RFK Human Rights and Partner Organizations File Written Statement with International Court of Justice on Climate Change and Environmental Defenders

On May 6, 2024, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, in partnership with the Centre for Human Rights of the University of Pretoria, Amazon Watch, Latin American and Caribbean Network for Democracy (REDLAD), ARTICLE 19: Global Campaign for Free Expression, Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (GI-ESCR), and the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), filed a written statement before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) with regards to the request for an Advisory Opinion on the “Obligations of States in respect of Climate Change.”

On April 12, 2023, the UN General Assembly submitted a request for an Advisory Opinion to the ICJ to clarify “the obligations of States under international law to ensure the protection of the climate system and other parts of the environment from anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases for States and for present and future generations” and “the legal consequences under these obligations for States where they, by their acts and omissions, have caused significant harm to the climate system and other parts of the environment, with respect to…States [that are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change]…[and] individuals of the present and future generations affected by the adverse effects of climate change.”

While not part of the official case file, this written submission will be treated as a readily available publication and may accordingly be referred to by States and intergovernmental organizations presenting official written and oral statements in the case. The next deadline for States and organizations to submit written responses is June 24, 2024, and the oral hearings are expected to take place in late 2024 or early 2025. We hope our written submission is used by relevant stakeholders who can participate in the process to inform their interventions. The joint written submission provides jurisprudencial standards from various regional and international legal authorities to contribute to the analysis and progressive protection of environmental defenders as it directly relates to the “obligations of States under international law to ensure the protection of the climate system and other parts of the environment from anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases for States and for present and future generations.”

The ICJ Advisory Opinion represents an important opportunity to deepen and expand international standards on the rights of those at the forefront of the protection of the environment and addressing the impact of climate change, especially due to the urgent nature of the climate crisis and the myriad of attacks against environmental defenders.

The joint submission posits three main arguments: 1) Because environmental defenders address climate change through their work, States’ climate and human rights obligations require them to protect environmental defenders; 2) because of the special risk environmental defenders face, States have a reinforced obligation to protect them; and 3) States must take a differentiated approach to protecting environmental defenders in order to account for the additional struggles faced by women, Indigenous peoples, Afro-descendants and rural farming communities.

Therefore, this joint submission invites the Court to use its Advisory Opinion to encourage States to adopt certain best practices to enhance the protection of environmental defenders, including providing extensive support to defenders who are victims of violations, ratifying and implementing the Escazú Agreement, adopting legislation to combat Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs) with explicit references to “environmental defenders,” and increasing corporate due diligence obligations in relation to adverse human rights and environmental impacts. Further, the brief invites the Court to require States to take a differentiated approach when performing their obligations to environmental defenders, ensure that protection measures promote a broad and inclusive definition of environmental defenders, and involve defenders in the development and implementation of strategies for their protection.

This is an unprecedented opportunity for this Court to further develop its jurisprudence on these matters and strengthen the protections for environmental defenders and, in turn, combat the climate emergency.