Human Rights, Right to a Healthy Environment, Comparative Law, Common Law, Islamic Law, Constitutional Law, Africa,
Constitutional provisions offer broad and powerful tools for protecting the environment, but to date these tools have gone largely unutilized in Africa. Practically all African constitutions include substantive provisions that ensure either a “right to healthy a environment” or a “right to life,” which often is held to imply a right to a healthy environment in which to live that life. Additionally, the process of opening courts to citizens to enforce their constitutional rights strengthens the judiciary, empowers civil society, and fosters an atmosphere of environmental accountability.
This research report explores how African constitutional provisions can be utilized to create real, enforceable environmental rights. African countries do have different legal traditions, namely, common law, civil law, and Islamic law, as well as some hybrid systems. Nevertheless, these legal systems share many common underlying principles and values, particularly fundamental human rights that are embodied in their respective constitutions.
This report highlights relevant provisions from the constitutions of 53 African countries (excluding the territories of the Canary Islands, the Madeira Islands, Reunion, and West Sahara) – provisions that may be used to protect the environment – as well as cases from around the world that illustrate opportunities for implementing constitutional environmental rights. Additionally, given the ongoing constitutional reforms in various African countries – such as Kenya, Tanzania, and Zaire/DRC – this report examines the opportunities that such provisions present for improving environmental governance, addressing issues of environmental and participatory rights, and ensuring implementation and enforcement.
Section I of this report discusses general considerations, including the nature of constitutions and constitutional law, how the different legal traditions in Africa could affect environmental protection, and the persuasive authority of cases from other jurisdictions in Africa and elsewhere in the world. Section II surveys the constitutional right to a healthy environment in Africa, and provides cases from African countries and elsewhere that illustrate how these constitutional provisions may be given force. Section III similarly explores how advocates and judges can apply and extend the constitutional right to life to include the right to a healthy
environment. Section IV examines various constitutional procedural rights that are essential to effective environmental protection. Section V presents some final thoughts realizing the promise of constitutional environmental protections.
(2001) World Resources Institute Working Paper Series: Environmental Governance in Africa, WP#2