Professor John Knox to present findings to U.N. Human Rights Council on Monday, March 10

Photo of Wake Forest Law Professor John Knox

Professor John Knox, United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur for Human Rights and the Environment

Professor John Knox, U.N. Independent Expert on Human Rights and the Environment, will present his annual report to the U.N. Human Rights Council on Monday, March 10.

The report, which is based on an extensive survey of sources in international law, concludes that environmental harm can adversely affect the ability to enjoy human rights, including rights to life, health, and property.  To protect human rights from this harm, States are therefore required to assess environmental impacts on human rights and to make environmental information public, to facilitate participation in environmental decision-making, and to provide access to remedies. They are also required to adopt legal and institutional frameworks that protect against environmental harm that interferes with the enjoyment of human rights, including harm caused by corporations.  States have some discretion to strike a balance between environmental protection and other legitimate societal interests, but the balance cannot be unreasonable, or result in unjustified, foreseeable infringements of human rights. Nor can States discriminate against minorities in the application of environmental laws.

Although the standards are still evolving in this area of the law, Knox will emphasize that the existing standards are already clear enough to provide guidance to States and all those interested in promoting and protecting human rights and environmental protection. His main recommendation is that States and others take these human rights obligations into account in the development and implementation of their environmental policies.

The Human Rights Council, which is the principal U.N. human rights body, appointed Knox in 2012 to a three-year mandate to clarify the relationship of human rights principles and environmental protection.  The report to the Council is supported by 14 individual reports, each of which describes statements by a particular source, or set of sources, including U.N. human rights treaty bodies, the Human Rights Council and its special rapporteurs, regional human rights systems, and international environmental instruments.  The reports will be available on

Knox, the Henry C. Lauerman Professor of International Law, is an internationally recognized expert on human rights law and international environmental law.  His recent scholarship addresses a wide variety of issues, including the human rights obligations of corporations, the application of human rights law to climate change, citizen suits in international environmental law, and the extraterritorial application of U.S. law.  Between 1999 and 2005, he chaired a national advisory committee to EPA on the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation, the first regional environmental organization in North America. After graduating from Stanford Law School and clerking for Judge Joseph T. Sneed of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, Knox served as an attorney-adviser at the Department of State from 1988 to 1994. He spent four years in private practice in Austin, Texas, and taught at Penn State University for eight years before joining Wake Forest in 2006.