The fundamental human rights are the rights which individuals hold simply by reason of their being human regardless of status, position, colour, sex and age. Kayode Eso (JSC as he then was) stated that human rights are:
It is a right which stands above the ordinary laws of the lands and which is an antecedent to the political society itself. It is primary condition to a civilized existence and what has been done by our constitution since independence is to have these rights enshrined in the constitution so that the rights could be immutable to the extent of the non-immutability of the constitution itself.
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Fundamental human rights are unquestionably universal in nature. Widespread recognition has been accorded to these three species of rights as fundamental human rights and they have been protected by international and domestic instruments such that their violations attract sanctions, imprisonment and compensations. However, in reality the question as to this applicability of legal breach leaves more room to be desired. Actually, there were no enforcement mechanisms in the provision of this treatise until 1976.
On closer look, it can be vividly seen that the provisions under these three species of human rights contain sprinkled fragments of environmental rights, which ought not to be. For instance, the rights to a healthy environment enshrined under the group right the “should be” in Environmental Right.
Therefore, there should be an extraction of all environmental rights contained in these three species of rights should be joined with all other rights relating to the environment evolving into environmental right. Environmental right should be accorded recognition and status on the same platform as all other recognized species.
Civil and political rights underpin the enjoyment of freedoms that are crucial in any democratic society. While natural resources can support a better quality of life, civil and political rights guarantee both substantive and procedural freedoms without which all other rights cannot be enforced. A further important dimension is that the rule of law is necessary for any rights to be enforced and enjoyed.
A failure to manage political governance properly often results in chaos and creates second government that are perpetually in conflict with the ruling governments, creating good conditions for wanton destruction of the environment. It is an understatement that environmental rights can only be respected, protected and fulfilled in a free society ruled by law and not man.
More often than not, the rule of law is easily promoted where civil and political rights are respected. Environmental rights will be difficult to implement and protect in an environment where there is no freedom of association, assembly, e.t.c.
The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Commission) has begin to recognize that environmental rights are embedded in other human rights, including the rights to life, health and property, all of which are protected under the African charter on Human and peoples’ Rights.
In its 2001 decision in Social and Economic Rights action centre (SERAC) V Nigeria, the African Commission ruled that Nigeria’s participation in and failure to put on end to, the environmental devastation of Ogoniland in the form of oil spills and water contamination violated the Ogoni People’s right to life, health and property in addition to other rights.