Global Human Rights Defence

The climate crisis in Brazil: the dismantling of the environmental policy and human rights violations
Source: Bruno Kelly/Amazônia Real.

Author: Sofia Dolabela (intern)

Recently, civil society organizations and activists have drawn attention to the severity of the climate crisis, especially concerning developing countries and marginalised groups in all parts of the world. Historically, Brazil has played a leading role in combating climate change; however, the country’s stance has changed over the past three years. In the current context of greater urgency regarding the mitigation of the effects of climate change, the recognition of a healthy environment as part of human rights by the UN Human Rights Council is a fundamental step towards coordinated and immediate action at a global level. Moreover, this understanding also aggravates the current Brazilian scenario of dismantling environmental policies, as it recognizes the negligence and omission of recent years as factors that put the basic rights of the country’s population at risk.

Legislative milestones of the environmental agenda: international and Brazilian scenario

The first UN Conference on the Human Environment was held in Stockholm in 1972. The conference laid the foundations for the UN’s environmental agenda, which took the form of the Stockholm Declaration on the Human Environment. In addition, the conference led to the creation of the United Nations Environment Programme, responsible for coordinating the work related to the theme to date (Borges et al., 2019; UN, 2020).

In Brazil, the environmental movement contributed to the promulgation of Law No. 6,938/1981, which provides the National Policy of the Environment, whose objective is the preservation, improvement, and recovery of the environmental quality conducive to life, promoting sustainable socio-economic development in the country. Moreover, the 1988 Brazilian Constitution consolidated the concept of the environment in the legislation, defining the right and duty of all to care for the environment and access to a dignified environmental quality (Brasil, 1988).

Globally, in 1992, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development was convened, in which the imperative need for sustainable development was recognized. At the end of the Conference, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was established to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere to a level that prevents dangerous human interference with the climate system. At the time, Agenda 21, a comprehensive and cooperative plan of action, was adopted to guide a new and more sustainable development model in the 21st century (UN, 2020).

In the 2000s, at the United Nations Millennium Summit, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were outlined, which were to be met by 2015, including the goal of Ensuring Environmental Sustainability. However, in The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (also known as Rio +20), held in 2012, it was decided to build a new agenda to replace the MDGs with more comprehensive and integrated goals. Based on a global negotiation process, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) entered into force in 2015, to be fulfilled by 2030, and began to guide national policies and international cooperation activities. Unlike MDGs, SDGs were designed in a more collaborative framework; that is, while the formulation of MDGs was done top-down, the formulation of SDGs involved collaborators from around the world, being more horizontal. In addition, the MDGs model encouraged initiatives by rich countries to fund projects in low-income countries, while SDGs provided for greater participation by Civil Society Organizations and general internal strategies to achieve objectives (Borges et al., 2019; UN, n.d.).

Brazil was the first state to sign the UNFCCC and ratified it shortly before it entered into force. More recently, at COP15[1], Brazil took the lead among the parties by presenting its voluntary commitment to reduce emissions based on the significant decrease in deforestation in the Amazon recorded in previous years. In addition, at COP17, it undertook to increase the frequency of emissions reports and presented a pioneering methodological proposal for data monitoring and verification (Luedemann et al., 2016).

However, Brazil’s historic engagement in the fight against climate change over the past four decades is contrasted by its current position on the international stage concerning the environmental agenda. In this sense, national environmental policy has undergone a series of changes that put at risk the commitment to combat climate change (Borges et al., 2019; Luedemann et al., 2016).

The dismantling of environmental policy in Brazil

Since Jair Bolsonaro took the presidential office in Brazil in early 2019, there has been a change in the country’s position in the international climate regime. The main criticism by other States is the situation of the Amazon forest since forests have great importance for carbon absorption. In 2019, the National Institute for Space Research (INPE) showed an increase of 88% in illegal deforestation in the area compared to the previous year. President Bolsonaro’s response was to question the veracity of the facts and then exonerate the director of the agency, Ricardo Galvão. Furthermore, at the time, INPE and other key institutions[2] for monitoring and implementing public policies in the region suffered budget cuts (Albuquerque, 2021).

The measures have resulted in the interruption of funding for the Amazon Fund by European countries, besides being an obstacle to the approval of the free trade agreement between Mercosur (the South American trade bloc) and the European Union (Albuquerque, 2021). Facing pressure, Bolsonaro responded by asking for financial support from developed countries to ensure environmental preservation in Brazil (Albuquerque, 2021). However, these countries responded by stating that the Brazilian government should first show concrete results of reducing deforestation. Only until March 2021, a preliminary survey by the Imazon Institute recorded the highest rate of destruction of the Amazon for that month in ten years[3] (Schreiber, 2021).

The forest destruction scenario is favoured by a series of measures taken by Bolsonaro’s government, such as the reduction of operations of environmental protection agencies and tolerance of illegal activities. In that regard, Former Prime Minister of the Environment, Ricardo Salles, edited 721 measures against environmental preservation in three years and became the subject of an investigation by the Federal Police concerning corruption crimes and facilitation of smuggling in the export of timber (Folha de São Paulo, 2019; Pantolfi, 2021; Schreiber, 2021).

