Human rights are distinct from other rights in the general family of rights. If the right to a healthful environment satisfies certain criteria, it is entitled in the view of modern jurists to be regarded as a human right and not a mere right. Human rights are general rights in that they pertain to all human beings as such, and while the understanding of them may vary from region to region and from culture to culture, the concept of human rights remains universal. Human right cannot be withheld from an individual by reference to his race, citizenship, religion, sex, place of birth, or any such limiting class qualification. The right to a healthful environment satisfies the human right test of generality.
The second test of a human right lies in its importance. Human rights are more basic or fundamental than other rights. They are, in fact, the source of other rights, which are derived or flow from them. This test, applied to the right to a healthful environment, is easily satisfied when we remember that a healthful environment is a fundamental requirement for the protection and enhancement of the quality of life and, in certain circumstances, proceeds beyond the issue of human survival on the planet.
The third characteristic of human rights is that they are essential and enduring and unvarying in identity, change with the context of time and circumstance. The right to a healthful environment may be regarded also as a vital aspect of the right to life, for without a sound environment it would not be possible to sustain an acceptable quality of life or even life itself.
The fourth characteristic of basic human rights is said to lie in their inalienability. They constitute the central core of human rights indispensable to the nature of the human personality. It can be unhesitatingly concluded that the right to a healthful environment is not a right that can be waived or surrendered, having regard to its fundamental relationship with the basic life process of a human being. It is not possible to conceive of life or an acceptable quality of life without a sound environment to sustain it. Viewed in the context of all these criteria, it appears that in jurisprudential terms the right to a healthful environment qualifies as a human right.
Dr. Ayaz Ahmad, Associate Professor, Unitedworld School of Law (UWSL)
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