Conference: Human Rights and Sustainability

What are the intersections of human rights and sustainability, and how do the two agendas meet? This three-day conference aims to develop critical and reflective thinking on sustainability and its linkages to human rights.

Illustration photo. Compilation of numerous small symbols representing different aspects of sustainable development.

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The conference will focus on the impact of human rights on sustainability discourses, including how it interacts with the SDGs, national planning for sustainability, and the place of sustainability in human rights litigation.

Sustainability and sustainable development have been referred to directly or implicitly by different courts and dispute settlement bodies, including in the context of human rights protection. Examples include the United Nations Human Rights Committee in Lubicon Lake Band v. Canada, the Yanomani Indians and Ogoniland cases of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, as well as the recent Fosen case in Norway. 

Human Rights and sustainability as an evolving and justiciable concept

The links between human rights and sustainability lend credence to the idea that the concept of sustainability is evolving. The term sustainability has changed conceptually since its origins in the “conservation and preservation movements of the nineteenth century and the environmental movement of the twentieth century” (Thiele, 2013).

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of 2015 paved the way for the triple focus of sustainability on "people, planet and prosperity". Today, sustainability is often used as a strategy to face the biggest challenges of our time, including environmental degradation, climate change, COVID, poverty and inequality, and the impact of business on human rights.  

Continuing evolution

Yet the evolution of the concept of sustainability continues. In theory, proponents of sustainability recognize that "[t]he so-called three pillars of sustainable development are hierarchically equal" (Bantekas & Oette, 2020), and agree on its link to resource management to avoid depletion for future generations. However, the content and focus vary on how and where it is applied. While some actors use sustainability to denote a "business-as-usual" approach to sustained growth, others emphasize the social and human rights dimensions. Yet others use the inherent limitations of the planet's carrying capacity as the framework for operationalizing sustainability. 

This conference aims to develop critical and reflective thinking on sustainability and its linkages to human rights, relating to its evolution, implementation, justiciability, and the political power dynamics of different actors (including in civic spaces).

Poster with speakers for the event; Bård Andreassen, Sumudu Atapattu, Anne Hellum, Surya Deva, Wouter Vandenhole, Jemima Garcia-Todos.

Conference program

Wednesday, 8 June 2022

13:00-14:15: Opening ceremony

  1. Welcoming remarks. Bård A. Andreassen, Director of Norwegian Centre for Human Rights/Coordinator of Research Group on Human Rights and Sustainable Development
  2. Keynote (public lecture): "Utopic or Dystopic Future of Sustainability." Sumudu AttapatuProfessor, Senior Lecturer and Director of Research Centers at the University of Wisconsin Law School.
  3. Q & A

14:15-14:30: Coffee break

14:30-16:20: Panel discussion. "The Balancing Act of Sustainable Development".


  • Surya Deva, Professor at the Macquarie Law School, Member of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights (2016-22)
  • Wouter Vandenhole, Holder of the human rights chair at the Law Faculty of the University of Antwerp
  • Jemima Garcia-Godos, Associate Professor in Human Geography, University of Oslo
  • Moderated by Anne Hellum, Professor of Law, UiO.
  • Concluding remarks by Bård A. Andreassen, NCHR.

17:00-20:00: Dinner at Festningen (for invitees only)

Thursday, 9 June 2022

09:00-10:30: Session I, The Concept of Sustainability I


  1. Dejo Olowu, Professor (Public Law & Legal Philosophy), Walter Sisulu University. 
    "Sustainability and Its Polycentric Quandary: Lessons and Implications for a Human Rights-Based Approach."
  2. Judith Bueno de Mesquita, Senior Lecturer, School of Law and Human Rights Centre, University of Essex. "Consciously uncoupling human rights from the unsustainable development agenda and considering a future with degrowth." 
  3. Yong Zhou, Postdoctoral Fellow, Norwegian Centre for Human Rights, University of Oslo. "Hydropower Development and Human Rights in Tibet: A Spiritual-Cultural Dimension on the Evolving Concept of Sustainability."
  4. Parita Sureshchandra Shah, Lecturer, Department of Geography, Environmental and Population Studies, University of Nairobi. "Sustainability: People, Power, Planet Nexus."

