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III. The fundamental right to life at the basis of the ratio legis of international human rights law and environmental law

The right to life is nowadays universally acknowledged as a basic or fundamental human right. It is basic or fundamental because "the enjoyment of the right to life is a necessary condition of the enjoyment of all other human rights."75 As indicated by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in its Advisory Opinion on Restrictions to the Death Penalty (1983), the human right to life encompasses a "substantive principle" whereby every human being has an inalienable right to have his life respected, and a "procedural principle" whereby no human being shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.76

The Human Rights Committee, operating under the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (and Optional Protocol), qualifying the human right to life as the "supreme right of the human being," has warned that the fundamental human right "ne peut pas être entendu de façon restrictive" and its protection "exige que les Etats adoptent des mesures positives."77 The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, likewise, has drawn attention to the binding character of the right to life.78 In its recent resolution no. 3/87, on case no. 9647, concerning the United States, the Inter-American Commission, after identifying a norm of jus cogens that "prohibits the State execution of children," warned against "the arbitrary deprivation of life" on the basis of a patchwork scheme of legislation that subjects the severity of the punishment (of the offender) to the "fortuitous element of where the crime took place."79

Under international human rights instruments, the assertion of the inherent right to life of every human being is accompanied by an assertion of the legal protection of that basic human right and of the negative obligation not to deprive arbitrarily of one's life (e.g., UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 6 [1]; European Convention on Human Rights, Article 2; American Convention on Human Rights, Article 4 [1]; African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, Article 4).80 But this negative obligation is accompanied by the positive obligation to take all appropriate measures to protect and preserve human life. This has been acknowledged by the European Commission of Human Rights, whose case-law has evolved to the point of holding (Association X versus United Kingdom case, 1978) that Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights imposed on states also a wider and positive obligation "de prendre des mesures adéquates pour protéger la vie."81

Taken in its wide and proper dimension, the fundamental right to life comprises the right of every human being not to be deprived of his life (right to life) and the right of every human being to have the appropriate means of subsistence and a decent standard of life (preservation of life, right of living). As well pointed out by Przetacznik, "the former belongs to the area of civil and political rights, the latter to that of economic, social and cultural rights."82 The fundamental right to life, thus properly understood, affords an eloquent illustration of the indivisibility and interrelatedness of all human rights.83

In fact, some members of the Human Rights Committee have expressed the view that Article 6 of the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights requires the state "to take positive measures to ensure the right to life, including steps to reduce the infant mortality rate, pre vent industrial accidents, and protect the environment...."84 Taking the essential requirements of the right of living (supra) as a corollary of the right to life, Desch argued that inequitable distribution of food or medicaments by public authorities, or even the toleration of malnutrition or failure to reduce infant mortality would constitute violations of Article 6 of the Covenant if there results an arbitrary deprivation of life.85

During the drafting of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, attempts were made to make its Article 3, which proclaims the right to life, more precise.86 A number of issues were the object of discussion in the drafting of corresponding provisions on the right to life of human rights treaties,87 but it was the views and decisions more recently rendered by international supervisory organs that have gradually given more precision to the right to life as enshrined in the respective human rights treaties (see supra). Even those who insist on regarding the right to life strictly as a civil righ88 cannot fail to admit that, ultimately, without an adequate standard of living (as recognized, e.g., in Articles 11-12 of the UN Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, following Article 25 [1] of the 1948 Universal Declaration), the right to life could not possibly be realized in its full sense89 (e.g., in its close relationships with the right to health and medical care; the right to food, and the right to housing).90 Thus, both the UN General Assembly (resolution 37/189A, of 1982) and the UN Commission on Human Rights (resolutions 1982/7, of 1982, and 1983/43, see 1983) have unequivocally taken the firm view that all individuals and all peoples have an inherent right to life, and that the safeguarding of this foremost right is an essential condition for the enjoyment of the entire range of civil and political, as well as economic, social, and cultural rights.91

