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International Law And The Right To A Healthy Environment As A Jus Cogens Human Right

Posted on February 18, 2019 in Uncategorized

I. JURISPRUDENTIAL BACKGROUND AND THEORETICAL ISSUES

To date, traditional international law does not consider human environmental rights to a clean and healthy environment to be a jus cogens human right. Jus cogens (“compelling law”) refers to preemptory legal principles and norms that are binding on all international States, regardless of their consent. They are non-derogable in the sense that States cannot make a reservation to a treaty or make domestic or international laws that are in conflict with any international agreement that they have ratified and thus to which they are a party. They “prevail over and invalidate international agreements and other rules of international law in conflict with them… [and are] subject to modification only by a subsequent norm… having the same character.” (1) Thus, they are the axiomatic and universally accepted legal norms that bind all nations under jus gentium (law of nations). For example, some U.N. Charter provisions and conventions against slavery or torture are considered jus cogens rules of international law that are nonderogable by parties to any international convention.

While the international legal system has evolved to embrace and even codify basic, non-derogable human rights (2), the evolution of environmental legal regimes have not advanced as far. While the former have found a place at the highest level of universally recognized legal rights, the latter have only recently and over much opposition, reached a modest level of recognition as a legally regulated activity within the economics and politics of sustainable development.

1. The international legal community recognizes the same sources of international law as does the United States’ legal system. The three sources of international law are stated and defined in the Restatement (Third) of the Foreign Relations Law of the United States (R3dFRLUS), Section 102. The first source is Customary International Law (CIL), defined as the “general and consistent practice of states followed out of a sense of legal obligation” (3) (opinio juris sive necessitatus), rather than out of moral obligation. Furthermore, CIL is violated whenever a State, “as a matter of state policy,… practices, encourages or condones (a) genocide, (b) slavery… (c) the murder or causing the disappearance of individuals, (d) torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment… or (g) a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.” (4) To what extent such human rights need to be “internationally recognized” is not clear, but surely a majority of the world’s nations must recognize such rights before a “consistent pattern of gross violations” results in a violation of CIL. CIL is analogous to “course of dealing” or “usage of trade” in the domestic commercial legal system.

Evidence of CIL includes “constitutional, legislative, and executive promulgations of states, proclamations, judicial decisions, arbitral awards, writings of specialists on international law, international agreements, and resolutions and recommendations of international conferences and organizations.” (5) It follows that such evidence is sufficient to make “internationally recognized human rights” protected under universally recognized international law. Thus, CIL can be created by the general proliferation of the legal acknowledgment (opinio juris) and actions of States of what exactly constitutes “internationally recognized human rights.”

2. The next level of binding international law is that of international agreements (treaties), or Conventional International Law. Just as jus cogens rights and rules of law, as well as CIL, are primary and universally binding legal precepts, so do international treaties form binding international law for the Party Members that have ratified that treaty. The same way that some States’ domestic constitutional law declares the basic human rights of each State’s citizens, so do international treaties create binding law regarding the rights delineated therein, according to the customary international jus gentium principle of pacta sunt servanda (agreements are to be respected). Treaties are in turn internalized by the domestic legal system as a matter of law. Thus, for example, the U.N Charter’s provision against the use of force is binding international law on all States and it, in turn, is binding law in the United States, for example, and on its citizens. (6) Treaties are analogous to “contracts” in the domestic legal system.

Evidence of Conventional International Law includes treaties, of course, as well as related material, interpreted under the usual canons of construction of relying on the text itself and the words’ ordinary meanings. (7) Often, conventional law has to be interpreted within the context of CIL. (8) As a practical matter, treaties are often modified by amendments, protocols and (usually technical) annexes. Mechanisms exist for “circumventing strict application of consent” by the party states. Generally, these mechanisms include “framework or umbrella conventions that merely state general obligations and establish the machinery for further norm-formulating devices… individual protocols establishing particular substantive obligations… [and] technical annexes.” (9) Most of these new instruments “do no require ratification but enter into force in some simplified way.” (10) For example, they may require only signatures, or they enter into force for all original parties when a minimum number of States ratify the modification or unless a minimum number of States object within a certain time frame, or goes into force for all except those that object. (11) Depending on the treaty itself, once basic consensus is reached, it is not necessary for all to consent to certain modifications for them to go into effect. “[I]n a sense these are instances of an IGO [(international governmental organization)] organ ‘legislating’ directly for [S]tates.” (12)

3. Finally, rules of international law are also derived from universal General Principles of Law “common to the major legal systems of the world.” (13) These “general principles of law” are principles of law as such, not of international law per se. While many consider these general principles to be a secondary source of international law that “may be invoked as supplementary rules… where appropriate” (14), some consider them on an “footing of formal equality with the two positivist elements of custom and treaty”. (15) Examples are the principles of res judicata, equity, justice, and estoppel. Frequently, these rules are inferred by “analogy to domestic law concerning rules of procedure, evidence and jurisdiction.” (16) However, “while shared concepts of of internal law can be used as a fall-back, there are sever limits because of the characteristic differences between international law and internal law.” (17) Evidence of General Principles of Law includes “municipal laws, doctrine and judicial decisions.” (18)

Treaty provisions and their inherent obligations can create binding CIL if they are “of a fundamentally norm-creating character such as could be regarded as forming the basis of a general rule of law.” (19) A basic premise of this article is that the “relatively exclusive ways (of lawmaking) of the past are not suitable for contemporary circumstances.” (20) Jonathan Charney maintains that today’s CIL is more and more being created by consensual multilateral forums, as opposed to State practice and opinio juris, and that “[consensus, defined as the lack of expressed objections to the rule by any participant, may often be sufficient… In theory, one clearly phrased and strongly endorsed declaration at a near-universal diplomatic forum could be sufficient to establish new international law.” (21) This process should be distinguished conceptually as “general international law”, rather than CIL, as the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has often done.

