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“All human beings are born free and equal

in dignity and rights.”

- Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Ecuador, Nigeria, West Papua - Indigenous Communities, Environmental Degradation, and International Human Rights Standards

Tuesday, April 28, 2009 - 10:30am
2200 Rayburn House Office Building


Please join the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission for a hearing on the link between environmental degradation and human rights norms. Exploring the specific examples of communities in Ecuador, Nigeria, and West Papua, the hearing will analyze rights violations impacting particularly indigenous and traditional peoples around the globe.

When binding modern international human rights law was first codified by the United Nations following the landmark adoption in 1948 of the, the nexus between the detrimental impacts of environmental degradation on internationally-guaranteed individual human rights began to emerge only very slowly. The codification of this nexus in international law developed on a general track and, more recently, on a track specifically focused on indigenous communities.

While the UDHR clarified in Article 25(1) that “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family […],” it was clearly only one aspect in a list of general protections, including food, clothing, housing, and medical care, etc. Similar provisions are found in the legally-binding International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966), and general environmental protections in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979, adequate living conditions for women) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989, adequate living conditions for children).

The United Nations Stockholm Declaration of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment from 1972 took a significant step forward in exploring the link between human rights and the environment in more specific detail, and proclaimed that “Both aspects of man's environment, the natural and the man-made, are essential to his well-being and to the enjoyment of basic human rights and to the right to life itself.” In 1998, this Declaration was the basis for the Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (The Aarhus Convention), which the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe negotiated in 1998.

In 1989, the further adopted general environmental protections for indigenous peoples, and in 2007, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In addition, several regional charters and conventions have codified environmental protections.

If you have any questions, please contact 202-225-3599.

Hosted by:

James P. McGovern, M.C.
Co-Chairman, TLHRC
Frank R. Wolf, M.C.
Co-Chairman, TLHRC


Panel I

  • Dinah L. Shelton, Manatt/Ahn Professor of International Law, George Washington University
  • Marcos Orellano, Director Human Rights and Environment Program, Center for International Environmental Law

Panel II

  • Stephen Kretzmann, Executive Director, Oil Change International
  • Octovianus Mote, Human Rights and Environmental Advocate, West Papua
  • Steven Donziger, Legal Counsel, Indigenous and Campesino Communities in Northeastern Ecuador



111th Congress