States to hear children and uphold their responsibility to ensure a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment for this generation, and for generations to come - this was a necessity for dignified life on earth for all.

CARMEN JULIANA, Child environmental human rights defender from Colombia, in a video message, said she was 15 years old, and a high school student living in the heart of south-western Antioquia, Colombia. She was participating in this meeting to demand the fulfilment of the environmental rights of Latin American children and youth, which historically had been ignored and violated. This situation was even more acute in the current environmental crisis, which was the result of bad decisions by world leaders who, on many occasions, had prioritized a predatory idea of nature over the livelihood of Latin American peoples. The environmental conflicts in her region were mainly generated by mining, energy and agro-industrial extraction projects, which affected the peasants’ traditions, indigenous cultures and their bodies of water. Addressing the leaders of the world, she said she wanted this space to go beyond formal declarations and for countries to commit themselves to the international campaign for the environmental rights of children, young people and adolescents around the world.

Discussion

Speakers said children across the globe were showing leadership on environmental issues and demanding that their voices be heard. These voices and leadership should be celebrated; the current ecological and climate crisis had finally reached the level of attention and awareness that it deserved. Outlining measures taken in their countries to ensure children’s meaningful participation in decisions related to climate change, notably those that directly affected their future, speakers acknowledged that more needed to be done. Young people’s anger was increasing, and needed to be addressed. Several speakers asked the panellists to provide advice on the best ways in which children could be involved in decision-making. They noted that the Special Rapporteur had specifically consulted with children, and underlined the compounding effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the adverse consequences of environmental degradation. Calling for targeted policies and measures, some speakers supported the formal recognition of the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. The degradation of the environment had a cross-cutting effect on the rights of children, several speakers said, with some urging greater attention to the intersectional impact of such degradation on vulnerable children.

Speakers sought best practices, such as in sanitation and hygiene policies, where voices of children were included. Specifically, the right of children to education in light of the COVID-19 pandemic posed significant challenges. Speakers also welcomed the work of various United Nations agencies in relation to children’s rights and the environment, noting that further international normative guidance on children’s rights was needed, with a view to protect them in relation to the environment. Children’s rights were a high priority for the United Nations Environment Programme, for instance, as children’s right to a healthy environment was advanced via a variety of measures, working closely with children and States. Speakers noted that working jointly with the United Nations agencies on policies that advanced the Child Friendly Cities Initiative was especially productive. At the same time, speakers noted that existing, and new, regional initiatives should be supported, seeking more information from the panel with regard to potential regional solutions. Some speakers hoped for recommendations of the High Commissioner to be implemented by States, and called on the Council to develop a media programme to promote a safe environment for children. It was the responsibility of the Council to appoint a Special Rapporteur on the human rights of children and climate change.

Concluding Remarks

RICARDO GONZALEZ ARENAS, Permanent Representative of Uruguay to the United Nations Office at Geneva and panel moderator, said it was clear that there was great agreement on two things: the degradation of the environment had a great impact on children’s enjoyment of their rights; and it was important to involve children in decision-making processes. It was important, in this context, to consider what the Human Rights Council’s role could be.
DAVID R. BOYD, Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, said he had been struck to learn that there were 1.7 million premature deaths each year that were preventable as they were due to the degradation of the environment. It was critically important, in the face of the pandemic, that the recovery be clean, green, and healthy. In order to prevent other pandemics, the world had to stop deforestation and stop the degradation of the environment.

HENRIETTE AHRENS, Deputy Director of Programmes at the United Nations Children’s Fund, said the climate and environment crisis was a child's right crisis. Children in poverty, indigenous children, children with disabilities and otherwise vulnerable children faced intersecting risks. They had the right to speak up, and adults had the obligation to listen and act accordingly. Adults did not have the right to impose destructive practices on children - it was their world, too.

CARMEN JULIANA, Child environmental human rights defender from Colombia, speaking via video conferencing, said that, recently, military people had raped a young girl. Some might ask what this had to do with children’s environmental rights. Children’s bodies were their first territories, and therefore, as a human rights defender in Latin America, she rejected such aggressions. As rivers and biodiversity were threatened, the world must manage the effects of climate change. World leaders must realize that if they continued to destroy nature, then the world would have no future.

Interactive Dialogue on the Annual Report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and her Oral Update on the Human Rights Implications of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Thanking the High Commissioner for the report, speakers reiterated that the COVID-19 pandemic represented a significant challenge for every State, yet at the same time disproportionately affected vulnerable populations such as older persons, women and girls, persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and people of African descent. The pandemic had also had significant negative effects on the lives of migrants, asylum seekers, refugees and internally displaced persons. This was the greatest crisis faced by humanity and speakers urged States to put aside their differences in the global efforts to combat the coronavirus and its effects, going beyond the increasingly nationalist rhetoric across the globe. This challenge was made even harder to overcome when considering the ways it intersected with climate change, leaving small island States particularly vulnerable. The pillar of prevention must be strengthened and must guide human rights mechanisms, as speakers hoped the Council would recognise the rights of frontline workers in the COVID-19 response, ensuring that personal protection equipment was readily available to them. Other speakers noted that certain States had used the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to tighten their grip on civil society and limit the freedom of expression.
Speakers emphasised that the High Commissioner and her Office must rely on reliable sources and resist unilateral coercive measures and the politicisation of human rights work to avoid interfering in the internal affairs of States. Other speakers noted that despite the mismatch between the growing mandate and the lack of resources, and in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the High Commissioner and her staff were carrying out their duties admirably and highlighted that the independence of the Office was paramount. Multilateralism and a strong, properly resourced United Nations, including an effective human rights pillar, were crucial to the success of the global COVID-19 response. Returning to the pre-COVID-19 status quo was not an option, speakers said, calling for a global ceasefire and highlighted human rights situations in Myanmar, Israel and Occupied Palestinian Territories, India, Pakistan, Russian Federation, Kosovo, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Egypt, Venezuela, China, Yemen, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Mali, Bangladesh, Brazil, Cambodia, Cuba, Iraq, Nicaragua and Tanzania. Theglobal problems of terrorism, arms trade as well as racial discrimination and police brutality were also noted as significant challenges.

For use of the information media; not an official record