In like vein, Professor Gunther Handl argues that all multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) of “global applicability” create “general international law”:

“A multilateral treaty that addresses fundamental concerns of the international community at large, and that as such is strongly supported by the vast majority of states, by international organizations and other transnational actors,– and this is, of course, precisely the case with the biodiversity, climate, and ozone regimes, among others-may indeed create expectations of general compliance, in short such a treaty may come to be seen as reflecting legal standards of general applicability… and as such must be deemed capable of creating rights and obligations both for third states and third organizations.” (22)

Notwithstanding, Daniel Bodansky argues that CIL is so rarely supported by State action, that it is not customary law at all. “International environmental norms reflect not how states regularly behave, but how states speak to each other.” (23) Calling such law “declarative law” that is part of a “myth system” representing the collective ideals and the “verbal practice” of States, he concludes that “our time and efforts would be better spent attempting to translate the general norms of international environmental relations into concrete treaties and actions.” (24)

However, a review of the current status of international human rights and environmental law may reveal the mechanisms for raising environmental rights to the level of jus cogens rights. For example, the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS), whose negotiation was initiated in 1972 and signed in 1982, was considered by most countries to be CIL by the time it came into force in 1994. (25)

II. CURRENT STATUS OF THE RIGHT TO A HEALTHY ENVIRONMENT No State today will publicly state that it is within its sovereign rights to damage their domestic environment, much less that of the international community, however most States do not guarantee environmental protection as a basic human right. Currently, environmental law is composed of mostly Conventional International Law and some CIL. The former relies on express consent and the latter on implied consent, unless a State avails itself of the Persistent Objector principle, which precludes it from being bound by even most CIL. Unlike for human rights and international crimes, there is no general environmental rights court in existence today. While the Law of the Sea Tribunal and other U.N. forums (e.g., the ICJ) exist for trying cases of treaty violations, non-treaty specific violations have no international venue at present. Italian Supreme Court Justice Amedeo Postiglione states that

“[T]he human right to the environment, must have, at the international level, a specific organ of protection for a fundamental legal and political reason: the environment is not a right of States but of individuals and cannot be effectively protected by the International Court of Justice in the Hague because the predominantly economic interests of the States and existing institutions are often at loggerheads with the human right to the environment.” (26)

Domestic remedies would have to be pursued first, of course, but standing would be granted to NGOs, individuals, and States when such remedies proved futile or “the dispute raises issues of international importance.” (27) For example, although the ICJ has an “environmental chamber” and U.S. courts often appoint “special masters” to handle these types of disputes, it is clear that the recognition of the human right to the environment needs an international court of its own in order to recognize such a right and remedy international violations in an efficient and equitable manner. (28)

III. THE JUS COGENS NATURE OF ENVIRONMENTAL RIGHTS Irrespective of specific treaty obligations and domestic environmental legislation, do States, or the international community as a whole, have a duty to take measures to prevent and safeguard against environmental hazards?

Human rights are “claims of entitlement” that arise “as of right” (31) and are independent of external justification; they are “self evident” and fundamental to any human being living a dignified, healthy and productive and rewarding life. As Louis Henkin points out:

“Human rights are not some abstract, inchoate ‘good’; they are defined, particular claims listed in international instruments such as the [U.N.’s] Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the major covenants and conventions. They are those benefits deemed essential for individual well-being [sic], dignity, and fulfillment, and that reflect a common sense of justice, fairness, and decency. [No longer are human rights regarded as grounded in or justified by utilitarianism,] natural law,… social contract, or any other political theory…[but] are derived from accepted principles, or are required by accepted ends-societal ends such as peace and justice; individual ends such as human dignity, happiness, fulfillment. [Like the fundamental rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, these rights are] inalienable and imprescriptible; they cannot be transferred, forfeited, or waived; they cannot be lost by having been usurped, or by one’s failure to exercise or assert them.” (32)

Henkin distinguishes between “immunity claims” (such as ‘the State cannot do X to me’; the hallmark of the U.S. constitutional jurisprudential system) and “resource claims” (such as ‘I have a right to Y’) such that the individual has the right to, for example, free speech, “food, housing, and other basic human needs.” (33) In today’s “global village”, the Right to a Healthy Environment is clearly a “resource claim” and a basic human need that transcends national boundaries.

According to R.G. Ramcharan, there is “a strict duty… to take effective measures” by States and the international community as a whole to protect the environment from the potential hazards of economic development. (34) His position is that the Human Right to Life is a. jus cogens, non-derogable peremptory norm that by its very nature includes the right to a clean environment. This duty is clearly spelled out in such multilateral treaties as the UN Convention on Desertification, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, and the Convention on Biological Diversity. (35) It is expounded in the Stockholm, Rio and Copenhagen Declarations as a core component of the principle of Sustainable Development. It forms the basis of NAFTA’s, the WTO’s and the European Union’s economic development agreements, and the European Convention and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which has been ratified by most countries in the world, including the United States.

