University of Colombo’s launch of a pioneer Centre for Environmental Law and Policy (CELP)

BY Dulki Seethawaka and Pavithra Rajendran 

Towards the setting up of a new pathway towards building an eco humane bond in the beginning of the new year, the University of Colombo’s Faculty of Law is prepared to officially launch its fresh initiative, the “Centre for Environmental Law and Policy (CELP)” today (5). Under the guidance of University Vice Chancellor Senior Prof. Chandrika N. Wijeyaratne and Faculty of Law Dean Dr. N.S. Punchihewa, CELP Founding Director Dr. Kokila Konasinghe of the Faculty of Law with the CELP team is endeavouring to conduct a ceremony which will promote the idea of “Beyond the human environment: Defending the rights of nature in the anthropocene”. 

A number of scholars representing the environmental spectrum in the national and international contexts will be joining virtually and personally including international rights of nature advocate Ashish Kothari, Network of Asia Pacific Schools and Institutes of Public Administration and Governance President Prof. Amita Singh, Minister of Environment Mahinda Amaraweera, University Grants Commission Chairman Prof. Sampath Amaratunge, Ministry of Environment Secretary Dr. Anil Jasinghe, ornithologist and environmentalist Prof. Sarath Kotagama, consultant in child rights Dr. Charika Marasinghe, environmentalist Dr. Jagath Gunawardana, and United Nations (UN) Development Programme representative Chandrika Karunaratne. In addition, the members of the CELP’s Advisory Board and Board of Management, representatives from significant administrative authorities, universities, and other educational organisations have also been invited for the ceremony.

Despite the prevailing situation in the country, the CELP has completed several accomplishments in providing policy recommendations, publishing books and articles, and collaborating with international and national bodies on environment-related rights and protection. The CELP has already contributed to the Constitutional Reform Committee 2021 by suggesting environmental policy-related recommendations. 

In 2020 and 2021, the CELP published two compilations of statutory provisions and case law on animal welfare and public nuisance. The compilation on animal welfare laws and policies is the first publication of the CELP. Animal welfare is a principle which is gaining overriding attention and significance around the globe, most particularly in recent years. It refers to the relationship between people and animals and the duty of the people to ensure that the animals under their care are treated humanely and compassionately. Even though animal welfare is a renowned concept in other countries, there is considerable scope for further developments that can be introduced in Sri Lanka. One of the major difficulties faced by animal rights defenders in Sri Lanka is finding relevant case law with regard to animal welfare, and the compilation has sought to address this issue by producing a single publication with all the relevant legislations and case law. The compilation includes the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance No. 13 of 1907, and judicial decisions where the treatment of animals was in question. It is of value to all legal practitioners, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and students who have specific interest in animal welfare laws in Sri Lanka. The compilation on public nuisance contains the laws pertaining to public nuisance, which is an important legal weapon against environmental harm affecting the community. While environmental protection and the prevention of environmental damage form a dire need of contemporary society, the legal literature of this nature still remains scarce, leaving those who wish to defend the environment lost in a pile of disseminated laws. Bridging this gap in the existing body of literature, this compilation provides a handbook for academics, legal practitioners, NGOs, and students. 

The CELP published the third book in October 2021, titled South Asian Environmental Law Report (SAELR) Volume One which marked the first collaboration with the Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ). The SAELR 2021 presents four landmark judgements from Sri Lanka and one significant judgement from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Pakistan, respectively. It is an initiative unique from other collections of legal reports because each landmark case includes a review by a legal expert analysing the case facts, the judgement, and necessary future developments. 

The CELP has many other upcoming publications on various other areas of environmental law which it hopes will become accessories in the quest for the preservation of the environment. The CEJ and the CELP are now preparing for the upcoming publication, the South Asian Journal of Environmental Law and Policy (SAJELP), yet another compilation of articles by national and international authors specialising in environmental concerns in South Asia. All these publications have been prepared for the benefit of students, academics, researchers, and the general public who are urged to gain knowledge on environmental law and policy.

