Categories
Biodiversity Brazil Deforestation Indigenous peoples rights Indigenous peoples' rights International Criminal Court Right to a healthy environment Right to culture Right to health

The Prosecutor v. Bolsonaro

Summary:
On 12 October 2021, the Austrian NGO AllRise, which advocates for interests linked with the environment, democracy, and the rule of law, submitted a communication to the International Criminal Court in the Hague concerning acting Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Although NGOs cannot initiate proceedings before the ICC, the Prosecutor can do so proprio motu (Art. 15(1) Rome Statute), and the communication’s aim is to convince the Prosectuor to do so regarding President Bolsonaro’s policy on the Amazon rainforest.

AllRise contends that the Bolsonaro government’s socio-economic policy has put the lives of environmental advocates at risk, and has dismantled the protections of the environment that were previously available under domestic law, which as facilitated the activities of criminal networks. By failing to prosecute the perpetrators of environmental crimes and undermining the protection of the climate, human health, and justice, AllRise argues, the Bolsonaro government has committed crimes against humanity, as proscribed by the Rome Statute of the ICC.

The NGO’s communication is supported by the Climate Observatory (Observatório do Clima), a network of 70 Brazilian civil society organizations.

Human rights claims:
AllRise argues that ‘these Environmental Dependents and Defenders have been and continue to be the subject of Crimes Against Humanity through severe deprivations of their fundamental and universal right to a healthy environment (also known as R2E) and other human rights related thereto’ (para. 15). It likewise invoked the rights of indigenous peoples, arguing that ‘[t]he destruction of the rainforest and the rivers of the Amazon has a devastating impact on the traditional, cultural and spiritual way of life of Indigenous peoples and others who depend upon the forest’ (para. 164). The NGO also describes the background of attacks and violence against environmental activists and human rights defenders (paras. 201-208).

More information:
To read the full complaint, click here.

Categories
2021 Brazil Deforestation Domestic court Emissions reductions Paris Agreement Right to a healthy environment

Laboratório do Observatório do Clima v. Minister of Environment and Brazil

Facts of the case:

This is a class action suit brought before the 7th Federal Environmental and Agrarian Court of the Judiciary Section of Amazonas, by a network of 71 civil society organizations against the Environmental Ministry and the Brazilian Government. The petitioners allege that the respondents are committing a systematic violation of the right to an ecologically balanced environment as well as Brazil’s obligation under the Paris Agreement by- failing to update and implement Brazil’s ‘National Policy on Climate Change’ pursuant to the federal climate legislation, especially in the face of the updates in IPCC’s 6th Assessment Report; downgrading the ambition in Brazil’s ‘Nationally Determined Contributions’ communication under the Paris Agreement; failing to address the problem of deforestation in the Amazon; disproportionately favouring and intensifying the use of fossil fuel over renewable sources in its energy sector; and reducing the powers and capabilities of institutions for environmental protection that make up the national system for environmental protection and climate control, and thereby paralysing the accountability processes.

The reliefs sought by the petitioners include a declaration of non-compliance with constitutional law, and a mandatory injunction. As for the latter, the respondents ask for the preparation of an updated National Policy on Climate Change which takes into consideration all sectors of the economy, is in strict compliance with the federal climate legislation and principles recognised in the Paris Agreement, informed by the IPCC’s latest Assessment Report and the Paris Agreement’s 1.5ºC temperature target.   

Date of institution of proceedings:

26 October 2021

Admissibility:

TBD

Merits:

TBD:

Reliefs Awarded:

TBD

Status of the case:

Pending.

Further information:

On 11 November 2021, Judge Mara Elisa Andrade scheduled a conciliatory hearing between the parties to the case, which was subsequently cancelled on 25 November 2021 owing to the defendants’ lack of interest in settling the dispute through conciliation.

Case documents:

Petition (in Portuguese)

Categories
Argentina Brazil Children and young people Committee on the Rights of the Child France Germany Turkey

Sacchi et al. v. Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany & Turkey

Summary:
On 23 September 2019, 16 children, among them teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg, filed a petition before the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) alleging that Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany and Turkey had violated their rights under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) by making insufficient cuts to greenhouse gases and failing to encourage the world’s biggest emitters to curb carbon pollution. Each of the respondent states has ratified the UNCRC, and all of them have signed the Paris Agreement but, according to petitioners, none have made or kept commitments that align with keeping temperature rise.

