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AFTERNOON - Human Rights Council Discusses the Right to Privacy and Human Rights and the Environment

Meeting Summaries

 

The Human Rights Council this afternoon held an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy, and started an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment.

Ana Brian Nougrères, Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy, said her report was on privacy and the protection of personal data, especially in Latin America. It was possible that the Latin American way of approaching the issues of concern could become a transcendent step towards the global harmonisation of privacy and data protection. The issue of data protection had grown rapidly. Progress in information and communication technology had brought social disruption. Change had come quickly, and the impact on privacy was intense. The world continued to innovate using personal data, but they must be aware of the risks that this implied. The fundamental human right to privacy, protection of personal data, and other related human rights were at stake. Given this, the most valuable tools were education and awareness.

In the discussion, speakers noted the different privacy and personal data measures being adopted by different Member States - and widely agreed that there was a need to protect personal data and adopt best practices. One speaker said there were multi-faceted approaches to protecting privacy. Concern was expressed over the misuse of surveillance technology that impacted fundamental freedoms. The principles of data and standards required effective guarantees. There were challenges with regard to improving tools to safeguard personal data but it was agreed that it was essential to further develop the tools and legislation needed to protect human rights. Spyware was further discussed as a major concern and how it was being used as a weapon against certain individuals.

The Council then started an interactive dialogue with David Boyd, Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, who congratulated the Council for adopting resolution 48/13 on 8 October 2021, recognising for the first time at the global level the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. Today’s report was the sixth in a series of reports detailing the scope and content of the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. This report focused on non-toxic environments where people could live, work, study and play. Exposure to pollution and toxic substances raised the risks of cancer, heart disease, stroke, and respiratory illnesses amongst others. The toxification of the planet was increasing, and unless ambitious, urgent and worldwide action was taken, exposures would increase, health would worsen and human rights violations would multiply. He spoke on his visit to Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines spoke as a country concerned.

In the ensuing discussion, speakers said the report outlined that both governments and businesses had responsibilities to safeguard the access to a safe and healthy environment, and special attention should be given to children, persons with disabilities, minorities, and other vulnerable groups. The situation of environmental human rights defenders continued to be of concern: ensuring they could work without harassment, persecution or threat of death was an important priority. The report showed how toxicity could impact the various forms of the right, and plastics, for example, hindered global efforts to stem climate change, along with impacting the oceans. Poor and marginalised communities faced difficulties in upholding their rights and accessing information and justice when their rights were threatened.

Speaking on the right to privacy were European Union, Brazil, Lithuania, Germany, Liechtenstein, Egypt, UN Women, Malaysia, France, Venezuela, Luxembourg, India, China, Brazil, Cameroon, Pakistan, Indonesia, Panama, Algeria, Togo, Uruguay, United States, Georgia, Malawi, Ecuador, Cyprus and Armenia.

Also speaking were Youth Parliament for Sustainable Development Goals, Association for Progressive Communications, Eastern Coalition for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Equality, Access Now, Sikh Human Rights Group, International Commission of Jurists, Global Institute for Water, Environment and Health, iuventum e.V., Global Appreciation and Skills Training Network, and China Society for Human Rights Studies.

Speaking on the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment were Finland on behalf of a groups of countries, European Union, Costa Rica on behalf of a group of countries, and Monaco.

Speaking in right of reply were Armenia, Israel and Azerbaijan.

The webcast of the Human Rights Council meetings can be found here. All meeting summaries can be found here. Documents and reports related to the Human Rights Council’s forty-ninth regular session can be found here.

The Council will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Friday, 11 March to conclude its interactive dialogue on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, followed by an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Privacy

Documentation

The Council has before it (A/HRC/49/55), report by the Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy on privacy and personal data protection in Latin-America: A step towards globalisation .

Presentation of Report

ANA BRIAN NOUGRÈRES, Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy, said her report was on privacy and the protection of personal data, especially in Latin America. It was possible that the Latin American way of approaching the issues of concern could become a transcendent step towards the global harmonisation of privacy and data protection. The issue of data protection had grown rapidly; this was due to information and communication technology and the growth of the volume of data held by many actors. Data had become an undeniable input for production, with transcendental value in the social and economic realm. This had begun with the wide-spread use of the Internet and had spread. Today, the world was assimilating all these elements into daily life, into kitchens, cars, financial systems and travel. They helped to save lives, detect diseases and increase productivity.

Progress in information and communication technology had also brought social disruption. Artificial intelligence and digital tracking systems had been marking profound evolutions. Digital disruption along with the pandemic had brought great challenges. Change had come quickly, and the impact on privacy was intense. The world continued to innovate using personal data, but they must be aware of the risks that this implied. The fundamental human right to privacy, protection of personal data, and other related human rights were at stake. Given this, the most valuable tools were education and awareness.