Additionally, the preservation of the environment is protected not only by international agreements to which Brazil is a signatory but also by the Brazilian Federal Constitution, which provides for the country’s budgetary responsibility to implement appropriate measures. Nevertheless, Brazil has 2.9 billion reais transferred by Norway and Germany since 2019 in the Amazon Fund. The mistrust to send new resources is also motivated by the unilateral decision of Bolsonaro to extinguish the steering committee of the Amazon Fund, created to establish criteria for the application of money in the forest (Albuquerque, 2021; Schreiber, 2021).

Healthy environment and human rights

The pressure for the United Nations to recognise the healthy environment as a human right has been built for decades, mainly by civil society organisations and activists. During the pandemic, this movement gained strength, and finally, on 8 October 2021, Resolution 48/13 was adopted by the United Nations Human Rights Council, recognising for the first time access to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment as a human right[4] (UN, 2021).

The document recognizes that the impact of climate change has direct and indirect negative consequences for the effective enjoyment of all human rights. It also emphasises that some of the most vulnerable segments of the world’s population, specifically indigenous peoples, the elderly, people with disabilities, and women and girls, are the ones who suffer the most from environmental damage (Human Rights Council, 2021).

In June 2021, Amnesty International released a report detailing how climate emergencies undermine the guarantee of fundamental rights such as the right to life, to water, to food, to housing, to health, among others. In some cases, climate change-related impacts even put the cultural survival of entire peoples at risk. The document highlights that the climate crisis accentuates structural inequalities and disproportionately affects groups already marginalised by entrenched practices or official policies that unfairly distribute resources, power, and privileges (Amnesty International, 2021).

According to the report, over 20 million people were internally displaced on average each year between 2008 and 2019 due to the effects of  climate change. Furthermore, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that climate change will cause 250,000 more deaths annually between 2030 and 2050 due to malaria, malnutrition, diarrhoea and heat stress. The World Food Programme, for its part, predicts that hunger and malnutrition can rise 20% in four decades due to the climate crisis (Amnesty International, 2021).

The central argument of the report is that the international human rights legal regime determines that States have legal and enforceable obligations to deal with the climate crisis. That is, when they fail to take consistent, adequate, and sufficient measures to prevent human rights damage caused by climate change, including long-term damage, they are violating international human rights standards, and should therefore be held accountable for their actions or lack thereof (Amnesty International, 2021).

Therefore, the document points out that actions to combat climate change that are negligent or unambitious constitute human rights violations by condemning millions of people to premature death, hunger, disease, and displacement, contributing to conflicts and perpetuating inequality and discrimination against groups that are already systematically oppressed (Amnesty International, 2021). In this regard, since there is already extensive knowledge on the causes and consequences of climate change,

failure to take adequate action to reduce climate change, to support people to adapt to its unavoidable effects and to provide remedy to those whose rights have been violated as a result of the loss and damage resulting from climate-related impacts, represents a human rights violation” (Amnesty International, 2021).

In this context, Jurema Werneck, executive director of Amnesty International Brazil, demanded that the Brazilian government implement public policies for environmental conservation and protection of human rights, affirming that the life of the Brazilian population must come first and calling for the end of dismantling the environmental agenda in the country (Folha de São Paulo, 2021).

Concluding Remarks

With the new recognition that access to a healthy environment is a human right, the concern about the disassembly of environmental policies in Brazil is accentuated. Resolution 48/13, although non-binding, strengthens the understanding that the current Brazilian context perpetuates human rights violations and puts at risk the lives of members of populations already marginalised.

In this way, it is necessary to intensify the international pressure against the Brazilian government, whether by other States or international organizations, including the UN system, to ensure that there is proper accountability and implementation of measures that could reverse the neglect and omission of recent years in the fight against climate change, ensuring the quality of life and the rights of the Brazilian population that is directly and indirectly affected by irresponsible public policies.


Albuquerque, M. (2021, August 14). O Desmonte da Política Ambiental no Governo Bolsonaro. Latinoamérica 21. Retrieved November 13, 2021, from

Amnesty International. (2021, June). Stop Burning Our Rights! What governments and corporations must do to protect humanity from the climate crisis.

Borges, M. A. L., Silva, J. P., & Silva, L. M. B. (2019). Do global ao contexto nacional: Evolução da política ambiental brasileira. Revista Brasileira de Gestão Ambiental e Sustentabilidade, 6(14), 593–608.

Conectas Direitos Humanos. (2021, October 27). O que significa a nova resolução da ONU que considera o meio ambiente saudável como um direito humano. Retrieved November 13, 2021, from

Constituição da República Federativa do Brasil de 1988. (1988). Brasília.

Folha de São Paulo. (2019, December 24). Salles muda política ambiental do Brasil e provoca desmonte. Retrieved November 12, 2021, from

Folha de São Paulo. (2021, August 13). Crise do clima aprofunda desigualdades e viola direitos humanos, diz ONG. Retrieved November 13, 2021, from

Human Rights Council (2021, October 11). Promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development (48/13). Retrieved November, 13, 2021, from

Lei nº 6.938, de 9 de dezembro de 1981 (1981). Brasil.