Two points are deserving of particular emphasis here. First, it has not passed unnoticed that the provision of the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on the fundamental and inherent right to life (Article 6 [1]) is "the only Article of the Covenant where the inherency of a right is expressly referred to."92 Secondly, the United Nations has formed its conviction that not only all individuals but also all peoples have an inherent right to life (supra). This brings to the fore the safeguard of the right to life of all persons as well as of human collectivities, with special attention to the requirements of the survival (as a component of the right to life) of vulnerable groups (e.g., the dispossessed and deprived, disabled or handicapped persons, children and the elderly, ethnic minorities, indigenous populations, migrant workers - see section Vl, infra).93

From this perspective, the right to a healthy environment and the right to peace appear as extensions or corollaries of the right to life.94 The fundamental character of the right to life renders inadequate narrow approaches to it in our day; under the right to life, in its modern and proper sense, not only is protection against any arbitrary deprivation of life upheld, but furthermore states are under the duty "to pursue policies which are designed to ensure access to the means of survival"95 for all individuals and all peoples. To this effect, states are under the obligation to avoid serious environmental hazards or risks to life, and to set into motion "monitoring and early-warning systems" to detect such serious environmental hazards or risks and "urgent-action systems" to deal with such threats.96

In the same line, in the First European Conference on the Environment and Human Rights (Strasbourg, 1979), the point was made that mankind needed to protect itself against its own threats to the environment, in particular when those threats had negative repercussions on the conditions of existence - life itself, physical and mental health, the well-being of present and future generations.97 In a way, it was the right to life itself, in its wide dimension, that entailed the needed recognition of the right to a healthy environment; this latter appears as "le droit à des conditions de vie qui assurent la santé physique, morale, et sociale, la vie elle-même, ainsi que le bien-être des générations présentes et futures."98 In other words, the right to a healthy environment safeguards human life itself under two aspects, namely, the physical existence and health of human beings and the dignity of that existence, the quality of life that renders it worth living.99 The right to a healthy environment thus encompasses and enlarges the right to health and the right to an adequate or sufficient standard of living, and has furthermore a wide temporal dimension: as, "en matière d'environnement, certaines atteintes à l'environnement ne produisent d'effets sur la vie et la santé de l'homme qu'a long terme,... Ia reconnaissance d'un droit a l'environnement... devrait done admettre une notion large des atteintes.100

Thus, the wide dimension of the right to life and the right to a healthy environment entails the consequent wider characterization of attempts or threats against those rights, what in turn calls for a higher degree of their protection. An example of those threats is provided by, e.g., the effects of global warming on human health: skin cancer, retinal eye damage, cataracts and eventual blindness, neurological damage, lowered resistance to infection, alteration of the immunological system (through damaged immune cells); in sum, depletion of the ozone layer may result in substantial injury to human health as well as to the environment (harm to terrestrial plants, destruction of the zooplankton, a key link in the food chain),101 thus disclosing the needed convergence of human health protection and environmental protection.

In the realm of international environmental law, the 1989 Hague Declaration on the Atmosphere, for example, states that "the right to live is the right from which all other rights stem" (§1), and adds that "the right to live in dignity in a viable global environment" entails the duty of the "community of nations" vis-à-vis "present and future generations" to do "all that can be done to preserve the quality of the atmosphere" (§5). The use of the expression the right to live (rather than the right to life) seems well in keeping with the understanding that the right to life entails negative as well as positive obligations as to preservation of human life (see supra). The Institut de Droit International, while drafting its Resolution on Transboundary Air Pollution (Session of Cairo, 1987), was attentive to include therein provisions referring to the protection of life and human health. 102

One has propounded as a criterion for the characterization of "severe violations" of human rights occurrences when "large numbers of people are harmed.103 In his suggested typology of those occurrences, Falk includes "ecocide" among "severe violations" of human rights, stressing the "human dependence on environmental quality," which renders this latter a "dimension of human rights."104 He argues that, despite the fact that "offenses" to the environment (such as, e.g., the carrying on of nuclear atmospheric tests, the depletion of the global ozone layer, the disposal of toxic wastes into the oceans) have not traditionally been dealt with regularly in human rights instruments, they, however,

involve official conduct that seriously endangers the life, health, and serenity of current and future generations. The notion of human rights is incomplete to the extent that it fails to encompass those forms of deliberate behaviour that produce serious environmental damage.

