Every human has the right to a safe, clean, healthy, and sustainable environment, as stated in the resolution of the UN General Assembly last July 28, 2022 and in the human rights and environmental mandate created in March 2012. Even though a lot of questions are yet to be addressed regarding the relationship of the environment and human rights, their intrinsic interconnected issues are increasingly being recognized according to the report of the UN on the environmental rule of law.


What constitutes environmental human rights?

Environmental human rights, also known as environmental rights, refer to the recognition and protection of people’s entitlement to live in a clean and healthy environment. It means that every person has the right to enjoy good quality environmental conditions, which include access to clean air, water, and land, as well as protection from pollution and harmful activities that can damage the environment and the everyone’s well-being. Environmental rights aim to ensure that everyone can live in a safe and sustainable environment, promoting the well-being of all living beings and the planet.

Environmental rights are composed of substantive rights and procedural rights. Substantive rights refer to rights that directly affect human health and the environment. Under substantive rights are civil and political rights (e.g., rights to life, freedom of association, and freedom from discrimination), economic and social rights (e.g., rights to health, food, and good quality of living), cultural rights (e.g., rights to religious sites access), and collective rights (e.g., rights of indigenous people, rights for existence, self-determination, and self-governance, and rights to sovereignty over natural resources).

Procedural rights, on the other hand, refer to rights that support the entitlement and enforcement of substantive rights. Procedural rights are comprised of the rights to access information (e.g., rights to access laws, regulations, and judicial decisions, environmental state, emission data, reports, and audits, natural resource concessions and revenue, and media), public participation (e.g., rights for freedom of peaceful assembly, rights to free expression, rights to partake in law and regulation development and decision-making, rights to be involved in permitting, licensing, and awarding concessions and management of natural resources, rights to environmental impact assessments, and rights to monitoring and enforcement of regulations for the environment), and access to justice (e.g., rights to free, prior, and informed consent and rights to effective legal remedies and resolution bodies). The figure below summarizes the environmental rights.


The ASEAN Human Rights Declaration

The ASEAN Human Rights Declaration, which was released in November 2012, has recognized that every person has the right to have an adequate standard of living, which includes:

  • Right to be free from hunger,
  • Right to clothing and housing,
  • Right to good sanitation practices and safe drinking water, and
  • Right to a safe, clean, and sustainable environment.

Also included in the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration is the right to development which addresses the developmental and environmental needs of the present and future people of the ASEAN Member States (AMS). People-oriented and gender responsive development programs are highlighted in the Declaration which aims to alleviate poverty and to protect the sustainability of the environment.

The ASEAN Human Rights Declaration of 2012 may not be legally binding and is currently lacking an environmental and human protection mandate, but it marks the start of the formalization of the distinction of environmental rights in the ASEAN region. Environmental rights are continuously discussed among the AMS. As signatories of the Paris Agreement, the AMS have the responsibility to address climate change and human rights, such as the right to health, right to development, gender equality, women empowerment, intergenerational equity, and the rights of indigenous people, local communities, migrants, children, and the disabled and vulnerable people. In relation to this, the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) begun the preparations for the regional environmental rights framework last November 2022. In May 2023, the 37th Meeting of AICHR was held which covered the implementation of AICHR’s Priority Programmes on human rights, environment, and climate change.


The Five-Year Work Plan of the AICHR (2021-2025)

The AICHR has established a five-year work plan for the period of 2021-2025, which focuses on different areas. Programs and activities related to the promotion and protection of environmental human rights are part of the work plan. The following environmental rights-related activities are planned by the AICHR for the ASEAN region:

  • Conduct more consultations, discussions, public meetings, coordination, and task force meetings regarding the interconnectivity of human rights and the environment;
  • Improve capacity building for relevant stakeholders on human rights promotion and environmental protection;
  • Establish initiatives to further the integration of human rights-based approach to environmental policy making and protection;
  • Progress the development of the regional framework for human rights-based environmental impact assessments (EIA) in the AMS;
  • Enhance the cooperation and partnership of the ASEAN region and its external partners on the implementation of human rights obligations to a safe, clean, healthy, and sustainable environment for all people in the AMS; and
  • Continue the commitment among the AMS to secure and build an environmentally friendly ASEAN Community.



Environmental Human Rights Laws in the AMS

Currently, there are no specific ASEAN countries that have environmental human rights laws explicitly mentioned in their constitutions. However, it is important to note that several ASEAN countries have provisions in their constitutions that recognize the right to a healthy environment or emphasize the protection of the environment, namely the Philippines, Indonesia, and Thailand. These provisions may indirectly contribute to the promotion and protection of environment-related human rights. Here are excerpts of the Philippine, Indonesian, and Thai constitutions pertaining to environmental human rights-related provisions:

  • The Philippines: The 1987 Philippine Constitution includes a provision (Article II, Section 16) that states: “The State shall protect and advance the right of the people to a balanced and healthful ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature.”
  • Indonesia: The 1945 Indonesian Constitution includes a provision (Article 28H) that recognizes the right of every person to live in a good and healthy environment.
  • Thailand: The 2017 Thai Constitution includes a provision (Section 43) that acknowledges the right of the people to manage, maintain, and utilize natural resources, environment, and biodiversity in a balanced and sustainable manner. Sections 50 and 57 also acknowledge the duty of the people to conserve and protect the environment for the benefit of all. Section 58 indicates the duty of the government to study, assess, and minimize the environmental impact of activities to be conducted to the country’s natural resources and biodiversity. In relation to this, part of the government’s duty is to arrange public hearings with the relevant stakeholders before permitting these environmentally impactful activities.


Key Takeaways

The ASEAN region is still at the grassroots of establishing and implementing environmental rights laws and mandates. The presence of the provisions stated above does not guarantee comprehensive environment-related human rights legislation in the Philippines, Indonesia, and Thailand. Through the continuous partnership among the AMS and external parties, progress and success in the creation and implementation of environmental rights laws, not only in these countries but also in the other countries in the ASEAN region, are in the foreseeable future.



  1. Read more about the environmental rights and environmental rule of law here:

  2. Read more about the 2015 Paris Agreement here:
  3. Read more about the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration of 2012 here:
  4. Read more about ASEAN’s progress on the environmental rights framework here:
  5. Read more about the five-year work plan of the AICHR (2021-2025) here:
  6. Read more about the environmental human rights-related provisions in the constitutions in the AMS: