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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: June 2012

5 - International Human Rights Institutions and Procedures



This chapter examines the international and regional systems for reporting, monitoring, and “enforcing” human rights obligations. When environmental destruction results in human injury that breaches applicable human rights provisions, it may be possible to invoke the jurisdiction of a human rights body under established procedures to remedy both the human rights violation and the underlying environmental degradation causing the violation. For lawyers concerned with environmental protection, the well-developed human rights committees, commissions, and other mechanisms empowered to investigate and act on alleged human rights abuses have provided a major attraction, despite the fact that the approach is retrospective, because bringing a human rights case implies that harm (sometimes irreparable) has already been done. It is thus important to keep in mind that most human rights institutions also have a proactive promotional function that allows inquiry, training, guidelines on best practices, and other actions to prevent harm from occurring.

Few international environmental treaties establish an independent treaty body to supervise treaty obligations. Reporting obligations sometimes exist, but without such an independent institutional structure, there can be no hope of monitoring or enforcement outside of the parties to the agreement. Even where an institutional body is established pursuant to an international environmental treaty, only the Aarhus Compliance Committee (see Chapter 6) has been charged with any significant independent monitoring and enforcement powers akin to those of human rights institutions.