... Environmental quality is a critical dimension of human dignity that may have a significant impact on development, and even survival, of mankind.105

Together with the right to a healthy environment, the right to peace appears also as a necessary prolongation or corollary of the right to life. In fact, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has been attentive to address the requirements of survival as a component of the right to life: to the Inter-American Commission, the right to life comprises or requires not only protection in the form of preventive measures against all forms of ill-treatment and threats to life and health,106 but also the realization of "the economic and social aspirations" of all peoples by pursuing policies that assign priority to "the basic needs of health, nutrition, and education"; in the words of the Commission, "the priority of the 'right of survival' and 'basic needs' is a natural consequence of the right to personal security."107 The Commission has furthermore dwelt upon the requirement of cultural survival of indigenous populations as a component of the right to life.108 At the global level, one has likewise proceeded to the last consequences of the requirements of survival: the UN General Assembly, e.g., has taken the right to life as encompassing "protection against the use of weapons of mass destruction, such as nuclear weapons"; this entails the "duty to negotiate in good faith to achieve disarmament and procedural safeguards upon the use of weapons of mass destruction.109

In this connection, in its general comment 14(23), of 1985, on Article 6 (on the right to life) of the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Human Rights Committee, after recalling its earlier general comment 6(16), of 1982, on Article 6(1) of the Covenant - to the effect that the right to life, as enunciated therein, is "the supreme right from which no derogation is permitted even in time of public emergency" - went on to relate the current proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to "the supreme duty of States to prevent wars." The Committee associated itself with the growing concern, expressed during successive sessions of the UN General Assembly by representatives from all geographical regions, at what represented one of the "greatest threats to the right to life which confronts mankind to day." In the words of the Committee, "the very existence and gravity of this threat generate a climate of suspicion and fear between States, which is in itself antagonistic to the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights" in accordance with the UN Charter and the UN Covenants on Human Rights.110 The Committee, accordingly, "in the interest of mankind," called upon "all States, whether Parties to the Covenant or not, to take urgent steps, unilaterally and by agreement, to rid the world of this menace."111

The maintenance of peace is an imperative for the preservation of human life that has found expression in the UN Charter (preamble and Articles 1 and 2) and the Unesco Constitution (preamble and Article I). The Unesco Constitution, moreover, refers to the need of assuring the conservation and protection of the "world's inheritance" of knowledge, so that this latter is increased and diffused for the realization of the purpose of the Organization to contribute to peace (Article I[2] [c]). The Final Act of the 1968 Teheran Conference on Human Rights contains likewise several references to the relationship of the observance of human rights and the maintenance of peace.112 In this connection, reference can further be made to the preambles of the two 1966 UN Covenants on Human Rights. More recently the "right to peace" has formed the object of a number of UN resolutions that relate it to disarmament and detente, thus disclosing the temporal dimension of the underlying duty of prevention of conflicts113 (e.g.? inter alia GA resolutions 33/73, of 1978, and 34/88, of 1979). The states' duty to coexist in peace and to achieve disarmament is acknowledged in the 1974 Charter on Economic Rights and Duties of States (Articles 26 and 15, respectively).

