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Coming to terms with precaution – On the indications and implications of a norm of precaution in international environmental law and in the law of the European Convention on Human Rights

Hellström, Julia LU (2015) LAGM01 20151
Department of Law
Abstract
Although public international law is sometimes referred to as the global legal order, its various disciplines are often considered in isolation. It is therefore interesting to investigate the relationships between the disciplines, because if they are too distant, it may be hard to claim that public international law is a single legal order. The purpose of this thesis is therefore to provide an example for future discussions on the interrelationships between public international law in general and its many disciplines, especially international environmental law and international human rights law, and on the development of general norms of public international law. To provide such an example, the thesis investigates if there is a norm of... (More)
Although public international law is sometimes referred to as the global legal order, its various disciplines are often considered in isolation. It is therefore interesting to investigate the relationships between the disciplines, because if they are too distant, it may be hard to claim that public international law is a single legal order. The purpose of this thesis is therefore to provide an example for future discussions on the interrelationships between public international law in general and its many disciplines, especially international environmental law and international human rights law, and on the development of general norms of public international law. To provide such an example, the thesis investigates if there is a norm of precaution in the law of the European Convention on Human Rights, the ECHR, similar to or the same as the precautionary principle in international environmental law. The possibility of a general norm and the importance of terminology in that context are also discussed. The aim is not to give definite answers, but to discuss the possibilities.

Initially, in section 2, the precautionary principle in international environmental law is examined through treaties, literature and case law. In short, the precautionary principle means that action to prevent environmental damage may have to be taken when there is a possible risk of such damage. For action to be required, the possible damage must not be insignificant and the measures necessary to prevent it must be proportionate. The mere fact that the existence of a risk is uncertain is not an excuse for inaction, though. The precautionary principle thus only gives rough guidelines but may be further specified by other norms to which it is applied. Its main function is to guide the interpretation of other norms in an environmentally friendly way. The precautionary principle has this effect, since the acceptance of uncertain risks as reason for action de facto means that the standard of proof is lowered and that the burden of proof may be shifted.

Section 3 is devoted to the ECHR. It is noted that the European Court of Human Rights, the ECtHR, interprets the Convention inter alia so as to make the rights effective. In the interpretation it can also take account of other rules of international law applicable between the parties. Motivated by the need for effectiveness, the Court has interpreted many rights as encompassing obligations for states to prevent individuals’ rights from being infringed by other actors than the state. Thus, a norm of precaution could exist under the ECHR to ensure effectiveness. It may or may not exist because of inspiration from the precautionary principle in international environmental law. Three categories of case law of the ECtHR are reviewed, to give examples that may indicate a norm of precaution. Hence, an inductive method is used. The three categories concern state obligations under Article 2 to protect the right to life, state obligations under Article 3 to protect people from being subjected to ill-treatment (with focus on cases concerning the removal of aliens to other states), and state obligations under Article 8 to protect the rights to private and family life etc., in situations with environmental aspects. The investigated cases do indicate that there is a norm of precaution in the ECHR regime, meaning that, if it is proportionate, states may have to take precautionary measures against a risk of a violation of a right. There are many different kinds of risks which may threaten human rights, and therefore the required level of risk varies. To speak of the uncertain existence of risks (as opposed to the uncertain realisation of risks) as in international environmental law, is less suitable here, but the Court has at least accepted very tenuous risks as sufficient to require action.

When comparing the norm of precaution in the ECHR regime with the precautionary principle in international environmental law, in section 4.1, it is argued that the norm of precaution is in fact one and the same in the two disciplines, requiring the same conditions to be met in order for precautionary measures to be necessary. What varies is the meaning of these conditions, due to the different contexts. These adaptations are accommodated within the boundaries of the necessary proportionality assessment, however. This is possible since the norm leaves great discretion to states (and/or judiciary) applying it. The requirement of proportionality means that the norm cannot regulate details but only give guidelines.