The sixteen children petitioned the CRC to declare a violation of their rights due to the respondent states’ perpetuation of climate change. They also petitioned the CRC to recommend actions that the respondents must take to address climate change, specifically mitigation and adaptation measures. Their claims are based on the rights enshrined in the UNCRC, and the argument that the respondents have knowingly caused and perpetuated the climate crisis, thereby triggering the applicability of human rights obligations and duties.

In its inadmissibility decision of 22 September 2021, the Committee declared the Communication inadmissible. This decision is indicative of some of the procedural challenges that climate cases will face in the future. Whereas the Committee recognized that the authors of the Communication had victim status, and established that it had jurisdiction over the case, it found the case inadmissible for failure to exhaust domestic remedies.

Adjudicating Body:
UN Committee on the Rights of the Child

Date:
22 September 2021

Status of case:
Declared inadmissible

Third party intervention:
On 1 May 2020, David R. Boyd and John H. Knox (the current and former UN Special Rapporteurs on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, respectively), submitted a third-party intervention regarding this Communication to the Committee. The text of the intervention is available here.

Hearing in these cases:
There were oral hearings before the CRC in these cases. The parties appeared before the Committee via videoconference at five separate hearings between May and September 2021.

Admissibility:
Arguments by the respondent States:
Three respondent States (Brazil, France and Germany) responded to the petition, arguing that it was inadmissible on the grounds of lack of jurisdiction; lack of substantiation (manifestly ill-founded); and the failure to exhaust domestic remedies.

Reply by the petitioners:
In their reply of 4 May 2020, the petitioners argued that:

1) the Committee had jurisdiction because they (the petitioners) are “directly and foreseeably injured by greenhouse gas emissions originating in the Respondents’ territory;”
2) the claims are manifestly well-founded because the children are currently suffering direct and personal harms due to climate change, and they will continue to do so in the foreseeable future; and
3) the pursuit of domestic remedies would be futile.

Findings of the CRC:
The CRC adopted a separate set of Views for each State party concerned; these will be discussed together here.

In terms of the authors’ victim status, the Committee held that they had “prima facie established that they have personally experienced a real and significant harm in order to justify their victim status.” In doing so, it held that the authors, as children, are particularly impacted by climate change, and that States have “heightened obligations to protect children from foreseeable harm”. As a result, the CRC was not precluded by Article 5(1) of the Optional Protocol from considering the communication.

In terms of jurisdiction, the CRC held, with reference to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights’s Advisory Opinion OC-23/17 on the Environment and Human Rights and its own Joint Statement on Human Rights and Climate Change, that States have effective control over carbon emissions and that they are responsible for transboundary harm caused by these emissions. It found that, even though climate change is “a global collective issue that requires a global response, States parties still carry individual responsibility for their own acts or omissions in relation to climate change and their contribution to it.” In light of existing scientific evidence showing the impact of the cumulative effect of carbon emissions on the enjoyment of human rights, including rights under the Convention, the Committee considered with regard to each individual respondent State that “the potential harm of the State party’s acts or omissions regarding the carbon emissions originating in its territory was reasonably foreseeable to the State party”.

Concerning the exhaustion of domestic remedies, the Committee recalled that this requirement does not apply where these avenues do not offer objective prospects of success. In these cases, however, it examined the remedial possibilities in each State in detial, and ultimately reached a finding of inadmissibility, noting that no domestic proceedings had been initiated in the respective States concerned.

In this regard, various arguments made by the authors were unsuccessful. The argument that plaintiffs from other countries were barred from proceedings was disregarded for lack of specific examples (Communication concerning Argentina, § 10.18). The Committee further referred to the existence of discretionary remedies, which the authors had not used. The authors’ “doubts about the prospects of success of any remedy” was not sufficient for the Committee to consider they had exhausted “all domestic remedies that were reasonably effective and available to them to challenge the alleged violation of their rights under the Convention.” The references to environmental cases in which the State parties took several years to reach a decision was not considered sufficient evidence to show that domestic remedies would be unreasonably prolonged.

Merits:
Not examined

Remedies:
Not applicable

Separate opinions:
Not applicable

Implementation measures taken:
Not applicable

Keywords:
Admissibility, children’s rights, UNCRC, domestic remedies, transboundary harms, victim status.

Links:
For a summary of the five cases from the UN’s treaty body media service, click here.

For background on the case, click here.

The text of the petition is available on Climate Case Chart, click here to access it.

The full text of the Committee’s Views can be found:

  • Regarding Argentina, the Views can be found here.
  • Regarding Brazil, the Views can be found here.
  • Regarding France, the Views can be found here.
  • Regarding Germany, the Views can be found here.
  • Regarding Turkey, the Views can be found here.