The director and members of the CELP have also participated in several other regional and international collaborations. Dr. Konasinghe is an advisor of the World’s Youth for Climate Justice, which is a global campaign seeking an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on human rights and climate change. The link between the climate crisis and human rights is now well established. Climate impacts have been shown to exacerbate pre-existing inequalities and human rights challenges such as poverty, health and wellbeing, wealth inequality, gender relations, and many others, and to affect vulnerable groups most acutely. Many people’s current and future ability to enjoy their human rights to life, water and sanitation, food, education, and self-determination will be greatly impacted by the impacts of climate mitigation and adaptation measures. The CELP intends to lead the national campaign in Sri Lanka and assist in spreading public awareness about the campaign. 

The CELP has also represented Sri Lanka in “Project Bajho”, a UN Millennium Fellowship programme co-ordinated by the Kathmandu Law School in Nepal to analyse the laws and policies regarding climate change and the environment of South Asian countries. The Millennium Fellowship is a semester-long leadership development programme jointly conducted by the UN Academic Impact and the Millennium Campus Network. Students of the Kathmandu School of Law who have been selected for the Millennium Fellowship Class of 2020, are leading this project along with a team of researchers and editors representing other South Asian countries. Dr. Konasinghe is a Co-advisor of the project. Two members of the CELP, Dulki Seethawaka and Kithmini Aviruppola, are Editor-in-Chief and Lead Researcher of Team Sri Lanka, respectively.

In November 2020, the CELP took part in a project with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to map and analyse the legal preparedness for the international and regional disaster and pandemic response in South Asia. This research is an outcome of a joint workshop held in Kathmandu in partnership with the South Asian Association for Regional Corporation (SAARC) and the South Asian Red Cross/Red Crescent National Societies and Governments in 2019. The purpose of the project was to conduct a baseline mapping of all SAARC Member States to analyse the existing national laws and policies in light of the provisions of the SAARC Agreement on Rapid Response to Natural Disasters (SARRND) as well as the International Disaster Response Law Checklist. It was also intended to examine and make recommendations on regional and international assistance for cross-border public health emergencies, focusing on humanitarian channels in South Asia during the Covid-19 response. Dr. Konasinghe is leading on the Sri Lanka component of the research. CELP member Dilushi Senavirathna was the Research Assistant of the project. 

Recognising its public responsibility, the CELP is also in the process of developing educational and training programmes for the civil society, and organising webinar discussions with environmentalists and experts on environmental law and policy. The “Chat on Sustainable Development Goals”, the first webinar of its series was organised by the final year undergraduates of the Faculty of Law in collaboration with the CELP, the Centre for Environmental Initiatives, and the Earth Mates organisation on 20 January 2021. The webinar was also attended by two panellists – Dr. Shyami Puvimanasinghe and Benjamin Schachter who represented the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. 

Another webinar titled “The UN Climate Change Regime Post – Glasgow, Scotland” will be conducted on 19 January 2022 which is organised by the Commonwealth Climate Cohort under the Association of Commonwealth Universities in partnership with the Mauritius University. US Arizona State University Regents’ Professor Daniel Bodansky is the guest speaker of the session and Rotterdam University in Netherlands Erasmus School of Law Professor of Public and International Law Prof. Ellen Hey is the discussant. The forum will be moderated by Dr. Konasinghe. 

Some other projects are lined up for the CELP including the publication of a book on multidisciplinary approaches to environmental law and governance in Sri Lanka and organising educational workshops for the legislative and judicial members. Ultimately, the CELP aims to promote environmental law and policy in all possible ways within the Sri Lankan academic and administrative sectors and thereby, hopes to become one of the leading legal and policy-making institutions in endorsing the conservation and preservation of the environment in the country. 

(The writers are attached to the Centre for Environmental Law and Policy [CELP] – an initiative by the Faculty of Law of the University of Colombo)