MEMBER SPOTLIGHT: Maria Antonia Tigre

Maria Antonia Tigre is the Director of Latin America for the Global Network for the Study of Human Rights and the Environment (GNHRE). Through GNHRE, she has increasingly focused her efforts on human rights-based climate litigation in Latin America. She is also a coordinator of the human rights group, with a particular focus on ecological rights, for the Global Pandemic Network (GPN), a community of scholars created to debate legal aspects associated with pandemics.

Ms. Tigre is currently finishing her S.JD. in international environmental law at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University. Her research focuses on the current state of global environmental crises and the development of potential new legal solutions through philosophical, religious, and legal arguments. She is the author of ‘Gaps in International Environmental Law: Toward a Global Pact for the Environment,’ published by ELI Press in 2020. ‘Gaps’ is a travaux preparatoires of a potential new agreement on environmental principles, which is currently under debate at the United Nations. Originally from Brazil, she also researches environmental protection of the Amazon ecosystem, with an emphasis on regional cooperation.

Twitter: @toniatigre
Twitter: @toniatigre
  1. What led you to work on human rights and the environment?

My career as an environmental lawyer developed in a non-linear way and took many twists and turns. My work in human rights and the environment started almost by accident. While I was writing my first book, Regional Cooperation in Amazonia: A Comparative Environmental Law Analysis, I had the pleasure of participating in the Widener Scholar-In-Residence Program, focused on Global Environmental Constitutionalism. That experience led me to look at some of the challenges faced in the Amazon region (see A Plea for Regional Cooperation in Amazonia) through a lens of human rights and the environment and eventually to the book chapter Implementing Constitutional Environmental Rights in the Amazon Rainforest, edited by Erin Daly and James May. My work on environmental issues in Amazonia also relates to the protection of Indigenous Peoples, as guardians of the forests.

Shortly after, as I became a fellow at the Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice, I was privileged to provide research assistance to the former Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, John Knox. At the Vance Center, we assisted several NGOs, both large and small, with the legal capacity they often lacked. Many of the work we did related to human rights and the environment and introduced me to several of the issues faced on the ground by communities while protecting the environment. I was then convinced about the relevance of the relationship between environmental protection and human rights and decided to refocus a lot of my academic work in that direction.

My second book, Gaps in International Environmental Law: Toward a Global Pact for the Environment, while focused on the Global Pact for the Environment and the process of adopting a new international environmental law agreement at the United Nations, is primarily focused on the right to a healthy environment. This right was proposed as article 1 in the draft of the Global Pact and is a large component of a potential new agreement. While its adoption remains controversial and opposed by some countries, it would significantly raise the status of this relationship between human rights and a healthy environment at the international level.

2. What have you been working on recently and/or what is your next big project?

In addition to my continued work related to the Global Pact for the Environment (an Update on Negotiation of a New International Environmental Agreement is coming in October and can be found here), I have been working on a few projects related to the development of human rights and the environment in Latin America, especially concerning the advancement of climate litigation. I am working on an overview of constitutional environmental rights in the region, which expands my previous article focused on the Amazon countries. Additionally, several ongoing climate litigation cases do not receive similar academic attention as cases in the US and Europe (we organized an excellent webinar focused on the region which can be accessed here – LAC webinar). I recently wrote about the 2017 Inter-American Court’s Advisory Opinion, which changed the paradigm for international environmental law regionally and has an impact beyond borders (it will soon be published by the Journal of Human Rights and the Environment), as well as the Lhaka Honhat case, which expanded the standards defined then. Part of my ongoing scholarship is to provide more clarity and increase awareness of the issues in the region through short and lengthier articles, especially in terms of their significance on a global scale. This represents a significant and continuing process, and I am always looking for volunteers to help me better understand the many legal issues involved in these and how these relate to similar cases in other regions of the world.

Finally, I am coordinating a group focused on how ecological rights have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic for the Global Pandemic Network. This group focuses on how the right to a healthy environment, the right to water, the right to food, Indigenous rights, and procedural environmental rights have been affected so far, focusing on the inequalities we can observe and the international law that is disregarded. It is a very dynamic and engaged group with multiple perspectives – something essential given that human rights are infringed in so many different ways right now. We are working on a joint report and two more specific articles towards the end of the year.

3. Why do you think the environment and climate still not getting enough attention they should be getting?

One of the many setbacks caused by the pandemic is the attention shift from a year supposed to be the “year of the environment,” with several important global meetings on a series of environmental issues that have been overlooked so far. Environmental defenders around the globe are significantly affected, worsening existing threats. This is especially true in Latin America, and the Amazon region specifically. The lack of enforcement of environmental laws and the regression on rules and their implementation have increased threats, violence, and deaths. Vulnerable groups, including Indigenous peoples, are particularly exposed to the pandemic, and their voices are even less heard in this scenario.

Additionally, as mentioned before, I think there is not enough attention given to scholars and cases from Latin America. The challenges for providing broad regional representation in international law, especially from scholars from the Global South, are many. But Latin America and other regions beyond North America and Europe, provide many emerging new legal theories that should be known and considered at a global level. These include, for example, broad adoption and implementation of constitutional environmental rights, and more specific rights of nature (a theory that emerged in Latin America and has been picked up in several other countries, including India and New Zealand).

4. As briefly but as specifically as you can say, what the most compelling challenges in HR & E right now? Can you briefly describe any proposed solutions? 

Enforcement and implementation are some of the most noteworthy challenges we currently face in human rights and the environment. Although most countries throughout the globe have adopted the right to a healthy environment, its implementation is often flawed. Constitutional provisions are not often translated into more specific laws that delineate what the rights and obligations entail. Courts have increasingly responded to this gap through cases that clearly define it. These, of course, are nationally/regionally focus, but still provide an essential interpretation of human rights and the environment.

Additionally, the lack of global recognition of the right to a healthy environment still provides a significant challenge as it raises questions about its status at the international level. The Global Pact for the Environment (or any political declaration that emerges from that initiative) provides one potential solution to this challenge. This negotiation is ongoing, and the adoption of a declaration is expected by 2022. While it is still unclear whether a declaration will adopt a right to a healthy environment, several countries are promoting such a development.