Claudia Ituarte-Lima is a senior researcher at the Raoul Wallenberg Institute and an international public lawyer. She studies the linkages between human rights, biodiversity, and climate change. Claudia combines this research with efforts to refine and enshrine international law with the aim of moving states towards the realization of the right to a healthy environment and the fulfillment of sustainable development goals.
Early Life and Education
Claudia was born in Mexico City. As an undergraduate, she studied law in the Universidad Iberoamericana in the same city. While in Mexico, she began working for civil society organizations and the government.
She pursued a Masters in Cambridge, followed by a PhD in University College London.
Claudia notes that going to the UK to pursue postgraduate education resulted in a period of adjustment. She carried over her interest in biodiversity, development, and human rights, but met some academic roadblocks.
I was asked to write an essay on the environment and I wrote an essay on the environment and what they called development. I got my essay back and it said ‘You didn’t understand the question. We asked you to write on the environment and you wrote on development.’ I thought: you can’t separate them!
Said experiences gave her a sense of perspective. She counsels people new to North America and Europe who go to those regions to pursue further education to be mindful and learn from different ideas while not losing their own very valuable perspective informed by their personal and professional experiences living in middle and low-income countries. To address current social-ecological crises, we need a truly global vision including where students and academics from all parts of the world thrive, valuing and supporting a diversity of ideas and initiatives.
Goals and Expectations
When Claudia began work on her undergraduate thesis, she realized that an interdisciplinary approach to human rights that integrated environmentalism was an uncommon research area. Finding a supervisor was difficult. She wants to ameliorate the issues arising from not making these conceptual linkages by emboldening people working in the human rights field. She recommends approaching human rights through an intersectional lens, which she remarks is better at dealing with situations as-they-are.
We need to incorporate intersectionality in our work in this field. We need to be thinking not only about the law but also of how the law is applied. One could have, for instance, the right to information, participation, and access to justice in a constitution, as well as associated institutions. If, however, there is systemic inequality in terms of the rights of women and men, those same structures that might sound very good and may be progressive in terms of human rights law may not help women due to societal restrictions. For instance, women might not be able to get loans because, for instance, they do not have formally recognised land titles. They might not be called for meetings concerning climate-related issues.
Despite the importance of public support for environmental measures, she states that action on the part of people engaging with human rights law is necessary: international lawyers need to hold those who violate international treaties and agreements accountable. She hopes that more lawyers work through the law to enact salutary human rights and environmental change.
In her position in the RWI, she synergizes her work with programs and research. She is currently engaged in the Asia-Pacific programme, working with judges and national human rights institutions and academics. She works to advance understanding vis-à-vis the right to a healthy environment, recently recognized by the UN Human Rights Council. She refers to her work as capacity strengthening, working with partners to co-produce knowledge that contributes to bridging across the human rights and environment “communities of practice” and across jurisdictional scales.
Claudia’s work also engages with, among other things: writing pieces on law and environmental governance, designing and implementing blended learning courses, and collaboration with academic institutions such as Peking University through lecturing on salient human rights and environmental topics. Her engagement with the China programme also involves discussing such as in relation to the post-2020 global biodiversity framework which will be adopted this year in Kunming, China.
She will embark on a new research project in March in the human rights-environment thematic area. She will work with a consortium of four European universities. Claudia will be investigating a methodology for integrating the Convention on Biological Diversity, human rights treaties, EU legislation, and the national law of selected European countries.
Claudia highlights work on connecting human rights to biodiversity financing prior to joining the RWI. Said work helped her bridge the gap between human rights and environmental concerns through international law. After running various consultations, she helped propose guidance on the topic. The Convention on Biological Diversity conference of the parties – which includes 195 states and the European Union- eventually adopted the guidance.
She is also proud of the work being done with judges and national human rights institutions in the context of RWI programmes, which is informed by research co-produced with colleagues from different countries such as the report on the right to a healthy environment in southeast Asia.
It is easy to be pessimistic about climate change and biodiversity loss. Claudia says that, as a researcher and someone working to further human and environmental rights, there is no option but to be optimistic. The time for hoping has passed and action is needed. She is confident that people working in human rights have the mechanisms needed for using strong language to rein in those who are dodging environmental accountability. The Glasgow Pact, the Paris Agreement, and the Convention on Biological Diversity as well as drawing lessons learned from human rights review mechanisms . For her, human rights law has an important function in protecting the rule of law and ensuring accountability of those who violate human rights obligations concerning a healthy environment, as well as in protecting the rights of environmental human rights defenders who are increasingly at risk.
I think we don’t have a choice. We need to be optimistic. We need to do whatever is in our hands and I think the moment we start making law work for all people and nature — the moment we start seriously taking this into account — is when hope comes.
To read more, visit Dr. Ituarte-Lima’s staff webpage