Democracy pre-supposed the existence of rights: the rights to privacy and to data protection. These rights needed to be protected and effected, it was not enough to just have legal provisions or regulations that indicated what should be, they had to exist in a tangible sense. Legal instruments should also have force. In numerous countries of Latin America, there had been implementation of guidelines in line with the European legislation on data protection. This had led to greater integration of the Latin American system with the European system, which brought integration and harmonisation, which were attainable challenges, in step with ethical parameters and the different needs of the people. There should be mutual respect, less discrimination and more justice - this would bring a world in which economic development favoured people, based on a concept of integration that challenged pillars of established technology.

Discussion

In the discussion, speakers agreed that the right to privacy in the digital age was a fundamental right - and that the right to privacy should apply offline and online. More cross-national collaboration on cooperation and harmonisation was needed with regard to protecting the privacy of individuals online as technology advanced. New technology was widely welcomed but all must be mindful of the risks that came with it. Speakers called for a healthy balance between protecting personal data and human rights when it came to using new technology. It was recognised that national legislation needed to be updated to ensure one's right to a private life as technology advanced. The digital world was now firmly part of people’s lives and nations must be mindful of the risks that came with it.

The protection of personal data required a unilateral focus as the expansion of technology had created spaces where data was vulnerable. Identifying and sharing successful data protection models and experiences was important. The European model had standards that could be further implemented in other countries. Privacy was a fundamental right, and the use of digital technologies should be developed in a way that was in line with values of freedom of expression and privacy at the same time. Data security initiatives had been launched, including in China, to further refine rules and limits when it came to the management of information relating to private life. Data theft and hacking were serious violations of the right to privacy and responsible actions must be taken to put an end to theft and hacking online.

Speakers shared how data protection initiatives and laws were being further developed to protect privacy of users online - and to punish cyber offences. Growing concerns over commercial interests were raised with regard to the use of the data of individuals. It was widely agreed that laws to specify obligations of various stakeholders for non-compliance were important. The pandemic had accelerated the integration of technology into daily lives - and this had further enhanced the importance of data protection, balancing public health and data protection requirements. The policies and illegal practices discovered regarding the digital space drew attention to certain spyware used. Sometimes, the right to opinion was also violated, threatening peace and security. Gender-based violence had increased as technology had advanced and women had been disproportionately targeted. Efforts to harmonise with the European data protection model were welcomed. The deployment of new technology must be assessed based on the impact it would have on violating human rights. If data was needed for innovation, the risks must still be dealt with.

Interim Remarks

ANA BRIAN NOUGRÈRES, Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy, with regard to the priorities of her mandate, said the privacy mandate was related to cross-cutting institutional matters which meant that a number of topics, social, legal and human rights related, were all considered, as they all dealt with privacy. There was a lot of work to be done, and the mandate had tried to establish priorities in order to be able to deal with all levels jointly. One of the most pressing issues was the international way in which things operated, and how data protection was to be ensured on the Internet. When this major problem was being addressed, rights needed to be enshrined, but the first step in this regard was to look at cooperation and harmonisation. The underpinnings of privacy were in a series of principles, such as consent, the purpose for which consent was sought, and the proportionality of data. These principles enjoyed consensus, but work would be submitted to the Human Rights Council in order to come up with a common starting point for harmonisation and cooperation.

On health data, the question was what would happen to the data that had been saved due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The issue here was when did the pandemic end, and what would happen to the data garnered during the pandemic. On artificial intelligence, information that was processed through algorithms could have an impact on human rights, and this required further study. The idea was that it could be solved if there was greater transparency, from the data gathering phase right through to the end of the data cycle. There were various forms of technology that had been disruptors in society, but innovation should not be stopped, it needed to continue, and if data was needed for innovation, it should be used; however, one needed to be aware of the risks and deal with them in a timely manner. There was a need for an interactive dialogue on this issue in order to come up with principles in this regard and to better address risks and privacy issues.

Discussion

Speakers noted that privacy and personal data measures were being adopted by various countries and widely agreed that there was a need to protect personal data and adopt best practices. One speaker said there were multiple-faceted approaches to protecting privacy. In one country, a speaker said privacy was protected through state laws and regulations, and the layers of protection allowed the laws to be vigorously enforced. Speakers raised concerns over the misuse of surveillance technology that impacted fundamental freedoms, with one speaker referring to countries that had misused technology. The principles of data and standards required effective guarantees. There were challenges with regard to improving tools to safeguard personal data, but it was essential to further develop the tools and legislation needed to protect human rights. Spyware was a major concern as it was used as a weapon against certain individuals.

Diverse expertise and approaches were needed to protect privacy and personal data. Some speakers further discussed surveillance technology and how it impacted journalists and activists, among others, worldwide. A new global approach was needed to safeguard individuals from surveillance to protect their human rights. One speaker said the human rights approach was based on empathy and compassion. Privacy was an important part of human rights. COVID-19 measures had required compromises on personal information that would remain in society. Gender-based violence was also a cause for concern as well as the impact on trans and binary people. There were further calls to protect vulnerable people online and to protect their human rights and the right to privacy.

