Right to a clean and healthy environment: A Post webinar Reflection   

By Dale Onyango

On the 12th of September, Natural Justice hosted the UN Special Rapporteur, Dr David Boyd, in a discussion with civil society and community representatives to unpack the United Nations General Assembly Declaration on the right to a clean and healthy environment for Africa. A recording of the discussion can be found here.  

The conversation came at a time when most African civil societies and citizens are gearing up for COP (Conference of the Parties) 27, which is scheduled for November at Sharm El Sheik in Egypt. The UN Special Rapporteur stated that Africa had been a leader in recognizing the right to a clean and healthy environment in national laws. He cited the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, Article 24, which provides for this right and was the first regional instrument to recognize this right. He further went ahead to define and explain this right as a bundle containing both procedural and substantive rights.     

A major concern raised by many participants was how the right to a clean and healthy environment could be enforced within Africa, a continent that is undertaking rapid infrastructural and energy projects. To this end, Dr Boyd called upon countries to balance these projects with social and environmental concerns. Citing the Shell case in South Africa, Dr Boyd believed the case was a perfect example that sent a message not just in Africa but across the globe. This judgment, according to him, was set to occasion a paradigm shift in the determination of environmental and human rights issues by courts in the global south.      

The webinar highlighted ways this Declaration can be leveraged to affirm their human and environmental rights. The discussion, prompted by questions and comments from participants, included issues on the right to a clean and healthy environment and environmental and human rights defenders; the ongoing challenges faced by indigenous communities in utilizing national and international laws; the disproportionate effect of the climate crisis and environmental degradation has on women and girls in the continent; holding multinational companies accountable to the right to a clean and healthy environment, and the role of northern countries in this; and the critical importance of African youth participating and leading discussions on the furtherance of the right.   

Natural Justice is grateful to a large number of African and international participants who took part in the webinar and to Dr David Boyd for giving his time to discuss the number of questions participants posed. We look forward to working with you all to ensure the Right to a Clean and Healthy Environment is recognised and implemented in all African countries. 

4 November 2022

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