Suggested citation for the Communication concerning Argentina:
Committee on the Rights of the Child, Sacchi et al. v. Argentina (dec.), 22 September 2021, CRC/C/88/D/104/2019.

Categories
2021 Brazil Domestic court Emissions reductions Paris Agreement Right to a healthy environment

Thalita Silva e Silva and Others v. Minister of Environment and Others

Facts of the case:

This case was brought before the 14th Federal Civil Court of Sao Paulo by six youths as a popular action against the Brazilian Government, challenging Brazil’s updated ‘nationally determined contributions’ communication (NDC) that it submitted on 08 December 2020 pursuant to its obligation under Article 4.2 of the Paris Agreement. The petitioners argue that the NDC is regressive in comparison to its previous NDC, as it alters the baseline relative to which its emissions reductions targets for the years 2025 and 2030 were to be calculated. Both the initial and the updated NDC provided for a commitment to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 37% by 2025, and 45% by 2030 compared to 2005 levels, but the estimated emissions for the base year 2005 was increased from 2.1 to 2.8 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent pursuant to an update in Brazil’s national GHG inventory report.

The petitioners contended that this regression in the updated NDC constituted a violation of Article 225 of the Constitution of Brazil, which provides for the right to an ecologically balanced environment. They further argued that there was a new GHG inventory report which estimated the 2005 emissions levels to amount to 2.4 billion tonnes rather than 2.8 billion tonnes as per the previous inventory report, and since this new report was published before the updated NDC was communicated, the updated NDC stands to be quashed in any case. The respondents contested the courts’ jurisdiction on the ground that the claim concerned an act of the Brazilian government at the international level. They also contended that the NDC in question met the criteria of progression and highest possible ambition.  

Date of decision:

28 May 2021

Admissibility:

The Federal Civil Court of Sao Paulo found that it was competent to adjudicate the case as per Article 109, Item III of the Constitution of Brazil which provides federal courts the competence to hear cases based on a treaty between the Union and other States or international bodies.

Merits:

The Federal Civil Court of Sao Paulo summarily dismissed the plaintiffs’ request for injunction on the count that the updated NDC maintains the emissions reduction targets specified in the previous NDC, and that the change in the estimated emissions during the base year in different national inventory reports was normal and expected in light of improvements in scientific understanding and techniques. It also highlighted that the Paris Agreement requires parties to periodically update their national inventories and inferred from this requirement that the targets in NDCs are to be understood in relation to the inventory available at the time of communicating them. The Court also considered the updated NDC to be ambitious as it contained a carbon neutrality commitment.

Status of the case:

The petitioners have appealed against the decision of the Federal Civil Court.

Suggested case citation:

Federal Civil Court of Sao Paulo, Thalita Silva e Silva & Ors. v. Minister of Environment & Ors., Ação Popular nº 5008035-37.2021.4.03.6100, decision of 28 May 2021.

Case documents:

Petition (in Portuguese)

Decision of the Federal Civil Court of Sao Paulo (in Portuguese)

Categories
2021 Brazil Deforestation Domestic court Individual responsibility Right to a healthy environment

Ministério Público Federal v. de Rezende

Summary:
This case concerns the responsibility of an individual (a farmer in the Amazonia region of Brazil) for deforestation and thus for climate change, including human rights impacts.

The Ministério Público Federal (MPF) had brought a tort case against the farmer, Dauro Parreiras de Rezende, for causing the deforestation of 2,488.56 hectares of Amazon rainforest between 2011 and 2018. This had allegedly violated the right to a healthy environment as enshrined in the Brazilian Constitution. On 16 April 2021, a Federal Environmental and Agrarian Court granted an injunction ordering the removal of cattle from the land in question.

Climate Case Chart reports that MPF is seeking up to R$ 85.4 million (ca. $17 million USD) in damages for the climate damage itself, i.e., the value of the emissions related to the deforestation in question, human rights violations due to collective pain and suffering, other environmental damages, and compensation for the farmer’s illegal profits due to the deforestation.

More information:

For more detail and the text (in Portuguese) of the petition and judgment, visit Climate Case Chart.

For a newspaper report on the case (in Portuguese), see here.

Suggested case citation:
Federal Environmental and Agrarian Court, Ministério Público Federal v. de Rezende, petition filed on 7 April 2021

Federal Environmental and Agrarian Court, Ministério Público Federal v. de Rezende, preliminary decision issued on 16 April 2021