Framework Principles of Human Rights and the Environment

framework principles on human rights and the environment

Framework Principles on Human Rights and the Environment

by Professor John Knox, published in 2018

These Framework Principles on Human Rights and the Environment [...] set out the basic obligations of States under human rights law as they relate to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment.

Each Principle has a commentary that elaborates on it and clarifies its meaning. Many of the obligations described by the Framework Principles and commentary are based directly on treaties or binding decisions from human rights tribunals, while others draw on statements of human rights bodies that have the authority to interpret human rights law but not necessarily to issue binding decisions.

While not all States have formally accepted all of these norms, the coherence of the interpretations of human rights bodies is strong evidence of the converging trends towards greater uniformity and certainty in the application of human rights law to the environment.

These trends are further supported by State practice, including in international environmental instruments and before human rights bodies. As a result, the Framework Principles should be accepted as a reflection of actual or emerging international human rights law.


  1. Framework principle 1 - States should ensure a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment in order to respect, protect and fulfil human rights.
  2. Framework principle 2 - States should respect, protect and fulfil human rights in order to ensure a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment.
  3. Framework principle 3 - States should prohibit discrimination and ensure equal and effective protection against discrimination in relation to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment.
  4. Framework principle 4 - States should provide a safe and enabling environment in which individuals, groups and organs of society that work on human rights or environmental issues can operate free from threats, harassment, intimidation and violence.
  5. Framework principle 5 - States should respect and protect the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly in relation to environmental matters.
  6. Framework principle 6 - States should provide for education and public awareness on environmental matters.
  7. Framework principle 7 - States should provide public access to environmental information by collecting and disseminating information and by providing affordable, effective and timely access to information to any person upon request.
  8. Framework principle 8 - To avoid undertaking or authorizing actions with environmental impacts that interfere with the full enjoyment of human rights, States should require the prior assessment of the possible environmental impacts of proposed projects and policies, including their potential effects on the enjoyment of human rights.
  9. Framework principle 9 - States should provide for and facilitate public participation in decision-making related to the environment, and take the views of the public into account in the decision-making process.
  10. Framework principle 10 - States should provide for access to effective remedies for violations of human rights and domestic laws relating to the environment.
  11. Framework principle 11 - States should establish and maintain substantive environmental standards that are non-discriminatory, non-retrogressive and otherwise respect, protect and fulfil human rights.
  12. Framework principle 12 - States should ensure the effective enforcement of their environmental standards against public and private actors.
  13. Framework principle 13 - States should cooperate with each other to establish, maintain and enforce effective international legal frameworks in order to prevent, reduce and remedy transboundary and global environmental harm that interferes with the full enjoyment of human rights.
  14. Framework principle 14 - States should take additional measures to protect the rights of those who are most vulnerable to, or at particular risk from, environmental harm, taking into account their needs, risks and capacities.
  15. Framework principle 15 - States should ensure that they comply with their obligations to indigenous peoples and members of traditional communities, including by:
    1. Recognizing and protecting their rights to the lands, territories and resources that they have traditionally owned, occupied or used;
    2. Consulting with them and obtaining their free, prior and informed consent before relocating them or taking or approving any other measures that may affect their lands, territories or resources;
    3. Respecting and protecting their traditional knowledge and practices in relation to the conservation and sustainable use of their lands, territories and resources;
    4. Ensuring that they fairly and equitably share the benefits from activities relating to their lands, territories or resources.
  16. Framework principle 16 - States should respect, protect and fulfil human rights in the actions they take to address environmental challenges and pursue sustainable development.