Concluding Remarks

ANA BRIAN NOUGRÈRES, Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy, said there were three core ways in which to operationalise privacy rights: taking action on the administrative level; ensuring there was an accountable authority responsible for breaches; and ensuring legal recourse. That was the core area in which work needed to be done. The Special Rapporteur’s mandate was open to dialogue, and she would analyse the problems that were of concern to all, and this was best pursued through a process of open dialogue.

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment

Documentation

The Council has before it (A/HRC/49/53), report on the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment: non-toxic environment by the Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment

Presentation of Report

DAVID BOYD, Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, congratulated the Council for adopting resolution 48/13 on 8 October 2021, recognising for the first time at the global level the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. Today’s report was the sixth in a series of reports detailing the scope and content of the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. This report focused on non-toxic environments where people could live, work, study and play. Exposure to pollution and toxic substances raised the risks of cancer, heart disease, stroke, and respiratory illnesses, amongst others. The toxification of the planet was increasing, and unless ambitious, urgent and worldwide action was taken, exposures would increase, health would worsen and human rights violations would multiply. An extensive body of environmental law addressed the toxicity of environments, and yet none of the current laws mentioned human rights. While all humans were exposed to pollution and toxic chemicals, the burden of contamination fell disproportionately upon certain groups, including marginalised communities, women and persons with disabilities. Furthermore, marginalised people tended to live closest to the most heavily polluted facilities. This was environmental injustice.

People living near these zones of heavy pollution were exploited, traumatised and stigmatised. These people were often treated as disposable, their voices ignored, their presence excluded from decision-making processes and their dignity and human rights trampled upon. Such places existed in both rich and poor States across the globe. The recent recognition of the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment should mark a turning point in society’s approach to pollution and toxic substances, since exposure to these was an abuse of human rights. It was incumbent on States to monitor pollution, use the best available science, make information on toxic substances freely available, and engage the public on these matters. This should be enshrined in legislation where possible.

The Council had already made it clear that failing to prevent foreseeable human rights harms caused by exposure to pollution would represent a breach of States’ obligations. He noted that good practices in both preventing future environmental injustices and remediating existing injustices existed, and sited examples in the Philippines, Ghana and Argentina among others. He reiterated that a human rights-based approach to preventing exposure to pollution and toxic chemicals could save millions of lives, and whilst the costs of prevention would be billions of dollars, the benefits would be measured in the trillions of dollars.

The Special Rapporteur presented the findings of his country visit to Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, which took place from 25 November to 2 December 2021. He noted that the country was on the frontlines of the climate crisis, enduring extreme weather events, rising temperatures and rising sea levels. Ensuring its future would require global cooperation and increased climate finance. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines provided several examples of good environmental practices, including waste management systems and investments in adaptation projects. At the same time, it had to ensure its citizens had access to justice and a legal recognition of their right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment.

Statement by Country Concerned 

Saint Vincent and the Grenadinesspeaking as a country concerned, said it recognised the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, which was linked to the continuing prosperity of States and the world as a whole. The Special Rapporteur and his team had engaged positively with various stakeholders, and the report was comprehensive. The visit had coincided with one of the most challenging periods in the country’s history, as it grappled with the explosion of the La Soufriere volcano, which had affected the environment profoundly. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines was working to ensure recovery, providing, among other things, assistance to farmers, and cleaning up landslides. The country had implemented, historically, several laws on renewable energy development, among others.

The biggest challenge for Saint Vincent and the Grenadines was climate change, which was wreaking havoc on farms, fisheries, housing infrastructure and communities, violating many rights, including cultural rights. The country had supported and implemented several important and ambitious programmes on climate change, but it was the action of historical large emitters which would make a real difference in countering the issue. The Special Rapporteur’s concern on the State’s heavy reliance on fossil fuel was noted, as on air quality. The Government was taking steps to address these issues in line with its environmental policies and commitments. The Special Rapporteur should share insights on ways to improve human rights in the context of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, and his report had done so, and thus the country accepted them and would take action on them in order to ensure that inhabitants of the island and visitors thereto could enjoy those rights.

Discussion

In the ensuing discussion, speakers said the report outlined that both Governments and businesses had responsibilities to safeguard the access to a safe and healthy environment, and special attention should be given to children, persons with disabilities, minorities, and other vulnerable groups. The situation of environmental human rights defenders continued to be of concern: ensuring they could work without harassment, persecution or threat of death was an important priority. The report showed how toxicity could impact the various forms of the right to a clean environment, and plastics, for example, hindered global efforts to stem climate change, along with impacting the oceans. Poor and marginalised communities faced difficulties in upholding their rights and accessing information and justice when their rights were threatened. In addition to the environmental damage caused, the exposure of populations to toxic and other dangerous waste could irreversibly hamper the enjoyment of various other rights, including the right to life and the right to health. The impact of pollution was huge and impeded the progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. The ecological impact of the Ukrainian invasion was an important issue, as it could have an impact on the environmental health of the world, a speaker pointed out.

 

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HRC22.025E