The Human Right to a Healthy Environment is explicitly contained in the Inter-American and African Charters, as well as in the constitution of over 50 countries worldwide. Whether it is based on treaties, CIL, or “basic principles”, the obligation of the international community to the environment is today clearly spelled out and enforceable through international tribunals. For example, the Lhaka Honhat Amid Curiae Brief recognized the rights of the indigenous peoples of Argentina to “an environment that supports physical and spiritual well being and development.” (36) Similarly, in a separate decision, the Inter-American Human Rights Commission upheld the right of the Yanomani in Brazil to a healthy and clean environment. (37) On a global level, the UN Human Rights Committee has indicated that environmental damage is “a violation of the right to life contained in Article 6(1) of the [ICCPR]”. (38)

Thus, today, the erga omnes obligation of States to take effective steps to safeguard the environment is a duty that no State can shirk or ignore. If it does, it runs the risk of prosecution by international courts and having to institute measures commensurate with its responsibility to protect its share of the “global commons”. Interestingly, the concept of jus cogens emerged after World War II as a response to the commonly held view that the sovereignty of States excused them from violating any of the then so-called CILs. According to Black’s Law Dictionary, “there is a close connection between jus cogens and the recognition of a ‘public order of the international community’… Without expressly using the notion of jus cogens, the [ICJ] implied its existence when it referred to obligations erga omnes in its judgment… in the Barcelona Traction Case.” (39)

IV. THIRD GENERATION HUMAN RIGHTS AND THE ENVIRONMENT Is environmental protection is an erga omnes obligation, that is, one owed to the international community as a whole as a jus cogens human right?

In a separate opinion to the Case Concerning the Gebecikovo-Nagymaros Project (Hungary v. Slovakia), Judge Weeramantry, the Vice President of the ICJ, expounded on the legal basis for sustainable development as a general principle of international law. In the process, he concludes that environmental protection is a universal erga omnes legal norm that is both CIL as well as a general principle of law per se. In Gebecikovo, ostensibly to have been decided upon the merits of the treaty governing the building of power plants along the Danube, as well as by international customary law, the ICJ held that the right to development must be balanced with the right to environmental protection by the principle of sustainable development. Even in the absence of a specific treaty provision, the concept of sustainable development has become a legal principle that is “an integral principle of modem international law”. (40)

Sustainable development is also recognized in State practice, such as the Dublin Declaration by the European Council on the Environmental Imperative. (41) As such, sustainable development has in effect been raised to the level of CIL.

For example, the Martens Clause of the 1899 Hague Convention Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land has been interpreted in 1996 by Judge Shahabudeen of the ICJ as providing a legal basis for inferring that general principles rise above custom and treaty, having their basis in “principles of humanity and the dictates of public conscience”. (42) According to Weeramantry, “when a duty such as the duty to protect the environment is so well accepted that all citizens act upon it, that duty is part of the legal system in question… as general principles of law recognized by civilized of nations.” (43)

Sustainable development acts as a reconciling principle between economic development and environmental protection. Just as economic development is an inalienable right of States’ self-determination, environmental protection is an erga omnes obligation of all States for the benefit of the global commons that all share. “The principle of sustainable development is thus a part of modern international law by reason not only of its inescapable logical necessity, but also by reason of its wide and general acceptance by the global community”, and not just by developing countries. (44)

Drawing upon the rich history of diverse cultures’ legal systems and what he calls “living law”, Judge Weeramantry points out that traditional respect for nature has been a guiding moral and legal principle for economic development throughout history. The ICJ has also recognized these principles in such previous decisions as Barcelona Traction, Light and Power Company, Ltd. (Belgium v. Spain) in 1972. (45) Judge Weeramantry concludes that the “ingrained values of any civilization are the source from which its legal concepts derive… [and that environmental protection is] among those pristine and universal values which command international recognition.” (46)

The first generation of Human Rights were those declared by the “soft law” of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to life liberty and security of person.” Art. 3. It was modeled on the U.S. Bill of Rights and the American Declaration of Independence. This was echoed in the binding ICCPR (“Every human being has the inherent right to life.”, ICCPR, Art. 6(1) (1966)), which the U.S. has ratified, and the American Convention on Political and Civil Rights of the Inter-American System (which draws direct connections between human rights and environmental rights).

The second generation of human rights emerged with the Economic, Social and Cultural (ECOSOC) Rights developed in such treaties as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR; which the U.S. has not ratified), and many foreign State’s Constitutions (e.g., Germany, Mexico, and Costa Rica). These include the right to free choice of work, to (usually free) education, to rest, leisure, etc. Highly complied with in Europe, these rights have additionally been expanded by the EU in their European Social Charter (1961) creating much legislation for the protection of workers, women, and children.

