Friends of the Earth International values the recent advances in the international recognition of individual human rights and collective rights. However, despite progress in creating legal frameworks to address rights, violations continue and are even increasing due to the current global model of production and consumption that is imposed by neoliberal economic globalisation.

Friends of the Earth International promotes the concepts of environmental rights and environmental justice, and works for the recognition of new rights.

This publication explains the concepts behind these new rights, along with examples of human and environmental rights abuses experienced worldwide.

  • The right to a sustainable livelihood
  • The right to a clean and healthy environment
  • The right to water
  • The right to food safety and security
  • Collective rights
  • The right to know
  • The right to decide
  • The right to resist
  • Rights for environmental refugees
  • The right to claim ecological debt
  • The right to environmental justice

Environmental rights

Environmental rights mean access to the unspoiled natural resources that enable survival, including land, shelter, food, water and air. Our vision also includes political rights like rights for indigenous peoples and local communities, the right to information and participation in decision-making, freedom of opinion and expression, and the right to resist unwanted developments.
Environmental rights are human rights, as people’s livelihoods, their health, and sometimes their very existence depend upon the quality of and their access to the surrounding environment as well as the recognition of their rights to information, participation, security and redress.

Collective rights

Individual human rights do not guarantee adequate protection for indigenous peoples and other minorities exhibiting collective characteristics. These groups face particular threats to their livelihoods, environments, health and security, and their very survival may depend upon the recognition and protection of their collective rights.
Collective rights guarantee the development and preservation of ethnic minorities’ cultural identities and forms of organisation, and territorial heritage. Some existing legal instruments recognise these rights, including Article 169 of the International Labour Organization and the political constitutions of several nations including Colombia, Bolivia and Ecuador.

The right to know

People have the right to play an active role in protecting their environments, and access to information is key to securing this right. There is a great deal of secrecy surrounding the activities of corporations and their financial backers. Governments too often collude with these schemes to keep illegal, unethical or simply unpopular projects and processes away from public scrutiny. In response, communities and individuals are calling for information disclosure when activities impact the environment or people.

The right to resist

When people’s environments and human rights are threatened, they have the right to safely express their discontent through protest. The right to freedom of opinion and expression is a well-established civil and political right in both national and international law, and is fundamental to the concept of democracy and the respect of human dignity.
Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinion without interference and to seek, receive and impart information through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
Article 3 maintains that: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.”
Nonetheless, environmental and human rights activists all over the world are often denied these rights when their ideas and actions conflict with the status quo. Their lives may be put at risk when they offer resistance.

Read also: The Cartagena Declaration on human and environmental rights.