The right to peace entails as a corollary the "right to disarmament"114 attention has in this regard been drawn to the fact that limitations or violations of human rights are often associated with the outbreak of conflicts, the process of militarization, and the expenditure on arms,115 especially nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction,116 which have led and may unfortunately still lead to arbitrary deprivation of human life. The conception of sustainable development, as propounded by the Brundtland Commission, points to the ineluctable relationship between the rights to a healthy environment, to peace, and to development.117 On this specific point, it should not pass unnoticed that Costa Rica has lately submitted to the 1989 session of the UN General Assembly a Draft Declaration on Human Responsibilities for Peace and Sustainable Development.118 References to the right to peace and disarmament can further be found in the 1982 World Charter for Nature (preamble, §4[c], and Principles 5 and 20).

Last but not least, the relationship between the right to life and the right to development as a human right becomes clearer as one moves from the traditional, narrow approach to the right to life (as strictly a civil right) into the wider and modern approach to it, as encompassing also the minimum conditions for an adequate and dignified standard of living (see supra). Then the interrelatedness of the right to life and the right to development as a human right becomes self-evident, as this latter purports to demand all possible endeavours to overcome obstacles (of destitution and underdevelopment) preventing the fulfilment of basic human needs.119 Not surprisingly, the UN Working Group of Governmental Experts on the Right to Development recommended in 1984 inter alia that particular attention should be paid to the basic needs and aspirations of vulnerable or disadvantaged and discriminated groups.120

In sum, the basic right to life, encompassing the right of living, entails negative as well as positive obligations in favour of preservation of human life. Its enjoyment is a precondition of the enjoyment of other human rights. It belongs at a time to the realm of civil and political rights, and to that of economic, social, and cultural rights, thus illustrating the indivisibility of all human rights. It establishes a link between the domains of international human rights law and environmental law. It inheres in all individuals and all peoples, with special attention to the requirements of survival. It has as existensions or corollaries the right to a healthy environment and the right to peace (and disarmament). It is closely related, in its wide dimension, to the right to development as a human right (right to live with fulfilment of basic human needs). And it lies at the basis of the ultimate ratio legis of the domains of international human rights law and environmental law, turned to the protection and survival of the human person and mankind.

IV. The right to health as the starting-point towards the right to a healthy environment

Like the right to life (right of living, supra), the right to health entails negative as well as positive obligations. In fact, the right to health is inextricably interwoven with the right to life itself, and is a precondition for the exercise of freedom. The right to life implies the negative obligation not to practice any act that can endanger one's health, thus linking this basic right to the right to physical and mental integrity and to the prohibition of torture and of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment (as recognized and provided for in the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 7; the European Convention on Human Rights, Article 3; the American Convention on Human Rights, Articles 4 and 5). But this duty of abstention (so crucial, e.g., in the treatment of detainees and prisoners) is accompanied by the positive obligation to take all appropriate measures to protect and preserve human health (including measures of prevention of diseases).

Such positive obligation (as recognized and provided for in, e.g., the UN Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, Article 12, and the European Social Charter, Article 11, besides WHO and ILO resolutions on specific aspects), linking the right to life to the right to an adequate standard of life,121 discloses the fact that the right to health, in its proper and wide dimension, partakes the nature of at a time an individual and social right. Belonging, like the right to life, to the realm of basic or fundamental rights, the right to health is an individual right in that it requires the protection of the physical and mental integrity of the individual and his dignity; and it is also a social right in that it imposes on the state and society the collective responsibility for the protection of the health of the citizenry and the prevention and treatment of diseases.122 The right to health, thus properly understood, affords, like the right to life, a vivid illustration of the indivisibility and interrelatedness of all human rights.

V. The right to a healthy environment as an extension of the right to health

The right to life in its positive aspect (supra) found expression, at the global level, in Article 12 of the UN Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights; that provision, in laying down the guidelines for the implementation of the right to health, singled out, inter alia ("b"), "the improvement of all aspects of environmental and industrial hygiene." The way seemed thereby paved for the future recognition of the right to a healthy environment (infra).