The third and current generation of human rights has emerged from the Eco-Peace-Feminist Movement. These include the Right to Development, the Right to A Safe Environment and the Right to Peace. In essence, this third generation of rights addresses the problem of poverty as a social (and hence legally redressable) ill that lies at the core of environmental problems and violations. The “environmental justice” movement considers cases that demonstrate that environmental pollution is disproportionately prevalent in minority communities, whether at a local or international level. Authors John Cronin & Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., have explicitly entitled their study of environmental pollution along the Hudson River The Riverkeepers: Two Activists Fight to Reclaim Our Environment as a Basic Human Right. (47) This predominantly U.S. movement focuses on “environmental racism” as a means for seeking remedies or the disproportionate pollution of minority communities as violations of current civil rights legislation by “exploring] the use of the nations’ environmental laws to protect the rights of the poor.” (48)

V. RECOGNITION, COMMITMENT AND ENFORCEMENT OF A RIGHT: THE MONTREAL PROTOCOL AS A MODEL FOR CONSENSUS BUILDING The key mechanisms for establishing binding international law are recognition of an obligation or right, commitment to its protection, and effective enforcement methods. The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer is the “most important precedent in international law for the management of global environmental harms.” (49) It serves as a model for many other environmental concerns that require decision-making in the face of scientific uncertainty, global non-consensus, and high harm-avoidance costs. It was the first international “precautionary” treaty to address a global environmental concern when not even “measurable evidence of environmental damage existed.” (50) Although ozone depletion by chloro-fluorocarbons (CFCs) and other ozone depleting substances (ODSs), and the attendant harms of overexposure to harmful ultraviolet radiation, had been suspected by scientists in the early 1970s, it was not until 1985 and the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer that international action was taken to address the problem.

THE VIENNA CONVENTION FOR THE PROTECTION OF THE OZONE LAYER At the time of the Vienna Convention, the U.S. represented over 50% of the global consumption of CFCs in a $3 billion market for aerosol propellants alone. Overall, CFC products represented a $20 billion market and about a quarter of a million jobs in America alone. (51) The Clean Air Amendments of 1977 and the 1978 EPA ban on all “non-essential” uses of CFC in aerosol propellants was quickly followed internationally by similar bans by Sweden, Canada and Norway. (52) These actions were a direct response to consumer pressure and market demands by newly environmentally-conscious consumers.(53) Incentives were also provided to the developing countries so that they could “ramp up” at reasonable levels of reductions. (54)

Creative ratification incentives included requiring only 11 of the top two-thirds of CFC producing countries to ratify and bring the treaty into force. (55) As a result of such flexibility, innovation, consensus and cooperation, the Montreal Protocol has been hailed as a major success in international diplomacy and international environmental law. Today almost every nation in the world is a member (over 175 States).

THE LONDON ADJUSTMENTS AND AMENDMENTS OF 1990 By 1990 scientific confirmation of global warming and the depletion of the ozone layer led to the London Adjustments and Amendments. Again, U.S. companies such as Dupont, IBM and Motorola reacted to massive negative media attention and promised to halt complete production by 2000.

Non-compliance procedures were made even more user friendly and no sanction for non-compliance was initiated against a country that was failing to reach quotas while acting in good faith. Technology transfer was made in a “fair and favorable way”, with developed countries taking the lead in assisting developing countries reach compliance. (56) The U.S. instituted “ozone depletion taxes” which did much to get more comprehensive compliance, as well as promoting research into CFC alternatives. (57) To emphasize the vast enforcement mechanisms employed, consider that by early 1998 the U.S. Justice Department had prosecuted 62 individuals and 7 corporations for the illegal smuggling into the emergent CFC black markets. Despite an international crackdown by the FBI, EPA, CIA, and Interpol in the global police effort Operation Breeze, 5 to 10 thousand tons are smuggled annually into Miami alone, second only to cocaine smuggling. (58) In 1992 the Copenhagen Amendments required every State party (practically the whole world) to institute “procedures and institutional mechanisms” to determine non-compliance and enforcement. (59)

VI. CONCLUSION: CRITICAL WEAKNESS OF THE CURRENT SYSTEM AND THE LEGAL CONSEQUENCES OF THE RIGHT TO A HEALTHY ENVIRONMENT AS A BASIC HUMAN RIGHT

The critical weaknesses of the existing system include self-serving pronouncements by non-complying States, lack of effective enforcement mechanisms, political limitations such as State sovereignty and the “margin of appreciation”, and the lack of universal consensus on basic human rights terminology and their enforcement. As long as States can ignore commonplace violations of human rights (sporadic instances of torture, occasional “disappearances”) and shun the edicts of human rights judicial decisions, there can be no effective system of international human rights enforcement. Currently, unless a State commits such outrageous acts on a mass scale that affects world peace, such as in Yugoslavia and Rwanda, it can often evade its responsibilities under international human rights treaties.

There are few international agreements that admit of universal jurisdiction for their violation by any State in the world. All CIL, however, is by its very nature prosecutable under universal jurisdiction. “Crimes against humanity” (e.g., War Crimes, genocide, and State-supported torture) are universally held to be under universal jurisdiction, typically in the International Court of Justice, ad hoc war crime tribunals, and the new International Criminal Court.

While interpretive gaps exist, it is not inconceivable that the right to a healthy environment can be extrapolated from current international environmental treaties and CIL. At the treaty level, the protection of the environment appears to be of paramount importance to the international community. At the level of CIL, there is much evidence that the right to a healthy environment is already an internationally protected right, at least as far as trans-boundary pollution is concerned. In any case, it seems to be universally held that it should be protected as a right. The impression is that there is an unmistakable consensus in this regard. “Soft law” over time becomes CIL.