10:30-10:45: Break

10:45-12:00: Session II: The Concept of Sustainability II


  1. Otto Spijkers, Professor, Institute of Boundary and Ocean Studies (CIBOS) and Research Institute of Environmental Law (RIEL), University of Wuhan. "Human Right to a Clean, Healthy, and Sustainable Environment."
  2. Nazlicicek Semercioglu, PhD Candidate, Bocconi University. "Strengthening the Environmental Pillar of the Sustainable Development Goal (“SDG”) 6 through the Vindication of Rights of Nature."
  3. Dinie Arief, PhD Candidate, Norwegian Centre for Human Rights, University of Oslo. "Re-conceptualization The Role of Human Rights in the Sustainable Development Goals: Highlighting The Three-Fold Role of Human Rights."
  • Discussant: Peris Jones, Professor, Norwegian Centre for Human Rights, UiO
  • Joint discussion

12:00-13:00: Lunch

13:00-14:00: Session III: Litigating sustainability


  1. Roopanand Mahadew, Senior Lecturer, University of Mauritius. "A review of the engagement of the Constitutional Court of South Africa with sustainability and sustainable development from a human right to environment perspective: Meaningful or reluctant?"
  2. Elsabe Boshoff, PhD Candidate, University of Oslo. "Sustainability and the African Union: potential and limitations of litigating sustainability at the regional level."
  3. Luisa Cristina Pinto e Netto, Assistant Professor, Utrecht University. "Sustainability as a justiciable concept: the transformative potential of human rights."
  • Discussant: Judith Bueno de Mesquita, Senior Lecturer, School of Law and Human Rights Centre, University of Essex 
  • Joint discussion

14:30-14:45: Break

14:45-16:15: Session  IV: Climate & Litigation

  1. Erick da Luz Scherf, Human Rights & Social Policy Researcher, MSW Candidate, University of Stavanger and University of Copenhagen. "Climate Litigation, Human Rights, and the Norwegian Oil Industry: An Early Assessment of Greenpeace Nordic and Others against Norway."
  2. Elisa Fiorini Beckhauser, PhD Candidate, University of Salento. "The synergies between human rights and the rights of Nature: building an ecological dimension from the Latin American climate litigation."
  3. Antonio Lucas dos Santos da Mata, Federal University of Ceara, and Arnelle Rolim Peixoto, Salamanca University. "Multilevel Human Rights Approach to the Right to a Healthy Environment and Climate Change-Related hazards: A Brazilian perspective."
  4. Suryapratim Roy & Alexandru Gociu. "Strong Sustainability vs. Weak Sustainability in People v Arctic Oil in the European Court of Human Rights Context."
  • Discussant: Christina Voigt, Professor, Department of Public Law, UiO
  • Joint discussion

16:15-16:30: Break

16:30-17:30: Panel: Human Rights Defenders and Sustainability

  • Conversation with Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders.
  • Discussant: Sandra Petersen, PhD Candidate, NCHR
  • Joint discussion

Friday, 10 June 2022

09:15-10:45: Session V: Corporations & Sustainability


  1. Peris Jones & Lorena Schwab, Faculty of Law, University of Oslo. "Contested visions of sustainable development in conflicts over renewable energy and human rights: a case study of Unión Hidalgo, Mexico."
  2. Carolin Wilken-Fricke, Technical University of Dresden. "The Universal Human Right to Water in the Context of Water Privatisation and Commodification: Identifying its Content, its Limits and Perspectives for Change."
  3. Rimdolmsom Jonathan Kabré, Postdoctoral Fellow, Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria. "Sustainability in investment arbitration: an empty promise?"
  • Discussant: Surya Deva, Professor at the Macquarie Law School, Member of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights (2016-22)
  • Joint discussion

10:45-11:00: Break

11:00-12:45: Session VI: Sustainability in Practice


  1. Manon Eleonora Lagana, PhD Candidate, University of Valencia. "Urban Sustainability and Fundamental Rights in the European Context: Legal and Practical Implementation of the City Development on the Basis of Human Rights."
  2. Lorena Muñoz Carmona, Project Manager, Business for Peace. "Synergies or Silos? Exploring Human Rights Considerations In Sustainability Reporting Practices In The Nordics."
  3. Yolandi Meyer, University of Pretoria. "Small island developing states and climate change induced migration in the Pacific: Reconsidering the current legal approach to establish more sustainable solutions."
  4. Bjørn Leif Brauteseth, PhD Candidate, Faculty of Law, University of Oslo. "Socialist Rule of Law: A Search for Substantive and Procedural guarantees for building Ecological Civilization in Communist Party Regulations."

  • Discussant: Anna Maria Lundberg, Professor, Norwegian Centre for Human Rights, UiO 
  • Joint discussion

12:45-13:45: Lunch

13:45-14:15: Closing session

  • Moderator: Dinie Arief, PhD Candidate, NCHR
  • Discussion on publication and further collaboration 
  • Closing Remarks: Bård A. Andreassen, Director of the NCHR


Registration is required of all participants. Please fill in the form below:

Register here

A Zoom link will be sent to all registered participants.

If you have any questions, please contact Ony Ratsifandrihamanana.

Tags: Human Rights, NCHR, Sustainable development, SDGs
Published May 20, 2022 2:23 PM - Last modified June 7, 2022 2:16 PM