ON Oct 8, 2021, the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC), whose mission is to promote and protect human rights around the world, passed Resolution 48/13, which recognised for the first time that having a clean, healthy and sustainable environment is a human right.
When the world is facing an existential crisis, with the masses having poor access to clean air and water, and safe living conditions, and in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic and climate change crisis, this resolution, which has been hailed as a landmark decision, must be applauded.
This recognition is critical for environmental justice and protection of the environment against unsustainable economic development that destroys the livelihoods of poor communities, who are powerless against the state, rich developers, industrialists and corporations.
The United Nations’ top human rights body voted to adopt the resolution with 43 votes in favour and four abstentions (China, India, Japan and Russia).
The United States, not being a member of the UN Human Rights Council, did not participate in the vote.
CAP (Consumers Association of Penang) is outraged by the fact that the big and powerful countries abstained from voting.
It was the determined push from smaller nations like Costa Rica, the Maldives, and Morocco that drove the Human Rights Council to recognise the people’s right to a safe and clean environment, as they would suffer the most from any global environmental crises even though they are not the main contributors to it.
This resolution is a key recognition for people all over the world in their struggle for environmental justice, a clean and safe place to call home, and a right to safe and clean life-giving resources like air and water.
It will give them a stronger voice against unsustainable development projects by both government and private entities.
CAP calls on the Malaysian government to enshrine this basic human right to a clean and sustainable environment in our Federal Constitution.
More than 100 countries across the world have adopted it. Portugal (1976) and Spain (1978) were the first countries to recognise the right to live in a healthy environment.
In 2008, Ecuador became the first country in the world to give nature legally enforceable rights to “exist, flourish and evolve”. Bolivia followed in 2009.
Malaysians have suffered long enough from incessant water supply disruptions due to water pollution, transboundary haze, industrial pollution, degradation of forests due to development activities, and the destruction of livelihoods due to displacement by huge projects.
It is time for the government to enshrine the right to a clean and sustainable environment in the Federal Constitution to help Malaysians protect and assert their rights to a safe and healthy habitat to call home.
MOHIDEEN ABDUL KADER , President Consumers Association of Penang