The U.N. World Commission on Environment and Development released the Earth Charter in 1987. It has yet to be fully implemented on a global scale. Its broad themes include respect and care for the environment, ecological integrity, social and economic justice and democracy, nonviolence and peace. (60) The argument can be made that by now, protection of the environment has reached the threshold of Customary International Law. Whether the nations of the world choose to thereafter recognize the right to a healthy environment as a jus cogens human right will depend on the near universal consensus and political will of most of the nations of the world. Until then, as long as human life continues to be destroyed by “human rights ratifying” nations, how much enforcement will be employed against violators of environmental laws when the right to a healthy environment is not upheld as a basic human right remains to be seen. It will take the cooperation of all nations to ensure that this becomes a non-derogable, unalienable right and recognizing it as essential to the Right to Life.

1. Restatement (Third) of the Foreign Relations Law of the United States, § 102 cmt. k (1987).
The elements can also be found in the Vienna Convention, Article 53.
2. For example, the Right to Life, to be Free from Torture, Genocide, and Murder.
3. R(3d)FRLUS § 102(l)(a) and cmt. h.
4. Id., § 702 (my emphasis).
5. Mark W. Janis, An Introduction to International Law 6 (3d. ed, Aspen Law & Business 1999).
6. R3dFRLUS § 102(2).
7. Janis, supra.
8. David Hunter, et al., International Environmental Law and Policy, p. 306 (2d. ed., Foundation Press 2002).
9. Paul Szasz, International Norm Making, in Edith Brown Weiss, Ed., ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE IN INTERNATIONAL LAW (1995), as quoted in Id, p. 307.
10. Id.
11. Id.
12. Id.
13. R3dFRLUS § 102(l)(c), as presented in Donoho, supra.
14. Supra, R3dFRLUS §102(4).
15. Shabtai Rosenne, Practice and Methods of International Law 69 (1984), as quoted in Hunter, Id, p. 317.
16. Hunter, supra, p. 316 (Foundation Press 2002).
17. Id, p. 316.
18. Janis, supra, p. 29.
19. Id, p. 312.
20. Jonathan Charney, Universal International Law, 87 Am.J.Int’l.L. 529, at 543-48 (1993), as quoted in Hunter, supra, p. 322.
21. Id.
22. Gunther Handl, The Legal Mandate of Multilateral Development Banks as Agents for Change Toward Sustainable Development, 92 Am.J.Int’l.L. 642, at 660-62 (1998), as quoted in Hunter, supra, p. 324.
23. Daniel Bodansky, Customary (and Not So Customary) International Environmental Law, 3 Ind. J. Global Legal Stud. 105, 110-119 (1995), as quoted in Hunter, Id.
24. Id.
25. Id, p. 659.
26. Amedeo Postiglione, The Global Environmental Crisis: The Need for and International Court of the Environment, ICEF INTERNATIONAL REPORT at 33-36 (1996), quoted in Hunter, supra, p. 495.
27. Id., p. 496.
28. Id.
29. Id, p. 1298.
30. Id, p. 1299.
31. L. Henkin, “The Human Rights Idea”, The Age of Rights (reprinted in Henkin, et al., Human Rights, 1999), as presented in Donoho, supra, p. 14-16.
32. Id.
33. Id.
34. The Right to Life, p. 310 (The Hague, 1983), quoted in Hunter, supra, p. 1297.
35. Hunter, supra, p. 341.
36. Id, p. 1299.
37. Id, p. 1294.
38. Id, p. 1295.
39. Black’s Law Dictionary, p. 864. (West 1999).
40. Hunter, supra, p. 339-341.
41. Id, footnotes 1 through 6, pp. 341-342.
42. Id, pp. 317-318.
43. Id, p. 345.
44. Id, p. 342.
45. Id, p. 315.
46. Id, p. 344.
47. In particular, see pages 35, 38, 159, 162, 177-199 and 221 (Scribner 1997).
48. New York Law Journal, January 1993, Friday, ENVIRONMENTAL LAW, p. 3. See also, DISCUSSION: REFLECTIONS ON ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE, 65 Alb. L. Rev. 357, 2001.
49. Hunter, supra, p. 526.
50. Id, p. 527, quoting Richard Benedick, Ozone Diplomacy 2 (1998)
51. Id, p. 532.
52. Id, p. 535.
53. Id, p. 542.
54. Id, p. 545.
55. Id.
56. Id, p. 550-54.
57. Id, p. 562.
58. Id, p. 559.
59. Id, p. 566-67.
60. Roland Huber, International Environmental Law Seminar: Human Rights and the Environment, p. 24, in Donoho, Douglas L., INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS (printed by the Shepard Brad Law Center, Nova Southeastern University, 2002).

It Is Necessary to Place Limits on Democracy in Order to Promote Human Rights?

Posted on February 14, 2019 in Uncategorized

Ex Justice Michael Kirby defines democracy in Australia as:

[a] sophisticated form of government which involves the general ability of the will of the majority to prevail but in a legal and social context in which the rights of vulnerable minorities are respected and defended

It must be argued that this succinct statement illustrates, expressly and implicitly, the potential for an inextricable relationship between democracy and human rights. The defending of human rights can only exist within a democracy, and conversely, the ability of anyone to raise their hand and claim a human right to be defended is a fundamental element of a democracy.

What are “human rights”? It must be argued that human rights are a mere concept, intangible ideals, principals within the realm of philosophy. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights says:

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights

It must be argued that there is a distinct difference between the concept of human rights and the interpretation and application of human rights in a social context.

