Children environmental human rights defenders are heard at the Annual Day on the Rights of the Child!
On Thursday 1 July 2020, the Human Rights Council held the Annual full day meeting on the Rights of the Child focusing on Realizing the rights of the child through a healthy environment. For the first time ever, two children environmental human rights defenders spoke up in both panels to denounce environmental issues affecting children’s rights.
“In recent years, many children and young people have joined and strengthened the worldwide struggle for protection of the environment and realisation of climate justice. I am very glad that we will be able to hear from some of these young environmental human rights defenders today.” stated Ms. Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in her opening statement.
The first panel discussion entitled “A healthy environment as a child rights concern: setting the scene” opened with remarks from Ms. Bachelet highlighting the importance of discussing the topic in the context of the covid-19 which exacerbates the effects of environmental harms on children’s rights. She was followed by Mr. Clarence Nelson, Member of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, who highlighted the alarming effects of environmental degradation in the pacific islands and encouraged to find innovative approach to address the environmental issue as the Committee did by holding an extraordinary session in Samoa. The second panelist was Dr. Maria Neira, Director-Environment, Climate Change and Health, World Health Organization who shared concerning statistics regarding children’s exposure to environmental risk factors and presented the WHO’s Manifesto for a healthy recovery from COVID-19.
Junior, the young activist from Cote d’Ivoire shared his experience as a member of a group of children in San Pedro, Ivory Coast, and denounced violations of children’s rights notably by cacao companies and businesses’ polluting activities.
“I want the authorities to take seriously this environmental issue. Because we children suffer enormously from this problem. If nothing is done to protect the environment, then all your efforts to realize our rights will be burned by the sun and drowned by the rain.”-Junior-
The afternoon panel was a Call to Action and an opportunity for different stakeholders to identify and share concrete commitments to realize children’s rights through a healthy environment.
“The world must respond to children’s calls to action, and the Council must pass a resolution to recognize that everyone, especially children, has the right to a safe and clean environment” stated Mr. David R. Boyd, Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment.
Mr. Sanjay Wijesekera, Director of Programmes at UNICEF echoed the call for recognition. “This is a precondition for the enjoyment of the rights and a necessity of dignified life on Earth for all.” said Mr Wijesekera.
Juliana, the child human rights defender from Colombia, raised the main environmental issues affecting children in Latin America. She concluded by strongly calling on world leaders to concretely commit to children’s rights to a healthy environment.
“World leaders we want this space to go beyond the formal statements and we commit ourselves to the international campaign for the environmental rights of children, young people and adolescents of the whole world. We are not the generation of destruction; we are the generation of transformation.” -Juliana-
Ahead of the Annual Day, the Child Rights Connect Working Group on Environment, in partnership with the Children’s Environmental Rights Initiative, launched a Joint Call to Action endorsed by 24 organisations and high-level experts. Child Rights Connect and Terres des Hommes presented elements of the Call in the morning and afternoon panels.
Building on the discussions held, the Child Rights Connect Working Group on Environment will engage in the negotiations of the annual resolution on the rights of the child to be adopted in September to ensure strong standards on child rights and the environment.