This point was the object of attention at the 1978 Colloquy of the Hague Academy of International Law on "the Right to Health as a Human Right," where the issue of the human right to environmental salubrity was raised. On the occasion, after warning that the degradation of the environment constituted nowadays a "menace collective a la santé des hommes,"123 P.M. Dupuy pertinently advocated the needed assertion or proclamation of the human right to environmental salubrity as the "supreme guarantee of the right to health."124 Pondering that the environment ought to be protected "en fonction de l'ensemble des intérêts de la collectivity," he justified:

II nous paraît que la chance fournie par l'affirmation d'un droit à la salubrité du milieu est justement de donner l'occasion a l'"environnement" de cesser d'être d'abord perçu en termes économiques, ainsi qu'un bien susceptible d'exploitation, afin d'apparaître au mains autant comme un patrimoine de I'individu, nécessaire à l'épanouissement de son droit fondamental à la vie, et done à la santé.125

The protection of the whole of the biosphere as such entails "indirectly but necessarily" the protection of human beings, insofar as the object of environmental law and hence of the right to a healthy environment is "protéger les humains en leur assurant un milieu de vie adéquate."126 The right to a healthy environment, in the perspicacious observation by Kiss, "completes" other recognized human rights also from another point of view, namely,

il contribue à établir une égalité entre citoyens ou, du moins, à atténuer les inégalités dans leurs conditions matérielles. On salt que les inégalités entre humains de conditions sociales différentes vent accentuées par la dégradation de l'environnement: les moyens matériels dont disposent les mieux nantis leur permettent d'échapper à l'air pollué, aux milieux dégradés et de se créer un cadre de vie sain et équilibré, alors que les plus démunis n'ont guère de telles possibilités et doivent accepter de vivre dans des agglomérations devenues inhumaines, voire des bidonvilles, et de supporter les pollutions.

L'exigence d'un environnement sain et équilibré devient ainsi en même temps un moyen de mettre en oeuvre d'autres droits reconnus à la personne humaine.

Mais, par ses objectifs mêmes, le droit à l'environnement apporte aussi une dimension supplémentaire aux droits de lthomme dans leur ensemble.127

The interrelatedness between environmental protection and the safeguard of the right to health is clearly evidenced in the implementation of Article 11 (on the right to protection of health) of the 1961 European Social Charter. The Committee of Independent Experts, operating under the Charter, has in recent years been attentive, in the consideration of national reports, to measures taken at the domestic level, pursuant to Article 11 of the Charter, to prevent, limit, or control pollution.128 With regard to the removal of causes of ill-health (Article 1[1]), the Committee has concentrated on measures taken to prevent or reduce pollution of the atmosphere.129 Thus, in the consideration of a French report, the Committee took note of "the intention of the public authorities to achieve a 50 per cent reduction in sulphur dioxide emissions into the atmosphere during the period 1980-90";130 and in the consideration of the latest Danish report, the Committee noted the measures taken to reduce air pollution, in particular that "emissions of nitrogen oxide into the atmosphere was to be reduced by 50 per cent before 2005 and of sulphur dioxide by 40 per cent before 1995."131

The collection Case Law on the European, Social Charter contains other pertinent indications. The Committee of Independent Experts has manifested its wish to find in forthcoming national reports information, under Article 11 of the Charter, on "the measures taken to reduce the release of sulphur dioxide and other acid pollutants in the atmosphere."132 The Committee has called for amplified measures for control of environmental pollution.133 The Committee has further expressed the opinion that states bound by Article 11 of the Charter should be considered as fulfilling their obligations in that respect if they provide evidence of the existence of a medical and health system comprising inter alia "general measures aimed in particular at the prevention of air and water pollution, protection from radio-active substances, noise abatement, the food control environmental hygiene, and the control of alcoholism and drugs."134

An attempt has in fact been made, in the European continent, to extend the protection of the rights to life and health so as to include well-being, under the realm of the European Convention on Human Rights itself: prior to the convening of the 1973 European Ministerial Conference on the Environment, a Draft Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights to that effect was prepared by H. Steiger. The Draft Protocol, containing two articles, provides for the protection of life and health as encompassing well-being (Article 1[1]) and admits limitations on the right to a healthy environment (Article 1[2]); it further provides for the protection of individuals against the acts of other private persons (Article 2[1] and [2]). This point (Drittwirkung), though giving rise to much debate and controversy, has been touched upon by the European Commission of Human Rights, vhich, in its 1979 report in the Young, James, and Webster cases, admitted that the European Convention contained provisions that "non seulement protègent l'individu contre l'Etat, mais aussi obligent l'Etat a protéger l'individu contre les agissements d'autrui."135 Although Steiger's proposed Draft Protocol, purporting to place under the machinery of implementation of the European Convention the provisions above referred to (Articles 1 and 2), was not accepted at the time by member states, it remains the sole existing proposal on the matter (insofar as the European Convention system is concerned) and its underlying ideas deserve today further and deeper consideration (see infra).136 Though the question remains an open one, there has, however, been express recognition of the right to a healthy environment in more recent human rights instruments, to which we shall turn later (see section VII, infra).

VI. The protection of vulnerable groups at the confluence of international human rights law and international environmental law

Means of protection may envisage the guarantee of human rights that inhere in all human beings by virtue of their very existence and of human rights that pertain to the social conditions - and their improvement- in which they find themselves.137 Just as there are rights that are essentially "individual," i.e., that can be protected only in the individual himself, there are also rights that can "best be protected through a group," particularly in case of "group victimization." There are in fact groups that appear properly qualified for group treatment and protection, and international law has devised means of protection for certain categories of groups in distress (e.g., workers, minorities, refugees, stateless persons, prisoners of war). It is essentially a matter of organization and gradual institutionalization of protection138 (as envisaged in our day, e.g., on behalf of indigenous populations). The temporal dimension is marked in the protection of human groups, that may, along with states, "pretend to perpetuity"; after all, "group organization can assure continuity over generations. "139

The necessity of group protection appears clearly in the cultural and linguistic fields. It can hardly be doubted that some key elements of social life can be enjoyed only through "individual integration in a group," through education, exchange of ideas or custom; "while one may individually enjoy culture in whatever language, one can take part in the creation of culture only in one's own linguistic and cultural community."140 Hence the need of protection of group rights, in particular of rights of "specially vulnerable and disadvantaged groups" (e.g., mentally and physically handicapped persons, the vulnerability of children, the situation of women in many countries, ethnic and religious and linguistic minorities, indigenous populations); attention has lately been drawn to the need to establish an "inventory" of the protection and assistance needed by those groups and to develop "early warning systems to cushion the shocks on specially vulnerable groups because of changes in development policies."141

Children, the handicapped, and the elderly rank in fact among the particularly vulnerable, and stand in special need of protection. The 1988 Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, for example, singles out precisely the rights of children (Article 16), the protection of the handicapped as a (social) "group" (Article 18), and the protection of the elderly (Article 17). The 1961 European Social Charter, in its turn, singles out the rights of women and children (Articles 7, 8, and 17), of disabled persons (Article 15), and of migrant workers (Article 19). The temporal dimension is here present, as evidenced, e.g., by the proper training and education of children. The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights itself provides that "education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality" (Article 26[2]). The 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child warns, in its preamble, that children, precisely because of their vulnerability, stand in need of special care and protection. The Convention, thus, provides also for preventive measures regarding the protection of children from abuse and neglect (Article 19[2]); it recognizes inter alia the child's right to education (Article 28) and the right of children to benefit from an adequate standard of living, necessary for their personal development (Article 27). The 1989 Convention further provides for the right of children of minority communities and indigenous populations to enjoy their own culture and to practice their own religion and language (Article 30).

