Human Rights and the Environment
CHIEF JUSTICE OF INDIA
SOCIO-HISTORICAL INTRODUCTORY NOTE
If we look at society from a historical perspective, we realize that protection and preservation of the environment has been integral to the cultural and religious ethos of most human communities. Nature has been venerated by ancient Hindus, Greeks, Native Americans and other religions around the world. They worshipped all forms of nature believing that it emanated the spirit of God. Hinduism declared in its dictum that “(t)he Earth is our mother and we are all her children.” The ancient Greeks worshipped Gaea or the Earth Goddess. Islamic law regards man as having inherited "all the resources of life and nature" and having certain religious duties to God in using them. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, God gave the earth to his people and their offspring as an everlasting possession, to be cared for and passed on to each generation.
Importance of the relationship between these two spheres
Over the years, the international community has increased its awareness on the relationship between environmental degradation and human rights abuses. It is clear that, poverty situations and human rights abuses are worsened by environmental degradation. This is for several obvious reasons;
Firstly, the exhaustion of natural resources leads to unemployment and emigration to cities.
Secondly, this affects the enjoyment and exercise of basic human rights. Environmental conditions contribute to a large extent, to the spread of infectious diseases. From the 4,400 million of people who live in developing countries, almost 60% lack basic health care services, almost a third of these people have no access to safe water supply.
Thirdly, degradation poses new problems such as environmental refugees. Environmental refugees suffer from significant economic, socio-cultural, and political consequences. And fourthly,...