Malaysian Perspective: Environmental Justice are Human Rights

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Human rights are the basic rights and freedoms that belong to every person in the world, from birth until death. They apply regardless of where you are from, what you believe or how you choose to live your life. These basic rights are based on shared values like dignity, fairness, equality, respect and independence.

Justice RS Pathak gives the following distinguishing features of these rights:
(1) Human rights are general rights, in that they pertain to all human beings as such, and while understanding of them may vary from region to region and from culture to culture, the concept of human rights remains universal;
(2) Human rights are more basic or fundamental than other rights;
(3) Human rights hold pre-eminent position in comparison with other rights. The rights to life, the right to equality and the right to freedom of expression are some of the human rights that are of primary significance to the human personality and, therefore, hold a superior place in the human rights hierarchy. They represent immutability of human values and the essential spirit of human civilization; and
(4) Human rights are inalienable. In spite of the fact that states have devised certain reasonable restrictions to restrict or suspend certain human rights on certain political or economic situations, there will always be a minimum of human rights that cannot be alienated if the human personality is to retain its essential character.

There is no explicit right to a healthful environment stipulated in the Federal Constitution of Malaysia . However, this right is governed and falls within the ambit of Article 5 of the Federal Constitution of Malaysia , which guarantees right to life and liberty. The said provision implicitly recognizes the right to a healthful environment. However, there is no explicit right to a healthful environment stipulated in Constitution.

However, a soft view was taken by Abdoolcader J in Tan Sri Haji Othman Saat v Mohammad bin Ismail [1982] 2 MLJ 97, whereby he ruled that : ‘A private individual may sue for a declaration if he has a cause of action in common law or to protect a statutory right, or if he suffers or will suffer special damages as a result of the defendant’s action’. However in 1988, the Supreme Court took a strict view and ruled for strict adherence to locus standi. The Court rulings can be extracted in the case United Engineers (M) Bhd v Lim Kit Siang [1988] 2 MLJ 12 whereby
The court held that the respondent, an MP and the leader of the opposition, had no locus standi to challenge the validity of an award of tender to UEM by the government. He had no locus either as a politician, or a road and highway user or a tax payer to bring the action as his private rghts as a citizen were not affected over and above that of an ordinary road user.

In conclusion, the right to a healthful environment has been enforced by giving extended meanings to the right to life.



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