Whether the right to a healthy environment should be considered as part of human rights or included in another category of rights has long been a topic of heated discussions. This theoretical debate, I think, has a number of eye-opening and practical outcomes. Before moving into this debate, let us start with the question, What is a human right? Actually, although it is one of the most popular concepts of our time, its definition is very rarely found. Still, we can define it briefly and simply as follows: human rights are inalienable and indispensable rights that people have at birth. As you can see, there are three factors involved in this definition, and these are the very factors that will show us the importance of treating the right to a clean environment as part of human rights. The innate nature of human rights underlines that we dont have to do anything in order to have human rights as we automatically acquire them when we are born. Their inalienable nature signifies that we cannot transfer these rights to another person or institution while their indispensability indicates that we cannot waive them even if we want to. For instance, you cannot say, I hereby waive my right to be free from torture, or I hereby transfer this right of mine to another person. More precisely, as this is your fundamental human right, the legal system will step in to punish those who deprive you of this right even if you do not ask it to do so. Overlapping areas Since the 1960s, scholars has been voicing arguments that suggest that the right to live in a healthy environment is a fundamental human right, and today, this is widely accepted. I have no intention of delving into the ins and outs of the relevant international documents and supra-national institutions decisions and debates the technical aspects of the matter demand space for another article. However, if you like, we may have a birds eye view of how the right to a clean environment overlaps with human rights in many aspects. Actually, both categories impart a limitation of the states sovereignty in the sense that environmental and human rights represent a sphere where the states negative obligations start. By negative obligations, I refer to the states responsibilities not to touch, breach or interfere. That is, the state has a responsibility to not violate human rights or harm the environment. Thus, these negative responsibilities restrict the states sovereignty. There are also three overlapping areas for human rights and the right to a clean environment: The right to live in a healthy environment is a sine qua non part of the right to life, which is a basic human right. Thus, if you breathe in poison in the place where you live, then not only your right to a clean environment but also the right to life is under threat. Like discrimination and racism, any damage to the environment may tickle the nerve ends of human rights. Indeed, environmental degradation victimizes disadvantaged groups most of the time. In addition, the right of access to information, the right of access to justice and the right to participate in the political decision-making process are vital in terms of protection of the environment. Without efficiently using these rights, you cannot effectively protect the environment. Above, I have listed the factors of human rights. Now, when we say that the right to a healthy environment is a human right, we also say the following with reference to these factors: A clean environment is a fundamental inalienable and indispensable right people have by birth. Moreover, by accepting the right to a healthy environment as a human right, we lend to it the stronger armor of human rights that go beyond normal legal norms and are hard to be restricted, therefore providing greater protection. I have also mentioned negative responsibilities not touching or intervening. However, human rights currently have turned into positive responsibilities for states. That is, the evolution of human rights and law has been urging states to move from the point of refraining from restricting human rights to a point where they take measures and develop strategies and policies to ensure that individuals can actively enjoy human rights. Thus, extrapolating the contemporary human rights discourse to the right to a clean environment, we can say that the states are now bound not only with the responsibility to avoid doing any harm to the environment or preventing thirds parties from doing so, but also with responsibilities to take extra steps to ensure that individuals can enjoy their right to live in a healthy environment. Again, by treating the right to a clean environment as a human right, we place it into the protection zone afforded by the international human rights law. As a matter of fact, this evolution continues in this way. For instance, you cannot find a provision about the protection of the environment in the European Convention on Human Rights. However, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) had construed the convention so as to bring the environment into the area of protection of human rights. The European court tends to interpret the right to life and the right to protection of private life as imparting the right to a clean environment. This good-intentioned approach to place the environment into the axis of human rights has influenced other views that treat it as an independent right, creating a hotbed for them, so to speak. In short, today, the right to a healthy environment is indisputably accepted as a basic human right. Other practical results Now, let us do some mental exercises about the practical implications of the overlap between human rights and the right to a clean environment. In fact, the above-mentioned developments also bring some risks that can be overcome with awareness in practice and can even be translated into advantages. Will a definition of the right to a healthy environment as a human right make the struggle for the environment inconsequential? Only plain logic lacking any sophistication can take us to such a point. I think the reverse is true. Seeing the right to a clean environment as a human right and realizing its importance in the protection of various human rights may help us develop some never-before-imagined approaches to environmental protection. The recognition of the mutual transitivity and interdependence between environment and human rights will not only ensure cooperation between human rights advocates and environment proponents, but also may lead to the emergence of new paradigms for producing effective solutions to the problems of the 21st century. Todays Zaman, Turkey