According to Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, ‘everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.’ Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights further establishes that: ‘Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.’
This means that no person or entity is entitled to take another person’s life. It also means that all States have the obligation to protect the lives of their citizens, as well as that of all people residing in their territory. This obligation includes the requirement to both adopt all relevant measures to secure the enjoyment of the right to life and to refrain from violating or permitting violations of this right. For example, public authorities must take into account the effects that their decisions might have on people’s life expectancy, and avoid adopting any measures that risk endangering a person’s life.
Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights further establishes that:
‘In countries which have not abolished the death penalty, sentence of death may be imposed only for the most serious crimes in accordance with the law in force at the time of the commission of the crime and not contrary to the provisions of the present Covenant and to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. This penalty can only be carried out pursuant to a final judgement rendered by a competent court.’
Article 6 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child establishes: ‘1. States Parties recognize that every child has the inherent right to life. 2. States Parties shall ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child.’
The right to life is recognized through regional standards such as the African Charter on Human and Peoples´Rghts, the American Convention on Human Rights (Pact of San José), and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.
The right to life and the defence of the environment, land and territory:
The right to life is closely related to the right to a healthy environment.
The relationship between the right to life and the right to a healthy environment has been recognised by different national, regional and international mechanisms.
The Framework Principles on Human Rights and the Environment state through principles 1 and 2: States should ensure a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment in order to respect, protect and fulfil human rights, and likewise, States should respect, protect and fulfil human rights in order to ensure a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. On this regard it establishes:
‘Human rights and environmental protection are interdependent. A safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment is necessary for the full enjoyment of human rights, including the rights to life, to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, to an adequate standard of living, to adequate food, to safe drinking water and sanitation, to housing, to participation in cultural life and to development, as well as the right to a healthy environment itself (…)’.
United Nations Human Rights Committee has affirmed that States are responsible for failing to protect individuals from the deadly effects caused by the environmental harm resulting from the use of biochemical fertilisers.
People’s life expectancy can be affected by environmental degradation resulting either from natural causes or unsustainable human action. The protection of the right to life demands that governments take preventive and corrective action whenever an activity is known or believed to have negative effects on people’s life expectancy.
The right to life of EHRDs if constantly endangered, with killings being the most visible risk faced by these defenders. Every year since 2015, the world has seen tragic increases in the numbers of killings of individuals working alone or as part of civil society to protect their natural environment and the human rights that depend upon it, from the harm inflicted by both legal and illegal operations.
A 2018 Report of the Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, clearly concludes: ‘In every country and every community there are women and men, girls and boys, courageously speaking out and taking action. They understand the intimate and indivisible relationship between human rights and the environment, as well as the fundamental reliance of humans on healthy ecosystems for life, well-being and dignity.’.