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Part III Introduction

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After considering democracy in Part I, and other alternative forms of Indigenous governance in Part II, Part III turns to civil society, the possible conflicts between the human rights of individuals and legal entities, and the responsibility engendered by the novel and increasingly destructive powers of humankind. The question of responsibility is the main focus of Prue Taylor's analysis, based on the work of Hans Jonas, but attempting a reconciliation between that work and the existing legal context. Yet Taylor acknowledges that, despite the wealth of “alternative ethics” proposed by many environmental scholars, the legal framework lags far behind.

The disconnect between morality and law is only one of the problems that surface as Taylor considers the interface between environmental responsibility and entrenched property rights. The protection of the “collective good” might work best in states with a favorable written constitution that might encourage the internalizing of environmental protection. Yet it takes a unique soft law instrument like the Earth Charter to incorporate and clarify the “substantive concept of responsibility” in international law.

In contrast, Valentina Vadi considers existing investors’ rights as protected by investment treaties, most of which ignore or treat as secondary the responsibility to maintain environmental health. States have an obligation to respect people's health, hence to protect citizens from “health infringements” and provide them with a safe environment. Although the case law does not trace this obligation “to fulfil environmental health” explicitly, the rights to life and to family life, often cited in these cases, connect with environmental health, at least implicitly.

Nevertheless many trade treaties, including NAFTA and other arbitral tribunals, tend to act to “balance” the public interest and corporate rights in favour of the latter, so that the interests of investors, rather than environmental health concerns, reflect the final disposition of most cases.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2010

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  • Democracy, Ecological Integrity and International Law
    Democracy, Ecological Integrity and International Law is the latest product of research by the Global Ecological Integrity Group (, an organisation that has been meeting annually since 1992 to discuss scientific, philosophical, political and legal aspects of ecological integrity. This collection examines various aspects of governance from the standpoint of integrity: from democracy, to forms of Native governance, from globalization and neocolonialism to specific human rights to food, water and climate.
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