Human Rights, Environmental Rights, and the Right to Environment (D.Shelton)




Dinah Shelton


International Human Rights Law, International Environmental Policy, Right to a Healthy Environment


The following discussion addresses some of the questions and problems posed by international efforts to protect both human rights and the environment. The fundamental issue is whether international human rights law can contribute to environmental protection, or conversely, whether international environmental policies can serve human rights concerns. First, this article discusses the objectives of human rights and international environmental law, revealing their different but overlapping characters. Second, the article analyzes the three alternative approaches to human rights and environmental protection […]. While each approach finds some support in international practice and has its adherents, no one approach has emerged as dominant or has even been fully articulated. Although clear trends remain difficult to identify in this new and rapidly evolving field, the recent development of a number of national and regional international texts which speak of a right to environment suggest that the third approach now plays a leading role. As it emerges, this approach should acknowledge the similarities and differences of environmental and human rights objectives, recognizing the danger that a broadly defined right to environment may ignore the very real differences which exist between the field of environmental protection and that of human rights.

In conclusion, this article will suggest that although human rights and environmental protection represent separate social values, the overlapping relationship between them can be resolved in a manner which will further both sets of objectives. A clearly and narrowly defined international human right to a safe and healthy environment, currently emerging in international law, can contribute to this goal.


(1991) 28 Stanford Journal of International Law 103