Future Generations as Subjects of Human Rights

On July 2023, the Maastricht Principles on the Human Rights of Future Generations were published; this soft law instrument establishes that Human Rights are not subject to time limits and, therefore, are applicable in their entirety to future generations.

The Maastricht Principles are the outcome of a process of nearly six years of research, dialogue and collective brainstorming. After being adopted by a group of experts and committed individuals, these principles have already been endorsed by professionals from the field of human rights in all regions of the world, including representatives of international human rights treaty bodies, regional human rights bodies and Special Rapporteurs of the United Nations Human Rights Council.    

The Maastricht Principles seek to clarify the current state of international law as it applies to the human rights of future generations, as “those that do not yet exist but will exist and who will inherit the Earth”.  They provide guidance for decision-makers on how the rights of future generations can be effectively incorporated in legislation and policies, in the framework of a continuously evolving human rights law. The ultimate aims of the Principles is for the decision-makers to consider and ensure both justice and sustainability across an array of timescales including the present, near term and distant future. 

Special mention should be given to the central importance of intergenerational justice in the development of these principles, which stresses intergenerational obligations, duties and trusteeship. Along with the recognition of the unique position that children and young people hold, as they are closest in time to the generations still to come. The right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment is rightly a core aspect of the protection of the Human Rights of future generations, as argued in the recent UN General Comment No. 26 on Children's Rights (see note of the Ararteko).

This initiative builds on expert legal opinions adopted in Maastricht, which have contributed to the transforming of the international legal framework, including the Limburg Principles on the Implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1986); the Maastricht Guidelines on Violations of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1997); and the Maastricht Principles on Extraterritorial Obligations of States in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (2011) and the accompanying commentary.