The Domestication of the Right to a Healthy Environment

Started in January 2022


In 2021 and 2022, the United Nations Human Rights Council and UN General Assembly endorsed resolutions recognizing the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. While broadly lauded as a breakthrough for environmental protection, experts remain divided on whether a non-binding resolution will be able to overcome a lack of consensus and vested interests within and between states or mark a critical step towards tighter environmental accountability and enforcement. One point of agreement is that, from a pragmatic viewpoint, emphasis should target state-level implementation of these resolutions. Indeed, the urgency of the climate crisis demands a time-sensitive response, and domestic laws and policies are the most effective and expedient tools by which to challenge ecologically harmful projects and policies.

This begs important questions about the factors that have enabled or dissuaded states from integrating environmental rights into domestic law.


This project will start by identifying what enabling conditions correlate with or explain a state’s decision to recognize the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment in domestic law, taking into account variables such as risk exposure, market impact, litigation, governance, civil society activity, voter opinion, economic reasoning and other factors. Variables that are found to be significant will be cross-tested in countries that have not recognized environmental rights in domestic law, to validate the findings.

It will also examine the impact of this recognition on corporate policy, planning and decision-making with a view to better understanding the enabling conditions for cleaner manufacturing, agricultural and infrastructure projects.

The research will ultimately tackle the broader questions around the impact of this recognition –specifically the efficacy of soft law on formal accountability processes, and how this right has promoted a more integrated understanding of environmental challenges.


Open dump's view from the sky News

New Publication Details the Contours and Next Steps for the Right to a Healthy Environment

9 January 2023

Our new publication Human Rights and the Environment explores the implications of the recently recognised right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, with a focus on the UN Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly.

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Scavengers Burning Trash, Tondo Garbage Dump, Manila Philippines News

New Research on the Right to a Healthy Environment

22 March 2022

This project forms part of our research cluster on sustainable development that aims to explore the linkages between sustainable development, the protection of the environment, climate change and the branches of international law that protect the rights of the most vulnerable.

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Picture of Christophe Golay

Christophe Golay

Senior Research Fellow

Dr Christophe Golay's expertise relates to economic, social and cultural rights, the right to food and the rights of peasants.


Detailing the Contours and Next Steps for the Right to a Healthy Environment

Building on the recent recognition of the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, the first phase of this research – completed in 2022 – aimed to mainstream this right and the protection it affords in the work of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) and Geneva-based human rights mechanisms.

Published in December 2022, our briefing Human Rights and the Environmentand its research brief The Right to a Healthy Environment detail the contours of this right and the relationship between human rights and the environment, formulating concrete recommendations on its mainstreaming in the work and resolutions of the UNGA and the UN Human Rights Council (HRC).

At a side event during the 51st session of the HRC – co-organized with the permanent missions of Costa Rica, the Maldives, Morocco, Switzerland and Slovenia to the UN in Geneva – diplomats, representatives from NGOs and international organizations and experts also discussed the implementation of this right and the role of the HRC in this.


Cover of the publication

Right to a Healthy Environment

December 2022

Megan Donald

The Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights

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Cover of the publication

Briefing N° 21: Human Rights and the Environment

December 2022

Megan Donald

The Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights

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Past Events

Promoting and Protecting the Right to a Clean, Healthy and Sustainable Environment

14 September 2022, 19:00-20:30

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A woman's hand holding seeds News

New Publication Explores the Right to Seeds in Africa

6 March 2023

The Right to Seeds in Africa explores the implications of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas for the right to seeds in Africa.

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Aerial view of destroyed buildings News

Experts Discuss the Use of Open-Source Information to Document IHL and Human Rights Violations

10 January 2023

A one-day consultation aimed at discussing with a variety of experts the challenges, opportunities and best practices arising from an increased reliance on open source information in accountability processes.

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African workers are picking out fresh coffee beans at washing station Event

Le Droit aux Semences en Afrique

20 June 2023, 16:00-18:00

Cette conférence co-organisée avec Swissaid et CROPS4HD – qui se tiendra en français en présentiel et en ligne – vise à approfondir la réflexion autour du droit aux semences en Afrique.

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Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 75: Reimagining Protection for a World in Turmoil

12 June 2023, 14:00-15:30

This event, co-organized with Amnesty International, will discuss the gains made since the UDHR adoption, challenges to the international normative framework on human rights and what the international community needs to do for a better future.

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Open dump Training

Protecting Human Rights and the Environment

18-22 September 2023

This training course will explore the major international and regional instruments for the promotion of human rights, as well as with their implementation and enforcement mechanisms; and provide practical insights into the different UN human rights mechanisms pertinent to advancing environmental issues and protecting environmental human rights defenders.

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Garment workersto receive food from their factory during lunch time. This food is freely provided by their factory in order to ensure that workers eat healthy and hygienic food. Training

Business and Human Rights

4-8 September 2023

This training course will examine how the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights have been utilized to advance the concept of business respect for human rights throughout the UN system, the impact of the Guiding Principles on other international organizations, as well as the impact of standards and guidance developed by these different bodies.

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Panel Discussion: Project

Treaty Body Members’ Platform

Started in January 2014

The Treaty Body Members’ Platform connects experts in UN treaty bodies with each other as well as with Geneva-based practitioners, academics and diplomats to share expertise, exchange views on topical questions and develop synergies.

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Rwanda, on the outskirts of Kigali, Wa-Jali. Jeanne Françoise, a young girl reunited two years ago with her grandmother by the ICRC, stands in a banana orchard near her house. Project

Sustainable Development and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

Started in January 2008

This project aims to raise awareness about the complementarity of human rights and development by analyzing the relationship between economic, social and cultural rights and global development goals, namely the Millennium Development Goals adopted in 2000 and the Sustainable Development Goals adopted in 2015.

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Cover page of the research brief Publication

Climate Change in the Security Council: Obstacles, Opportunities, and Options

published on May 2023

Erica Harper, Adam Day

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Cover of the publication Publication

The Emergence of Digital Human Rights Tracking Tools and Databases

published on March 2023

Domenico Zipoli

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