The interpretation of our human rights can be derived from the UDHR, other HR treaties and subsequently our own state and federal laws. However the language used in these instruments is left intentionally vague and ambiguous to allow different meanings to be inferred from the words. As time progresses and the nature of a normative society changes, values, deviant and moral actions change, the law changes slowly after to accommodate for the change in society. Drinking alcohol and driving is a good contemporary example of this. When talking about The Constitution Justice Kirby says:

The words [of the Constitution] take on their colour with the change in circumstance and attitudes

So we are able to apply the concept of rights to our society through the judicial and legislative processes, which are the checks and balances within a democratic system. For example, we have a right to free speech at Article 12:

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

But does that mean we are allowed to say anything we want, wherever we want? It would have to be argued that we do not as various pieces of legislation have been enacted to stop “hate speech” and “defamation“. This must be argued to be a policy consideration and a formal social control mechanism. This illustrates how human rights in their purest form have restrictions put on them when applied in a social context. Anti-Terrorism legislation in Australia and across the world has seemingly trampled over human rights with arguably deplorable and undemocratic notions such as preventative detention and the abandonment of due process of law. However it should be argued that this type of legislation is a reaction to a real or perceived problem to preserve public safety. The question has to be asked if this is an acceptable trade. It was Benjamin Franklyn who wrote:

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.

Is it necessary to restrict the democratic voting rights of offenders in prison? It must be argued that the democratic right of citizens of a country to have their say in the election process is a fundamental cornerstone of democracy and without it the country wouldn’t be a democracy. The Constitution Act implies this at s7 and s24 that the Senate and the House of Representatives be:

directly chosen by the people

It should be argued that the limits of this democratic process to certain members of society have been placed because of policy considerations involving social normative ideals. The “moral panic” drummed up in the press, fear and ignorance of the whole prison / rehabilitation process is a contributing factor.

It must be argued that the concept of eligibility is very important in the application of human rights in a democracy. Prisoners for example, are not eligible to vote, not eligible to liberty and so on. They have essentially lost the ability for those rights to be applied to them under certain circumstances for the sake of social order, punishment and protection. Does this concept of eligibility limit democracy? It should be argued that an action that is for the benefit of the majority of people and backed by the majority of people is a democratic action. As Justice Kirby says in the opening definition, democracy is the ability of the will of the majority to prevail.

What is “the majority“? The majority of any group is a complex and difficult question. There is the actual number of eligible voters, and then a vast and varied amount of subgroups within that number. What about the majority of Shiites and Sunny Muslims within that group, and so on. It should be argued that access to rights is based upon a number of normative, social, political and cultural eligibilities. Using the objective standard of “the reasonable person“, in Australia this is said to be “The man on the Bondi Tram” it is possible to start constructing an argument about which rights are to be assigned to which people, or rather the eligibility of people to have certain rights applied to them. For example the idea of death as punishment for apostasy, which is implied in the Koran could be argued to be a right under both Sharia law and under Article 18 of the UDHR which says:

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion… and freedom… to manifest his religion or belief…

But Article 18 also says:

this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief.

It must be argued that no “reasonable” person could agree to death, the death penalty is abolished in Australia and Article 18 mandates the right to change religion, therefore, even though the concept of that right might exist, they would not be eligible to the application of this right in Australia for societal, policy and religious reasons and a democratic consensus by the people.

Reading a speech by Justice Michael Kirby he said:

There is a tension, even a contradiction, between democracy and protection of fundamental human rights. The tension arises because, if human rights are truly “fundamental”, even democracy should not be able to override them. In this sense, fundamental human rights impose a check on democracy, and deliberately so.

The idea of a “fundamental” set of human rights is a great idea and arguably exists in the philosophical realm of human rights as something to strive toward; however it must be argued that the application of these rights across the world would take on all different shapes and colours based upon social mores and context within the society. As it says in Melbourne University Law Review:

It is a myth that rights are ‘absolute trumps’ over majority preferences, aspirations or desires. In fact, most rights are not absolute. Under human rights instruments, rights are balanced against and limited by other protected rights, and other non-protected values and communal needs. A plurality of values is accommodated, not just rights. Moreover, in jurisdictions with human rights instruments that adopt an institutional dialogue model, the specific balance of the pluralistic values is assessed from a plurality of institutional perspectives – usually the executive, the legislative and the judicial.

When is it OK to limit democracy in favour of human rights? It could be argued that during war, genocide or other international atrocities it may be permitted for a democracy to act in an un-democratic way. For example, conscription and forced military service, frozen assets and restrictions on the free movement of peoples.

Another argument for a limit placed on democracy came about in the Northern Territory Intervention by the Howard Government in 2008. To enable them to implement this intervention they had to suspend the Racial Discrimination Actto allow this to occur. Allegedly, the rights of vulnerable members in those societies, namely women and especially children, needed protecting so much that the government had to suspend a racism act to enable this to happen. It would have to be strongly argued that this is in fact a racist action, bearing in mind that it would have been an illegal action under the Act. The idea of a government suspending a certain law to enable them to breach that law seems to be a very dubious and un-democratic thing to do.

In conclusion it must be argued that in some instances there may be some cause to limit the democratic process to all or certain members of society to enable the government to do some things of national importance. It should be argued that these instances are in fact extremely rare and the opposite is far more common. As society dictates, the will of the normative majority seems to supersede the application of rights to some members of the community, some of the time.

