LAWASIA Conference: Legal Luminaries From Asian Countries Discuss Human Rights In Context Of Business And Climate Change
The 1st LAWASIA Human Rights Conference saw discussions on human rights in context of business as well as climate change and water conflicts, during its seventh and eighth sessions on February 10.
Session seven: Business and human rights
This session built on deliberations at the 31st LAWASIA Conference held at Siem Reap, Cambodia in November 2018. As the Chair, Additional Solicitor General of India Dr. Pinky Anand began with an overview of the relationship between human rights and businesses. She then flagged the human rights violations that commonly arise in the context of businesses, including environmental health, forced labour and child labour, limits to freedom of expression and association and sexual abuse at the workplace.
Dr. Anand also briefly touched upon the international instruments and standards governing these abuses, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the ILO. She concluded on the note that higher standards of compliance with human rights had become an inalienable part of the success of the business, and that businesses today aim to have higher standards of employee and customer satisfaction, in addition to their profit-making goals.
Prof. Matthew Baird, Deputy Chair of LAWASIA Environmental Law Section, as an environmental lawyer from Australia, began by painting a bleak picture of Asia's coming ecological crisis, drawing on a WWF report that found that we're facing the sixth mass extinction today, with 60% of species having died, 50% of our coral reefs gone, plastics found in 90% of 186 species studied, and almost 80% of insects lost, due to chemicals.
He then discussed the LAWASIA Guidance Role and Toolkit for lawyers and law firms, meant to answer the question— what is our obligation as lawyers? He asserted that lawyers have both legal and ethical obligations to the court, clients, and to systems of justice, and also towards the planet.
Prof. Mo Jihong from the Institute of International Law, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, spoke on the theme "From Environmental Rights to Ecological Rights", while Mr. Edmund Bon Tai Soon, AmerBon Advocates, Malaysia presented on "Business and Human Rights: Impact and Opportunities".
Dr. Peter Bacon, Woodlots and Wetlands Pty Ltd, from Australia spoke on "Human Rights and Environmental Values". He concluded by posing a question- how does one balance the demands of business - almost 40% of India's copper comes from this plant - with those of the environment? He added that this was a classic case of business versus human rights, and that there was no easy solution to the intractable problems that arise when the rights of the environment are pitted against the "larger public interest".
Senior Advocate Chander Uday Singh focused on the ongoing conflict between Tuticorin residents and, Vedanta's copper Smelter Plant.
Session eight: Climate change, water conflicts and human rights
Supreme Court judge, Justice Deepak Gupta, who chaired the session, began with an overview of the catastrophic impacts of climate change and in particular its impact on human rights. He then asserted that poorer countries have the most to lose out of rising temperatures, as they are in hotter and coastal regions, and claimed that if global temperature rises by even 2 degrees, it will lead to climate refugees from low-lying coastal areas, and will place 100 to 400 million people at the risk of starvation.
Senior Advocate Mr. Akram Sheikh presented a paper on "Climate Change, Water Conflict and Human Rights". According to him, three questions need to be resolved: how the rights and responsibilities of the developing and the developed world can be balanced, how geo-engineering schemes can be balanced, and how the needs of future generations can be assessed and met.
Dr. Armin Rosencranz, Jindal Global University focused on the catastrophic impacts of climate change, including deglaciation. He began by pointing out that global warming is a misnomer for climate change but the term "climate change" is important, and we will see more extreme weather events like hurricanes, typhoons and warmer surface temperatures. He concluded by pointing to young people who are bringing climate litigation and environment cases on the grounds of intergenerational equity, including a case from Oregon.
Mr. Phil Duncan, Macquarie University, focused on the importance of foregrounding the voices of aboriginal persons in the water debate, following the principle of, as he put it, "nothing about us without us."
Mr. Hubert Algie, Kellehers Australia asserted that climate change affects everyone unlike other human rights issues and thus requires us to shift our mindsets from a "zero sum," to a "creation of value" approach.
Ms. Shibani Ghosh, from the Centre for Policy Research, gave a brilliant account of climate change litigation in India. She ended by exhorting the lawyers present to meet their ethical and moral obligations to use climate change litigation and enforce the outcomes.
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