Report links human rights abuse with environment

The report of a US human rights organisation cites the example of nine countries to prove its theory that governments that violate human rights will almost always abuse environment as well

Published: Saturday 15 August 1992

-- A RECENTLY released report, Defending the Earth, prepared by the US-based Human Rights Watch and Natural Resources Defense Council, is a first-ever effort at documenting state harassment of individuals and groups protesting environmental degradation in different countries. The report covers nine countries, including the now-defunct Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. (See box: Record of Repression) The authors' assertion of a causal relationship between repression of human rights and environmental abuses is a view that found acceptance even at the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development.

The report highlights the contention that a government that usually oppresses human rights will abuse the environment. A censored press, restricted access to information, controls on the right to association, repressive laws and heavy policing are tools to "block meaningful and effective efforts" in dealing with environmental abuse by citizen groups.

The report castigates repressive governments that defend their practices with the assertion that human -- and environmental -- rights are "esoteric", which means that these rights must take a "back seat to the need to preserve order or foster economic development".

The report, however, is incomplete and partisan in that it does not explore whether the premise that the earth's environment should be "clearly a matter for global concern", gives more power to the North and its multilateral agencies.

The branding by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad of such concern as "eco-imperialism" -- a phrase ridiculed in the report, betrays a partisan attitude, even if it is in the name of human rights. The authors do not address the larger issue of the rights of sovereign states in a skewed international political order and ignore the reality that every global issue becomes a tool in the hands of international powers.

The authors' somewhat blinkered determination to see all violations of human rights only in the context of the environment is also evident in the description in the reports of Eritrea. The guerilla war of independence is seen only in terms of environmental degradation, while the suffering and human losses that took place during the war are referred to almost entirely in relocation terms.

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