Children’s rights approach for Rio +20 – Claims by terre des hommes

  • On the occasion of the first international (United Nations) Conference of the Human Environment, the international community already recorded with the first principle of the final declaration, that a sound environment was a basic requirement for the realization of the human rights: “The human being has the fundamental right to freedom, equality, and adequate general living conditions within an environment that allows a live of dignity and well-being. He has the solemn duty to protect the environment for the sake of current and future generations as well as to improve its condition. “
  • On the conference in Rio 1992 the states expressed how important procedural laws were for environmental matters, i.e. integration into decision-making as well as access to information and to means of complaint (basic principle 10 of the declaration of Rio). The special role of children as stakeholders of sustainability was stressed in the basic principle 21 of the Declaration of Rio and then further explained within chapter 25 of the Agenda 21.
  • However, the mutual dependence of the environment, development, and child and human rights has still not been adequately considered within binding international treaties. Existing commitments are realized insufficiently.
  • The term ecological rights of the child marks a change of perspectives which draws attention to the mutual dependence of the environment and the protection of child rights, especially with respect to the increasing environmental threats. Every child has the right to grow up in a sound environment, to live a healthy life, and to develop positive future perspectives, this has already been formulated by the National Coalition for the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1999.
  • The Convention on the Rights of the Child with its holistic approach to development offers many links to the strengthening of ecological child rights. The Convention on the Rights of the Child mentions the threats caused by the destruction of the environment explicitly within the context of health of children and education (art. 24, 29 CRC). A lot of further rights of children, especially social rights, are strongly related to environmental issues or offer the opportunity to be reinterpreted from an ecological perspective. It becomes clear that the title to ecological rights of the child has already been established within the Convention. The realization of the rights to food, water, health, etc., today and in the future, is impossible without the right to a save, healthy, and intact environment. Especially important in the process of realization of ecological rights of the child is the right to (environmental) education. Article 29 of the CRC acknowledges the “respect for the natural environment“ even as a general educational objective and by this, gives an important normative impulse for the acquisition of environmentally friendly ways of living and behaving. The rights to participation, which are included in the Convention of the Right of the Child, play an outstanding role for the protection of the environment: The voices of the children must be heard because it is their future on which decisions are made for example in politics on climate or biodiversity. It will be their job to cope with that future. The consideration of further principles of the children’s rights like non-discrimination and children’s well-being are also fundamental preconditions for the protection of children and their rights affected by environmental decision-making processes. The primacy of the children’s well-being (art. 3 CRC) is for ecological matters even of high relevance because it provides a fundamental system of values. The well-being of future generation has become a prior rule for ecological action.


terre des hommes demands the creation of ombudspersons for future generations.

The rights, interests, and needs of future generations finally have to be considered by the decisions of current generations. Therefore they need a lobby in common policies. Ombudspersons for future generation create a counter balance to prevailing and limited patterns of thought and structures, by revising competently, but independently decisions for their impact on the environment and the future. They minister preoccupations and complaints and arbitrate as mouthpiece between people affected and politicians. Ombudsinstitutions for future generations have to be implemented on the international, national, and local level. Many infringements to the rights of future generations have reached global dimensions (e.g. climate change) or are rooted in structures of the international political or economical system (e.g. exploitation of recourses). Therefore solutions can be found only on the international level. At the same time it is important to establish institutions that are accessible on-site for children and many other affected people, which act competently: on the local level.

Status of the official negotiations:

[49 alt quatแทรก/แก้ไข Anchor[1]. We agree to further consider the establishment of an Ombudsperson, or High Commissioner for Future Generations to promote sustainable development. – EU] แทรก/แก้ไข Anchor[2] [We support the establishment of an Ombudsperson, or Higher Commissioner for Future Generations, to promote sustainable development and the integrated approach at the highest level of decision, policy and program  making within the UN. We call upon the member states to establish similar institutions in their own national laws, which would be independent from the executive and have a mandate to consider petitions from the public and advocate for the interests and needs of future generations. – Montenegro]

[alt quint  We agree to further consider the establishment or appointment, of a High-level Representative for Sustainable Development and Future Generations, possibly to be held within an existing office as the high-level voice called upon to promote an integrated and coherent approach to sustainable development through continuous dialogue with policy-makers, the UN system and civil society. – EU]

terre des hommes wants the rules and principles of the Convention of the Right of the Child to be taken more into account in national and international ecological and accordingly sustainable policy decisions.

Many divisions of ecological and sustainable policies, like climate policies, so far lack an explicit commitment to human and children’s rights. This has to be changed. Children’s rights have to be part of the agenda of national as well as international political negotiations and processes. Children have the right to have their voice heard and adequately considered in questions concerning their environment and their future. Children have to be integrated in political debates and decisions on the local, national, and international level. Children’s rights related to the environment, like the right to life, to health, to food, to water, and to adequate housing, have to be respected and protected in policies of the environment and sustainability.