However, it could also be argued the opposite way, in that because the consensus of the public overrides the application of some human rights, if these rights are to be implemented, that the executive or legislature would have to ignore the will of the majority to get them passed. It should be argued that this is a strong case for limiting democracy to promote human rights, but it must be pointed out that this is in fact an action which very seldom happens.

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Bork-Peril Justice

Posted on February 9, 2019 in Uncategorized

On June 6, 2007, Robert H. Bork caused to be filed a lawsuit in the Federal Court for the Southern District of New York, wherein he is the named Plaintiff, and the Yale Club of New York City is the named Defendant.

Mr. Bork’s cause of action arises out of an incident which occurred on June 6, 2006, on which date Mr. Bork was visiting the Yale Club, a private club, in New York City, to deliver a speech at a luncheon sponsored by the New Criterion Magazine. It is perhaps interesting to note that Mr. Bork, though not a Yale alum, was a professor at the Yale School of Law during the Sixties and Seventies. He is currently a Professor of Law at the Ave Maria Law School located in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It does not appear that he was on medical leave during the 2006-2007 academic year.

Mr. Bork’s complaint was not verified, but was signed by his attorneys on his behalf. Your correspondent is unfamiliar with New York legal procedure. It is unknown whether there is a one year statute of limitations on tort actions in New York, and the suit was started on the last possible day it could successfully been brought, or if the filing on the one year anniversary of Mr. Bork’s injury was merely coincidental.

While attempting to ascend the dais on the date in question, Mr. Bork lost his balance, and fell backwards, hitting his left leg on the subject dais and hitting his head on an inconveniently placed heat register. While other, lesser, non-originalist, non-textualist men may have been deterred from a further assault on the lofty height, Mr. Bork, being a trouper, was made of sterner stuff. Though he may have been bloodied, he was unbowed. He raised himself up from the shambles of his fallen self, ascended that self-same dais, and delivered his oration like a good ‘un. It is unknown whether the head injury affected the form or content of the speech. I suspect that, after his talk, and after thunderous applause, Mr. Bork descended the dais, unaided, shook the hands of many well-wishers, and left the premises. One assumes, but admittedly does not know, that Mr. Bork, as a Virginia resident, employed in Michigan, was paid some small stipend for his comments.

The members of the Yale Club may well have been distressed, if not confused to read the subsequent complaint served on the organization by Mr. Bork’s attorneys. The complaint alleges that the Yale club failed to provide a safe dais or stairs or a handrail between the dais and the floor. Also, the dais was at an unreasonable height from the floor.

Mr. Bork’s complaint contains two counts, one alleging negligence and one alleging gross negligence. The allegations of fact in both counts are exactly the same in both counts except the words “wantonly, willfully and recklessly” are substituted in Count Two for the word “negligently” in Count One.

Mr. Bork alleges a leg injury (apparently the injury to his head from the heat register resolved), causing a large hematoma, which later burst, requiring surgery. Excruciating pain resulted, which prevented him from working his “typical” schedule after the injury. He also endured months of “relative inactivity” due to his injuries, and was “largely immobile” for some months.

Medical bills were incurred, and some lost income alleged, though, as indicated, he gave his speech that day, and was not listed as “on medical leave” on the Ave Maria website.

What does the complaint indicate that Mr. Bork, the accident victim, deserves in order to make him whole for this injury, caused by the negligence and willful, wanton, and reckless conduct of the Yale Club:

1. $1,000,000, and

2. Punitive damages, and

3. Pre-and post-judgment costs, interest and attorney fees.

For those who may not know Mr. Bork, he has served as Solicitor General of the United States, acting Attorney General, and Federal Court of Appeals Judge. In 1987, he was nominated for the US Supreme Court by President Reagan. His nomination was vigorously opposed by many groups, and the Senate eventually rejected his confirmation. The word “Bork” has now become a verb and as of 2002 has appeared in the Oxford English Dictionary. The word is defined: “To destroy a judicial nominee through a concerted attack on his character, background and philosophy.” During the confirmation process, opponents went so far as to obtain Mr. Bork’s video rental records. It is some interest to note that one video rented by Mr. Bork was the Marx Brothers’ “A Day at the Races”.

So we see that even highly educated, intelligent persons with long pedigrees of public service like Mr. Bork can become victims of negligent and reckless actions by organizations and corporations.

While it appears that Mr. Bork has much in common with many other persons injured apparently through no fault of their own, we should not separate Robert Bork the victim from Robert Bork the legal scholar and philosopher, and former judge, quite yet. For while this case may be the first occasion where Mr. Bork has been a part of the legal system in the role of injured plaintiff, he has previously expressed some definite opinions on the subject.

Mr. Bork has long been an advocate of “tort reform” measures to restrict the rights of injured persons. As recently as 2002, in an article he authored in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, Mr. Bork that Congress, by legislation, displace state tort law. He admitted, however, that the framers of our Constitution did not grant Congress such power. Mr. Bork wrote:

“State tort law today is different in kind from the state tort law known to the generation of the Framers. The present tort system poses dangers to interstate commerce not unlike those faced under the Articles of Confederation. Even if Congress would not, in 1789, have had the power to displace state tort law, the nature of the problem has changed so dramatically as to bring the problem within the scope of the power granted to Congress. Accordingly, proposals, such as placing limits or caps on punitive damages, or eliminating joint or strict liability, which may once have been clearly understood as beyond Congress’s power, may now be constitutionally appropriate.”

