International Judicial Monitor
Published by the International Judicial Academy, Washington, D.C., with assistance from the
American Society of International Law

Summer 2012 Issue



World Congress on Justice, Governance and Law for Environmental Sustainability Meets in Brazil

Hans CorellBy: Hans Corell, Member of the High Level International Advisory Committee for the World Congress; Former Legal Counsel of the United Nations

On June 17-20 2012, the World Congress on Justice, Governance and Law for Environmental Sustainability was held in Brazil. The Congress was organized by the Secretariat of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) under the guidance of its Executive Director, Mr. Achim Steiner, and Mr. Bakary Kante, Director of the Division of Environmental Law and Conventions, with the support of local co-hosts. A High Level International Advisory Committee and an Executive Steering Committee were also part of the governance structure.

One of the purposes of the Congress, which hosted well over 200 participants, was to contribute to the Rio+20 Conference on the role of environmental laws within the themes of the “Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development” and “Green Economy”.

Another important task was to outline the future actions required by national and international legal stakeholders in order to promote the pursuit of sustainable development in the 21st century founded on the rule of law and effective governance. 

The Congress should be seen as a follow-up to the Global Judges Symposium, held in Johannesburg, South Africa on August 18-20 2002oj. At the end of this Symposium, the judges adopted the Johannesburg Principles on the Role of Law and Sustainable Development.

As in Johannesburg, chief justices and heads of jurisdiction attended the World Congress; in Brazil attorneys general, auditors general, chief prosecutors, and other high-ranking representatives of the judicial, legal and auditing professions also participated. This composition resulted in interesting discussions both at the plenary meetings and in parallel sessions on specific topics.

The purposes of the World Congress were to contribute to the principles of sustainable development and to assess the progress made in implementing the outcomes of the key global summits in sustainable development: the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 and the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002. These were accomplished by identifying and comparing experiences in strengthening compliance and enforcement of national and international environmental laws.

Further purposes were to convene actors to negotiate recommended actions for meeting sustainability priorities at national and regional levels; to garner broader and deeper support for more effective environmental governance at the national and international levels with the aim of enhancing national implementation and compliance;  to provide technical and political input on the legal dimensions of environmental sustainability and the outcome of Rio+20; and to propose outcomes on social justice and equity, including a possible declaration on human rights and sustainable development.

Two preparatory meetings for the Congress were held, the first in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on October 12-13 2011, and the second in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on April 23-24, 2012. The statements from these meetings provided important foundations for the Congress.

The Congress met at Portobello, a small fishing village in Mangaratiba municipality west of Rio de Janeiro and at the Supreme Court of the State of Rio de Janeiro. The plenary working sessions were chaired by Luis Ricardo Lorenzetti, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Argentina, assisted by Antonio Herman Benjamin, Justice of the High Court of Brazil and the Secretary General of the Congress.

On June 20, 2012 the Congress adopted the Rio+20 Declaration on Justice, Governance and Law for Environmental Sustainability. The Declaration was presented to the President of Rio+20 and to the Heads of State and other high level representatives at the Rio+20 Conference.

The Declaration contains three main elements:

  • Messages to heads of state and government, other high-level representatives, and the world community at large.
  • Principles for the advancement of justice, governance and law for environmental sustainability.
  • Institutional framework for the advancement of justice, governance and law for environmental sustainability in the 21st Century.

In the Declaration, the participants recall the importance of the first Global Judges Symposium in 2002. They note among other things that since then, the importance of the judiciary in environmental matters has further increased and resulted in a rich corpus of decisions and the further development of environmental law, especially in developing countries.

The several messages include statements that an independent judiciary and judicial process are vital for the implementation, development and enforcement of environmental law; that environmental law is essential for the protection of natural resources and ecosystems and reflects our best hope for the future of our planet; and that environmental sustainability cannot be achieved without good quality data, monitoring, auditing and accounting for performance.

The participants emphasized that environmental and sustainability auditing ensures transparency, access to information, accountability, and efficient use of public finances, while protecting the environment for future generations. In that context they highlight the responsibility of judges, public prosecutors and auditors. At the same time they stress the need to strengthen existing international governance institutions to protect the global environment.

The principles expressed in the Declaration are summarized by statements declaring that only through the active engagement of all parts of society, especially national and sub-national institutions and officials responsible for addressing justice, governance and law issues, including judges, prosecutors, auditing institutions and other key functionaries, can meaningful progress be achieved that is sustained and responsive to the needs of the peoples of the world and protective of human rights.

The Declaration concludes by defining the purposes of an international institutional network that should be established with UNEP in the lead and with the engagement of other relevant actors. This endeavor should be managed under the guidance of selected members of the professions that participated in the World Congress.

The long term objective of the World Congress is to become an important platform in strengthening environmental laws and governance frameworks for the future implementation of environmental law and policy through the involvement of, and in consultation with participants in the Congress and other key stakeholders.

Rio+20 Declaration on Justice, Governance and Law for Environmental Sustainability June 20th 2012 [English]

Webpage of the World Congress

Kuala Lumpur Statement October 2011
[English] [Español] [Français] [Portuguese]

Buenos Aires Statement April 2012
[English] [Español] [Français] [Portuguese]

A Summary Report of the World Congress on Justice, Governance and Law for Environmental Sustainability

The Johannesburg Principles on the Role of Law and Sustainable Development

ASIl & International Judicial AcademyInternational Judicial Monitor
© 2012 – The International Judicial Academy
with assistance from the American Society of International Law.

Editor: James G. Apple.
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