In the speculative section 4.2, the fact that the norm of precaution is common in international environmental law and the ECHR regime and that it is motivated by the need for effective protection of the relevant interests, is considered to indicate the possibility of a general norm of precaution. A common (or general) norm is not excluded by the lack of a common term, but the use of a common term could promote the further development of the common norm and perhaps even inspire its application in other disciplines of public international law as well, since common terms can draw attention to connections which may otherwise be overlooked.

Finally, it is concluded that regardless of the existence of a common norm of precaution, the investigation implies that there can be similarities between different disciplines of public international law which may not be obvious at first glance. It would be beneficial to public international law at large if such similarities were identified, since it would promote a better understanding of the true nature of public international law and its claim on being a single legal order. (Less)
Abstract (Swedish)
Fastän folkrätten ibland kallas den globala rättsordningen, betraktas dess olika discipliner ofta enskilt. Det är därför intressant att undersöka förhållandena mellan disciplinerna, eftersom det är svårt att hävda att folkrätten är ett enskilt rättsområde om de är alltför avlägsna varandra. Syftet med detta examensarbete är därför att ge ett exempel som grund för framtida diskussioner om de inbördes förhållandena mellan folkrätten i allmänhet och dess många discipliner, särskilt internationell miljörätt och internationella mänskliga rättigheter, och om utvecklingen av allmänna folkrättsliga normer. För att tillhandahålla ett sådant exempel undersöks i detta examensarbete huruvida det finns en försiktighetsnorm under den europeiska... (More)
Fastän folkrätten ibland kallas den globala rättsordningen, betraktas dess olika discipliner ofta enskilt. Det är därför intressant att undersöka förhållandena mellan disciplinerna, eftersom det är svårt att hävda att folkrätten är ett enskilt rättsområde om de är alltför avlägsna varandra. Syftet med detta examensarbete är därför att ge ett exempel som grund för framtida diskussioner om de inbördes förhållandena mellan folkrätten i allmänhet och dess många discipliner, särskilt internationell miljörätt och internationella mänskliga rättigheter, och om utvecklingen av allmänna folkrättsliga normer. För att tillhandahålla ett sådant exempel undersöks i detta examensarbete huruvida det finns en försiktighetsnorm under den europeiska konventionen om skydd för de mänskliga rättigheterna, EKMR, som liknar eller är densamma som försiktighetsprincipen i internationell miljörätt. Den möjliga existensen av en allmän norm och betydelsen av terminologin i det sammanhanget diskuteras också. Avsikten är inte att ge definitiva svar, utan att diskutera möjligheterna.

Inledningsvis, i avsnitt 2, undersöks försiktighetsprincipen i internationell miljörätt utifrån traktater, litteratur och rättspraxis. I korthet innebär försiktighetsprincipen att åtgärder för att förhindra en miljöskada kan behöva vidtas när det finns en möjlig risk för sådan skada. För att handling ska krävas, får inte den potentiella skadan vara försumbar och åtgärderna som behövs för att förhindra den måste vara proportionella. Endast det faktum att existensen av en risk är osäker är dock ingen ursäkt för passivitet. Försiktighetsprincipen ger således bara ungefärliga riktlinjer men kan specificeras av de andra normer som den tillämpas på. Dess huvudsakliga funktion är nämligen att vägleda tolkningen av andra normer i miljövänlig riktning. Försiktighetsprincipen har denna effekt, eftersom det faktum att osäkra risker accepteras som skäl för handling de facto innebär att beviskravet sänks och att bevisbördan kan växla.

