April 1, 2004
Vol. 23 No. 13

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    In pursuit of an ecologically sound environment: Student groups join forces to gauge environmental laws’ effectiveness in protecting human rights across the globe

    By Josh Schonwald
    News Office

    A young boy stands in front of a felled ironwood tree in Nigeria, where the environment is subjected to deforestation.

    In 1994, United Nations analyst Fatma Ksentini presented a maverick report to the U.N. High Commissioner, which argued that ecosystem conservation and the maintenance of human rights are directly linked. In presenting her report, Ksentini proposed the United Nations’ first “Declaration of the Environment,” a formal declaration that all people should be granted “the right to a secure, healthy and ecologically sound environment.”

    Ten years later, versions of Ksentini’s declaration appear in the constitutions of nations as diverse as Hungary, Kenya and Mongolia.

    The University will commemorate the 10-year anniversary of Ksentini’s report with a panel discussion, titled “Human Rights and Ecosystem Limits: Considering Environmental Rights,” at 6 p.m. Friday, April 16, in the third-floor lecture hall of Swift Hall, at 1025 E. 58th St.

    The panel discussion, the first-ever co-sponsored by the University’s Center for International Studies, the Human Rights Program and the Environmental Studies Program, will examine the legacy of Ksentini’s report.

    “Environmental rights, a class of third-generation human rights, are increasingly being written into constitutions around the world,” said Craig Segall, a fourth-year in the College and one of the panel organizers. “But it’s not clear how effective these new constitutions have been.”

    The panel aims to explore the effectiveness of environmental rights by evaluating how the various legal formulations of environmental rights function and discussing country-specific case studies.

    Dinah Shelton, an internationally noted expert on human rights and environmental law and a law professor at George Washington University, will give the keynote address.

    The three other panelists are Paul Friesema, a political scientist at Northwestern University who studies environmental policy; Doug Stotz, a conservation ecologist at the Field Museum and expert on the bird life of the Neotropics (Mexico to the Southern tip of South America); and anthropologist Alaka Wali, director of the Field Museum’s Center for Cultural Understanding and Change, who has studied development issues in the United States and Latin America.

    Segall anticipates that the members of this interdisciplinary panel will “get people talking across borders.”

    The panel discussion, which was entirely conceived by students, is a collaborative effort between the College’s human rights and environmental rights movements, said one coordinator of the Environmental Concerns Organization and the Green Campus Initiative. The collaboration has developed out of a growing awareness that the goals of both groups are inextricably linked.

    “As the economy becomes ever more globalized, it is increasingly critical to ensure that the pursuit of material prosperity does not threaten human dignity or the health of the planet,” Segall said.

    For more information on the panel discussion, please visit: http://internationalstudies.uchicago.edu/environmentalrights.