Environmental Rights

Why Environmental Rights are Human Rights


Can you link environmental protection to peacebuilding and human rights?

Yes indeed, says Maria Andrea Nardi. She is an affiliated researcher at the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law.

Nardi participates in an interdisciplinary research project focused on environmental policies and peacebuilding in post-conflict Uganda and Colombia. She works together with RWI to include a human rights perspective in the research. And she sees strong links between environmental protection, peacebuilding and human rights.

“Environmental protection is more than policies to preserve a given ecosystem. It also entails protection of the livelihoods using the ecosystem in a sustainable way. Peacebuilding is very important in relation to this. If local communities cannot have their own livelihood and access to resources, there will be conflict again,” she says.

Nardi aims to highlight how economic activities in a post-conflict country might actually counteract efforts to create peace. As an example, she mentions one of her research fields, Colombia. After the conflict between the state and the guerrilla forces, the government allowed companies to extract natural resources from previously occupied land. However, the participation in the global economy often has negative impact on nature and the communities living on the exploited land. Latin America is also the region where most environmental activists are killed, which is yet another human rights issue.

There are tensions and struggles between communities, governments and national and international corporations for the natural resources. The international community need to realise this. It is easy for us in Sweden to say ‘oh great, now Colombia will have peace’, but there will be violence against nature and many hidden, unarmed conflicts. People are being displaced and moving out of rural areas because of the exploitation of natural resources, says Nardi.

Urban Work Sparked Rural Interest

Born and raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Nardi experienced the consequences of displacement when she worked with children in one of the city’s villas or urban slum areas.

“People there came from rural areas and I wondered why they left their communities to live in such an awful situation of violence and discrimination. So, I became interested in what was going on in rural areas,” she says.

She hopes that her current project will make people more aware of the impact of how their consumption on other countries. For example, she mentions the research she did in Cameroun. It is the country that produces the most cacao in the world, but where people have no idea what chocolate tastes like.

“We need to understand that what we consume has environmental implications. We have conflicts in diverse regions in the Global South because people’s land has been cleared for mining – to produce components in cell phones,” she says.

Nardi also aims to raise awareness of different ideas of development and the use of natural resources:

We must understand that human rights are not just about political participation. It is also about the right to continue your own way of living.

Respect for communities’ right to land will also enhance the peacebuilding process in post-conflict countries, she says:

“The guerrillas might not come back, but corporations might, and what will then happen to the communities that are displaced? To have sustainable peace, we need to be careful with how states and corporations are using land.”