Avsnitt 3 ägnas åt EKMR. Det noteras att Europadomstolen för mänskliga rättigheter tolkar konventionen bland annat så att rättigheterna ska bli effektiva. Den kan vid tolkningen också beakta andra folkrättsliga regler som är tillämpliga mellan parterna. Motiverad av effektivitetskravet har domstolen tolkat många rättigheter som att de medför skyldigheter för stater att förhindra att individers rättigheter kränks av andra aktörer än staten. Således skulle en försiktighetsnorm kunna finnas under EKMR för att just garantera effektiviteten. En sådan norm kan existera på grund av, eller oberoende av, inspiration från försiktighetsprincipen i internationell miljörätt. Tre kategorier av rättsfall från Europadomstolen undersöks för att ge exempel som kan indikera existensen av en försiktighetsnorm. Följaktligen är det en induktiv metod som används. De tre kategorierna rör statliga förpliktelser att skydda rätten till liv under artikel 2, statliga förpliktelser under artikel 3 beträffande skydd av individer från att utsättas för omänsklig behandling m.m. (med fokus på fall som rör förflyttandet av utlänningar till andra stater) samt statliga förpliktelser att skydda rätten till privat- och familjeliv under artikel 8, i situationer med miljömässiga aspekter. De fall som undersöks antyder att det finns en försiktighetsnorm i EKMR-systemet som innebär att stater kan vara tvungna att vidta försiktighetsåtgärder gentemot en risk för en kränkning av en rättighet, om sådana åtgärder skulle vara proportionerliga. Det finns många olika typer av risker som kan hota mänskliga rättigheter och därför varierar nivån på den risk som krävs. Att tala om risker vars existens är osäker (till skillnad från risker vars realisering är osäker) såsom inom internationell miljörätt, är mindre lämpligt här, men domstolen har åtminstone accepterat väldigt svaga risker såsom tillräckliga för att kräva handling.

Vid jämförandet av försiktighetsnormen i EKMR-systemet med försiktighetsprincipen i internationell miljörätt, i avsnitt 4.1, argumenteras det för att försiktighetsnormen i själva verket är densamma i de båda disciplinerna och att den förutsätter uppfyllandet av samma villkor för att försiktighetsåtgärder ska krävas. Det som varierar är betydelsen av dessa villkor, beroende på de skilda sammanhangen. Dessa anpassningar ryms dock inom ramen för den proportionalitetsbedömning som måste göras. Detta är möjligt eftersom normen ger stort utrymme för diskretionära bedömningar av stater och rättstillämpare som tillämpar den. Proportionalitetskravet innebär att normen inte kan reglera detaljer, utan bara ge riktlinjer.

I det mer spekulativa avsnittet 4.2, anses det vara en indikation på att en allmän försiktighetsnorm är möjlig, att försiktighetsnormen är gemensam i internationell miljörätt och inom EKMR-regimen och att den motiveras av behovet av effektivt skydd av de aktuella intressena. En gemensam (eller allmän) norm utesluts inte av avsaknaden av en gemensam term, men användandet av en gemensam term skulle kunna främja den vidare utvecklingen av den gemensamma normen och kanske också inspirera till en tillämpning av normen även i andra folkrättsliga discipliner, eftersom gemensamma termer kan dra uppmärksamheten till kopplingar som annars kan förbises.

Slutligen konstateras att oaktat existensen av en gemensam försiktighetsnorm, så antyder utredningen att det kan finnas likheter mellan de olika folkrättsliga disciplinerna som kanske inte är uppenbara vid första anblick. Det skulle vara fördelaktigt för folkrätten i stort om sådana likheter identifierades, eftersom det skulle främja en bättre förståelse av folkrättens sanna natur och dess anspråk på att vara en enda rättsordning. (Less)
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author
Hellström, Julia LU
supervisor
organization
course
LAGM01 20151
year
type
H3 - Professional qualifications (4 Years - )
subject
keywords
folkrätt, public international law, internationell miljörätt, international environmental law, mänskliga rättigheter, international human rights law, försiktighetsprincipen, the principle of precaution
language
English
id
5431425
date added to LUP
2015-06-16 17:02:20
date last changed
2015-06-16 17:02:20
@misc{5431425,
  abstract     = {Although public international law is sometimes referred to as the global legal order, its various disciplines are often considered in isolation. It is therefore interesting to investigate the relationships between the disciplines, because if they are too distant, it may be hard to claim that public international law is a single legal order. The purpose of this thesis is therefore to provide an example for future discussions on the interrelationships between public international law in general and its many disciplines, especially international environmental law and international human rights law, and on the development of general norms of public international law. To provide such an example, the thesis investigates if there is a norm of precaution in the law of the European Convention on Human Rights, the ECHR, similar to or the same as the precautionary principle in international environmental law. The possibility of a general norm and the importance of terminology in that context are also discussed. The aim is not to give definite answers, but to discuss the possibilities.