The question of indigenous rights has become an issue of international concern, as reflected in the work of the ILO on the matter (e.g. its Convention no. 107 on the Protection and Integration of Indigenous and Other Tribal and Semi-Tribal Populations in Independent Countries, of 1957) and in the establishment (in 1982) by the UN Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities of the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations, and its subsequent work.142 Indigenous issues have, moreover, in recent years been dwelt upon by distinct human rights supervisory organs (e.g., CERD, Human Rights Committee).143 A Draft Universal Declaration on Indigenous Rights, submitted in 1988 (by E.I. Daes) to the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations, conceptualizes the "collective right" to protection against genocide and ethnocide (survival and cultural survival), at a time a right of peoples and of individuals, encompassing the right "to preserve their cultural identity and traditions and to pursue their own cultural development" (§§3-6).144

The Draft Declaration provides inter alia for the preservation of areas of settlement, ways of life and economic activities of indigenous populations (§18), their right to autonomy in matters relating to their own way of life (§23), their right to participation (in the life of their state - §§21-22), and health, housing, and other socio-economic programmes to their benefit (§20). In a significant clause (§16), the 1988 Draft Declaration further provides for the rights to protection against any action or course of conduct which may result in the destruction, deterioration or pollution of their land, air, water, sea, ice, wildlife or other resources without free and informed consent of the indigenous peoples affected. The right to just and fair compensation for any such action or course of conduct.145

Concern for the protection of vulnerable groups can nowadays be found not only in the domain of international human rights law, but likewise in the realm of international environmental law. In fact, the protection of vulnerable groups appears today at the confluence of human rights protection and environmental protection. Thus, the World Commission on Environment and Development (the "Brundtland Commission"), reporting to the UN General Assembly in 1987, expressly addressed the need of "empowering vulnerable groups." The Brundtland Commission began by recalling that the process of development generally led to the gradual integration into a larger socio-economic framework of most local communities, but not all: "indigenous or tribal peoples," e.g., remained isolated, preserving their traditional way of life "in close harmony with the natural environment," but becoming increasingly vulnerable in their contacts with the larger world, as they were left out of the processes of economic development. Marginalization and dispossession, social discrimination and cultural barriers, have rendered those groups "victims of what could be described as cultural extinction."146

The Brundtland Commission approached the issue on the basis of both human and environmental considerations. It pondered:

These communities are the repositories of vast accumulations of traditional knowledge and experience that links humanity with its ancient origins. Their disappearance is a loss for the larger society, which could learn a great deal from their traditional skills in sustainably managing very complex ecological systems....

The starting point for a just and humane policy for such groups is the recognition and protection of their traditional rights to land and the other resources that sustain their way of life - rights they may define in terms that do not fit into standard legal systems. These groups' own institutions to regulate rights and obligations are crucial for maintaining the harmony with nature and the environmental awareness characteristic of the traditional way of life....

Protection of traditional rights should be accompanied by positive measures to enhance the well-being of the community in ways appropriate to the group's life-style....

In terms of sheer numbers, these isolated, vulnerable groups are small. But their marginalization is a symptom of a style of development that tends to neglect both human and environmental considerations. Hence a more careful and sensitive consideration of their interests is a touchstone of a sustainable development policy.147

Protection of vulnerable groups is an issue that can be raised as a result of changing environmental conditions. Global warming, for example, could destroy the traditional way of life of native peoples (e.g., those inhabiting countries bordering the Arctic), thus raising human rights issues in the light of provisions of, e.g., the UN Covenants (on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, Articles 1[1], 2, and 3; and on Civil and Political Rights, Articles 1[2] and 27).148 This is just one example; as recently warned by Brown Weiss, "in the scenario projected under global warming, it is unlikely that we can salvage the environmental conditions necessary for these people to maintain their way of life. But, the international community may have a legal obligation to ensure the protection of the human rights of native peoples in the Arctic to the extent possible. This may require special assistance to give them opportunities for sustainable economic development, to ensure the protection of their culture insofar as possible, and to ease their transition into a different society."149 The present example, taken from the projection of global warming, suffices again to illustrate the interrelatedness of human rights and environmental factors. This invites us to an inquiry into the proper meaning of "collective" rights (see section XI, infra).

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