The Mandate to Identify Good Practices

In March 2012, the United Nations Human Rights Council decided to appoint an Independent Expert on human rights and the environment. It requested the Independent Expert to identify, promote and exchange views on best practices relating to the use of human rights obligations and commitments to inform, support and strengthen environmental policy making, especially in the area of environmental protection. In particular, the Council requested the Independent Expert to prepare a compendium of best practices.

In July 2012, the Council appointed John H. Knox, professor of law at Wake Forest University, to serve as the Independent Expert. With the support of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and on the basis of nine regional consultations and expert meetings, two country visits and dozens of responses to questionnaires sent to States, civil society organizations and others, he has compiled more than 100 good practices in the use of human rights obligations relating to the environment.

The Independent Expert submitted his compendium of good practices to the Human Rights Council at its 28th session in March 2015. All of the practices that the Independent Expert’s identified in his report are available on this website and can be searched using different criteria, including by category, sub-category, key words, location and actor.

Defining a Good Practice

The Independent Expert prefers the term “good practices” rather than “best practices” because, in many situations, it is not possible to identify a single “best” practice. The term “practice” includes legislation, policies, case law, administrative practices, and projects, as well as practices that go beyond established legal obligations relating to the environment. Practices can be implemented by a wide range of actors, including all levels of government, civil society, the private sector, communities and individuals.

To be a “good” practice, the practice should integrate human rights and environmental standards, including through the application of human rights norms to environmental decision-making and implementation or the use of environmental measures to define, implement and (preferably) exceed minimum standards set by human rights norms. The practice should be exemplary from the perspectives of human rights and of environmental protection, and there should be evidence that the practice is achieving or working towards achieving its desired objectives and outcomes.

The Organization of Good Practices

The good practices in the use of human rights obligations in relation to environmental protection are organized into nine categories: (a) procedural obligations generally; (b) the obligation to make environmental information public; (c) the obligation to facilitate public participation in environmental decision-making; (d) the obligation to protect the rights of expression and association; (e) the obligation to provide access to legal remedies; (f) substantive obligations; (g) obligations relating to non-State actors; (h) obligations relating to transboundary harm; and (i) obligations relating to those in vulnerable situations. Practices that fall into more than one category were placed in the category that seemed most relevant. Each category also has several sub-categories associated with it.

The Process of Compiling Good Practices

The Independent Expert and OHCHR worked closely with UNEP to develop an interagency programme to identify and disseminate information about good practices.

The two principal sources for identifying good practices were consultations hosted by the Independent Expert and UNEP, as well as other partners, and a questionnaire seeking good practices that was sent to Governments, international organizations, civil society organizations, and other interested stakeholders. In addition, the Independent Expert identified good practices in his visits to Costa Rica and France. Finally, he sought good practices through additional contacts and research.

The consultations took place in every region. Each consultation focused on identifying good practices, as well as clarifying legal obligations and challenges, in one thematic area. Consultations took place in Nairobi in February 2013 on procedural obligations, in Geneva in June 2013 on substantive obligations, in Panama City in July 2013 on obligations relating to vulnerable groups, in Copenhagen in October 2013 on international institutions, in Johannesburg in January 2014 on constitutional environmental rights, in Bangkok in May 2014 on environmental human rights defenders, and in Chamonix/Geneva in July 2014 on climate change.

The largest conference, which represented the culmination of the process, was at Yale University from 5 to 7 September 2014. It was hosted by Yale and the UN Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), with assistance from a number of other partners, including UNEP and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). It brought together more than 150 scholars and policy experts, and more than 100 papers were presented on issues concerning the relationship between human rights and environmental protection.

The Independent Expert sent out the questionnaire in the spring and summer of 2014. It was also made available publicly, and it was sent throughout 2014 to anyone who requested a copy. More than 70 responses were received.

In the second half of 2014, the practices identified throughout this process were reviewed, summarized and compiled. For each practice, a one-page summary was prepared that includes the name of the practice, its implementing actors and location, a brief description of the practice, and links to websites where further information about the practice may be found. In some cases, it was possible to supplement the material provided by the submitters, but because the Independent Expert had only limited capacity to verify the information provided in the submissions, many of the summaries primarily depend on the descriptions of the practices provided by the submitters. Moreover, the Independent Expert does not have the resources to revisit good practices that he identified in the latter half of 2014, in order to determine whether there have been any new developments related to the practice, including whether the practice is continuing to be implemented.