Achieving Justice in Global Environmental Protection

Document Type : Original Articles


Faculty of Law and UNESCO Chair for Human Rights,Peace and Democracy, University of Shahid Beheshti, Tehran, Iran.


This article is primarily concerned with the question of how far environmental justice is being and can be achieved within the international legal system. Justice has been conceived since ancient times as comprising not only norms, rules and the institutions by which these are implemented, but also the fundamental principles of fairness and equity both in the implementation of rules (so that one group in society is not unfairly advantaged or disadvantaged) as well as in the rules themselves. Hence, ensuring international environmental justice is not simply a matter of developing and implementing effective standards for the regulation of activities that damage the environment and other means of environmental protection and conservation. It is also important to recognise that the implementation of rules of law may not in itself represent a just outcome and that considerations of equity and fairness then come into play as, for example, in the discretion given to the International Court of Justice under its Statute to decide cases ex aequo et bono. Nationally, governments should seek to ensure that not only do the laws and rules governing the protection of the environment and related matters deal with these questions in a manner that ensures justice equally for all members of society (as far as this is possible) but also that their implementation is fair. On the international level, it is vital that the asymmetry of economic and political power that is the reality of the international community is not expressed as serious injustice with relation to access to, exploitation or enjoyment of environmental resources. As an illustrative case, the question of biopiracy of traditional botanical knowledge is considered. This case demonstrates that the existing intellectual property and international trade rules unfairly advantage large corporations over local and indigenous communities and that the system established within the framework of the World Trade Organization and its main Agreements has exacerbated this imbalance of interests.