Such a federal tort system would, Mr. Bork believes, combat the problem of frivolous claims and excessive punitive damage awards that apparently plague state courts.

Mr. Bork has long been an advocate of judicial restraint. He has criticized judges who “legislate from the bench.” Reinterpreting the US Constitution to grant Congress powers admittedly not included by the Constitution’s authors sounds like a liberal dose of judicial activism to me.

Admittedly, I know very little about the facts of Mr. Bork’s accident. If the Yale Club did not provide a means of ascending a dais and if it was a very high step and if there was no support provided, I can see how a case of negligence could be proven. No argument from me that the claim itself is frivolous. And, if Mr. Bork can prove his case, and if he incurred medical expenses, and wage loss and pain and suffering, he is entitled to reasonable compensation from the responsible parties. That seems to make common sense. But what makes this case especially interesting, is the nature of the claims a person of
Mr. Bork’s philosophy makes against the parties he holds responsible and the relief to which he claims he is entitled. It is also equally fascinating to consider what relief Mr. Bork get if his accident occurred under similar circumstances at the Detroit Athletic Club, Detroit, Michigan, the state where Mr. Bork is employed as a Professor of Law. And, coincidentally, a state where much of the indigenous judiciary has made Mr. Bork’s legal philosophy (or what they thought it was), the law of this state.

First, let’s take a closer look at Mr. Bork’s New York complaint. Quite honestly, if there is negligence here, it is because someone at the event didn’t think a step or railing to the dais was needed. Or forgot to even think whether one was necessary. Or accidentally removed on that was already there. Simple carelessness. Well, that is not quite good enough for Mr. Bork, the advocate of restraint, and the opponent of the frivolous claim. He alleges that the actions of the Yale Club were not merely negligent or careless, but willful, wanton and reckless. Maybe I misunderstood the facts. Maybe a member of the Yale Club threw him off the dais.

Anyhow, the actions of the Yale Club were so shocking the Mr. Bork does not merely want reasonable compensation ($1,000,000), but Mr. Bork wants the Yale Club to pay punitive damages, which of course he will be happy to keep for himself.

The reader might say that if the law in New York is so screwed up so as to allow people to collect such damages, why should Mr. Bork, merely because he doesn’t personally believe in such remedies, be precluded from obtaining all allows.

I would agree. It takes a man of strong character to let his personal beliefs restrain him from glomming onto all the bucks he can.

Except for this. Mr. Bork asks for punitive damages. New York law does not allow them. Mr. Bork asks for pre-judgment interest. New York law does not allow it. Mr. Bork asks for attorney fees. New York law does not allow them. Mr. Bork asks for $1,000,000 compensatory damages in his complaint. A federal complaint need only claim damages of $75,000 to invoke the jurisdiction of the court.

Now if these are the kind of remedies Mr. Bork wants included in the national tort law legislation he advocates, he might find that he has a lot more support among plaintiff attorneys than he thought.

Second, let’s move the location of Mr. Bork’s accident to the great state of Michigan, where Professor Bork helps develop the skills of future members of our state Bar.

In Michigan, the jury Mr. Bork demanded in his complaint would never hear his case. Mr. Bork would not get compensatory damages, much less punitive damages, even if the owners of the club admitted negligence. Mr. Bork could have fallen and killed himself due to the admitted negligence of any and all possible defendants, and Mr. Bork’s estate would be entitled to nothing other than possibly the bill for cleaning his blood off the dais.

Like Mr. Bork, many members of the Michigan Supreme Court are members of the Federalist Society, long-time advocates of “tort reform”. Mr. Bork’s judicial philosophy is called “Originalism.” The judicial philosophy of the Michigan Supreme Court majority is called “Textualism.” They are merely different euphemisms to label what is the worst kind of judicial activism as judicial restraint.

Well, cases decided by Mr. Bork’s adherents on the Michigan Supreme Court would make short work of Mr. Bork’s complaint. The height of a step is something Mr. Bork could see, so it was up to him to make sure he ascended it without injuring himself. The club has no duty to provide a step or railing or warning or anything else. After the fall, Mr. Bork ascended the dais without falling again, which is elegant proof that he should have done it without falling the first time.
If Mr. Bork was to argue that there was no other way to get onto the dais other than climbing an excessively high step, he would be no further ahead. Michigan cases would inform him, as his case was dismissed, that he was not required to ascend the dais at all. He could have spoken at floor level. He could have refused to speak at all, or he could have had the event cancelled and rescheduled for another day when there was a step or railing to the dais. If he had simply followed one of those three available alternate courses of action, he would not have fallen. If he hurt himself he has only himself to blame.

If Mr. Bork did not like the result of his Michigan case, he could appeal its dismissal. And some time down the road after an Appeals Court upheld the dismissal, Professor Bork might find himself using his own case to teach his Ave Maria law class the advantages of “tort reform.”

Robert Bork is a fine teacher. He teaches us a great many things by his actions in this case. First, the principles of tort reform apply to others, not to me. Secondly, frivolous suits are those brought by everyone–else. Thirdly, legal philosophy be damned–show me the money!!

May there always be men and women who will protect the common citizen from those who think them worthy of no consideration.

From the Originalists and the Textualists, Good Lord, deliver us. And, as they might say at the end of class at Ave Maria Law School—Amen.

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