Initially, in section 2, the precautionary principle in international environmental law is examined through treaties, literature and case law. In short, the precautionary principle means that action to prevent environmental damage may have to be taken when there is a possible risk of such damage. For action to be required, the possible damage must not be insignificant and the measures necessary to prevent it must be proportionate. The mere fact that the existence of a risk is uncertain is not an excuse for inaction, though. The precautionary principle thus only gives rough guidelines but may be further specified by other norms to which it is applied. Its main function is to guide the interpretation of other norms in an environmentally friendly way. The precautionary principle has this effect, since the acceptance of uncertain risks as reason for action de facto means that the standard of proof is lowered and that the burden of proof may be shifted.

Section 3 is devoted to the ECHR. It is noted that the European Court of Human Rights, the ECtHR, interprets the Convention inter alia so as to make the rights effective. In the interpretation it can also take account of other rules of international law applicable between the parties. Motivated by the need for effectiveness, the Court has interpreted many rights as encompassing obligations for states to prevent individuals’ rights from being infringed by other actors than the state. Thus, a norm of precaution could exist under the ECHR to ensure effectiveness. It may or may not exist because of inspiration from the precautionary principle in international environmental law. Three categories of case law of the ECtHR are reviewed, to give examples that may indicate a norm of precaution. Hence, an inductive method is used. The three categories concern state obligations under Article 2 to protect the right to life, state obligations under Article 3 to protect people from being subjected to ill-treatment (with focus on cases concerning the removal of aliens to other states), and state obligations under Article 8 to protect the rights to private and family life etc., in situations with environmental aspects. The investigated cases do indicate that there is a norm of precaution in the ECHR regime, meaning that, if it is proportionate, states may have to take precautionary measures against a risk of a violation of a right. There are many different kinds of risks which may threaten human rights, and therefore the required level of risk varies. To speak of the uncertain existence of risks (as opposed to the uncertain realisation of risks) as in international environmental law, is less suitable here, but the Court has at least accepted very tenuous risks as sufficient to require action.

When comparing the norm of precaution in the ECHR regime with the precautionary principle in international environmental law, in section 4.1, it is argued that the norm of precaution is in fact one and the same in the two disciplines, requiring the same conditions to be met in order for precautionary measures to be necessary. What varies is the meaning of these conditions, due to the different contexts. These adaptations are accommodated within the boundaries of the necessary proportionality assessment, however. This is possible since the norm leaves great discretion to states (and/or judiciary) applying it. The requirement of proportionality means that the norm cannot regulate details but only give guidelines.

In the speculative section 4.2, the fact that the norm of precaution is common in international environmental law and the ECHR regime and that it is motivated by the need for effective protection of the relevant interests, is considered to indicate the possibility of a general norm of precaution. A common (or general) norm is not excluded by the lack of a common term, but the use of a common term could promote the further development of the common norm and perhaps even inspire its application in other disciplines of public international law as well, since common terms can draw attention to connections which may otherwise be overlooked.

Finally, it is concluded that regardless of the existence of a common norm of precaution, the investigation implies that there can be similarities between different disciplines of public international law which may not be obvious at first glance. It would be beneficial to public international law at large if such similarities were identified, since it would promote a better understanding of the true nature of public international law and its claim on being a single legal order.},
  author       = {Hellström, Julia},
  keyword      = {folkrätt,public international law,internationell miljörätt,international environmental law,mänskliga rättigheter,international human rights law,försiktighetsprincipen,the principle of precaution},
  language     = {eng},
  note         = {Student Paper},
  title        = {Coming to terms with precaution – On the indications and implications of a norm of precaution in international environmental law and in the law of the European Convention on Human Rights},
  year         = {2015},
}