Status of the official negotiations (zero draft):

Substantial human rights by now, play no central i.e. structuring role in the zero draft and the current official negotiations about the Rio+20 summit. They are picked up occasionally: The right to food and water are mentioned, though only under „Framework for action and follow-up“ at the end of the zero draft, precisely not as fundamental base for a “green economy” and the “institutional framework for sustainable development”. On the other hand the rights to life, health, education, and adequate housing, especially important in this context, lack completely. Procedural laws as the right to be included in decision-making processes or to access information play a mayor role, like before in Rio 1992. A whole paragraph is even dedicated to the so called “major groups“. However with the lack of access to courts, a basic pillar of the procedural law is missing that was explicitly included in principle 10 of the Rio Declaration.

II. Renewing Political Commitment

C. Engaging major groups

17. We underscore that a fundamental prerequisite for the achievement of sustainable development is broad public participation in decision-making. Sustainable development requires major groups – women, children and youth, indigenous peoples, non-governmental organisations, local authorities, workers and trade unions, business and industry, the scientific and technological community, and farmers – to play a meaningful role at all levels. It is important to enable all members of civil society to be actively engaged in sustainable development by incorporating their specific knowledge and practical know-how into national and local policy making. In this regard, we also acknowledge the role of national parliaments in furthering sustainable development.

18. We recognize that improved participation of civil society depends upon strengthening the right to access information and building civil society capacity to exercise this right.

21. We recognize the importance of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in the global, regional and national implementation of sustainable development strategies. We also recognize the need to reflect the views of children and youth as the issues we are addressing will have a deep impact on the youth of today and the generations that follow.

V. Framework for action and follow-up

D. Regional, national, local

61. We underline the need for more coherent and integrated planning and decision making at the national level. We therefore call on countries to establish and strengthen, as appropriate, national sustainable development councils to enable them to coordinate, consolidate and ensure the mainstreaming of cross-cutting issues in the highest decision making bodies, with the integration and full participation of all stakeholders.

Food Security

64. We reaffirm the right to food and call upon all States to prioritize sustainable intensification of food production through increased investment in local food production, improved access to local and global agri-food markets, and reduced waste throughout the supply chain, with special attention to women, smallholders, youth, and indigenous farmers. We are committed to ensuring proper nutrition for our people (Paragraph 64).


67. We underline the importance of the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights.

Furthermore, we highlight the critical importance of water resources for sustainable development, including poverty and hunger eradication, public health, food security, hydropower, agriculture and rural development.


98. We recognize that access by all people to quality education is an essential condition for sustainable development and social inclusion. We commit to strengthening the contribution of our education systems to the pursuit of sustainable development, including through enhanced teacher training and curricula development.

Positions of the EU:

IV.  Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development

44. We call for a strong institutional framework, which will, among other things,:

a)   integrate the three dimensions of sustainable development and promote the implementation of Agenda 21 and related outcomes, consistent with the principles of universality, democracy,human rights, cost-effectiveness, transparency and accountability.

V.    Framework for action and follow-up

55. We resolve to promote enhanced access to information, public participation in decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters, including by considering legally binding frameworks at the most appropriate level.

64.  We reaffirm the right to food and call upon all States to prioritize an integrated and coherent approach to sustainable and resource efficient agriculture, increasing productivity, increasing resilience to and mitigation of climate change and minimizing negative impacts to the environment. (…) Specific attention must be paid to challenges faced by poor smallholder farmers, women, and youth. This includes ensuring their participation decision making processes.

67.  We underline the importance of the right to save and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights.

98. We recognize that the younger generations are the custodians of the future and commit to strengthening their capacities and opportunities by improving the quality of education and further improving access to education beyond the primary level; to information and services, including for sexual and reproductive health, and promoting their full participation and civic engagement; as well as addressing gender equality. (no reference to the right to education, Art. 28/29 CRC)

terre des hommes demands the international recognition of the right to a sound environment within the concluding document of the Rio+20 conference

The international community should avow itself explicitly to the right to a sound environment (concluding document) at the conference in Rio 2012 to bring the protection of the environment and of human rights even closer together. As the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) stressed in a study recently published (2011), the destruction of the environment (climate change, loss of biodiversity etc.) presents one of the biggest challenges to the human rights of the 21st century. The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in its 19th session in March 2012 has decided on the appointment of an “independent expert for human rights and environment”. The expert is going to examine consequences of humanly caused destruction of the environment on different aspects of human rights, point to trends, and name gaps in the present protection system. The mandate shall also found the basis for the elaboration of the right to a sound environment. Rio+20 offers the historic opportunity for a first common political signal for a legal recognition.


แทรก/แก้ไข Anchor[1] Former para 57

แทรก/แก้ไข Anchor[2] The EU and its Member States have not yet refined their position regarding the different options for sustainable development governance under section 4B of the zero-draft. Therefore no text amendments have been suggested for these paragraphs.

In coming to a view, the EU and its MS consider that:

§   we want the best outcome to deliver the functions identified under OP44;

§   we need full consideration of the financial, structural, legal implications of the different options;

§   the options identified in the zero-draft are not-exhaustive and there may be additional options worthy of further considerations.

The EU and its MS intend to follow-up with comments in due course.