Human Rights and Sustainable Development

Human Rights and Sustainable Development

It was a simple message:

Women’s rights are human rights!
Women’s rights not corporate rights!
Women and the planet are not for sale!

Repeat.

Women’s rights are human rights!
Women’s rights not corporate rights!
Women and the planet are not for sale!

A simple, straightforward, revolutionary message.

I raised my voice in protest with my fellow women as we shouted in the courtyard of the Rio Centro convention center. With the sounds of “Not for sale!” reverberating in my lungs, drumming against my chest, I realized I was protesting much more than the position of the Holy See in opposition to the inclusion of reproductive rights in the Outcome Document. I was also protesting the recent Supreme Court judgment that corporations are people as well as extractive industries and carbon markets.

As I discussed in an earlier blog post, human rights protections have far greater recognition in the Outcome Document compared with the Zero Draft in which rights considerations were virtually absent. So what does the inclusion of rights recognition in this document mean?

Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, stated during her press conference that human rights protections ensure that the green economy is not green washed. Economic growth must come with equality as well as environmental, social and human rights protections or it will eventually fail. With regard to rights protections, she particularly noted the failure to protect freedom of assembly in the text, an issue especially problematic with regards to recent news that in the past decade over 700 environmental activists have been murdered while defending their human rights or the environment.

Yet though we would like to think that what country leaders agree to on paper, they fulfill in practice, the failure to achieve the numerous goals and standards outlined in the Rio 1992’s Agenda 21 compels the realist to think otherwise. What then will the inclusion of these protections mean for the future of environmental governance? I predict that these rights will eventually become social safeguards should a global market for ecosystem services arise, similar to the global carbon market.

The key question in my mind however is: do these social safeguards matter? For my master’s project I researched the role of the right to free, prior, informed consent as a social safeguard for indigenous rights in the global carbon market, particularly, reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation. Overall my research found that barring exceptional efforts on behalf of the state, indigenous communities without formal land titles will be denied their right to free, prior, informed consent and thereby the articulation of a larger set of rights including the right to land and the right to self-determination.

Perhaps then unfortunately, the inclusion of human rights norms in the Outcome Document is not a cause for celebration. In terms of practical outcomes, much like the rest of the document, it quite simply means nothing.