Luedemann, G., Moletta, D. G. S., & Teixeira, B. S. (2016). Brasil: Esforços nacionais sobre as Mudanças climáticas. In A. M. M. de Moura (Ed.), Governança Ambiental no Brasil: instituições, atores e políticas públicas (pp. 287–309). Instituto de Pesquisa Econômica Aplicada.

Pantolfi, S. (2021, May 20). O desmonte da política ambiental no Brasil liderada por Ricardo Salles. Le Monde Diplomatique Brasil. Retrieved November 12, 2021, from

Passarinho, N. (2021, November 11). COP26: Itamaraty tenta ‘reconstruir imagem do Brasil’, mas governo age contra, diz ex-ministra. BBC News. Retrieved November 14, 2021, from

Schreiber, M. (2021, April 21). Por que a política ambiental de Bolsonaro afasta ajuda financeira internacional? BBC News. Retrieved November 12, 2021, from


  1. (n.d.). The 17 Goals. Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Retrieved November 11, 2021, from
  2. (2020, September 16). A ONU e o meio ambiente. Nações Unidas Brasil. Retrieved November 11, 2021, from


UN. (2021, October 8). Meio ambiente saudável é declarado direito humano por Conselho da ONU. Nações Unidas Brasil. Retrieved November 13, 2021, from

[1] The Conference of the Parties (COP) was established by The United Nations Conference on Environment and meet annually to assess, outline perspectives, and define Agreements related to its objectives (UN, 2020).

[2] Other examples are the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA) and the National Indian Foundation (Funai) (Albuquerque, 2021).

[3] Data show a 216% increase in deforestation in the area compared to March 2020 (Schreiber, 2021).

[4] Despite having voted in favour of Resolution 48/13, Brazil also voted in favour or abstained on proposals submitted by Russia to weaken the Council’s decision (Conectas Direitos Humanos, 2021).

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Coordinator - Tibet Team

Mandakini graduated with honours from the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights. Her team analyses the human rights violations faced by Tibetans through a legal lens.

Kenza Mena
Team Coordinator -China

Kenza Mena has expertise in international criminal law since she is currently pursuing a last-year Master’s degree in International Criminal Justice at Paris II Panthéon-Assas and obtained with honors cum laude an LLM in International and Transnational Criminal Law from the University of Amsterdam. She also holds a Bachelor’s degree in French and Anglo-American law. 

Since September 2021, she has been the coordinator of Team China at GHRD, a country where violations of human rights, even international crimes, are frequently perpetrated by representatives of the State. Within Team China, awareness is also raised on discrimination that Chinese women and minorities in the country and, more generally, Chinese people around the world are facing.

Kenza believes that the primary key step to tackle atrocities perpetrated around the world is advocacy and promotion of human rights.

Aimilina Sarafi
Pakistan Coordinator

Aimilina Sarafi holds a Bachelor’s degree cum laude in International Relations and Organisations from Leiden University and is currently pursuing a Double Legal Master’s degree (LLM) in Public International Law and International Criminal Law at the University of Amsterdam.
She is an active advocate for the human rights of all peoples in her community and is passionate about creating a better world for future generations. Aimilina is the coordinator for the GHRD team of Pakistan, in which human rights violations of minority communities in Pakistan are investigated and legally evaluated based on international human rights legal standards.
Her team is working on raising awareness on the plight of minority communities such as women, children, religious and ethnic minorities within Pakistan.

Lukas Mitidieri
Coordinator & Head Researcher- Bangladesh

Lucas Mitidieri is currently pursuing his bachelor’s degree in International Relations at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). As the GHRD Bangladesh Team Coordinator, he advocates for human rights and monitors violations across all minorities and marginalized groups in Bangladesh. Lucas believes that the fight for International Human Rights is the key to a world with better social justice and greater equality.

Nicole Hutchinson
Editorial Team Lead

Nicole has an MSc in International Development Studies with a focus on migration. She is passionate about promoting human rights and fighting poverty through advocacy and empowering human choice. Nicole believes that even the simplest social justice efforts, when properly nurtured, can bring about radical and positive change worldwide.

Gabriela Johannen
Coordinator & Head Researcher – India

Gabriela Johannen is a lawyer admitted to the German bar and holds extensive knowledge in the fields of human rights, refugee law, and international law. After working for various courts and law firms in her home country, she decided to obtain an LL.M. degree from Utrecht University where she studied Public International Law with a special focus on Human Rights. Additionally, while working as a pro-bono legal advisor for refugees, she expanded her knowledge in the fields of refugee law and migration.

Gabriela is the coordinator and head researcher for GHRD India, a country, she has had a personal connection with since childhood. Her primary focus is to raise awareness for the severe human rights violations against minorities and marginalized groups that continue to occur on a daily basis in India. By emphasizing the happenings and educating the general public, she hopes to create a better world for future generations.

João Victor
Coordinator & Head Researcher – International Justice

João Victor is a young Brazilian lawyer who leads our team of International Justice and Human Rights. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Law from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and possesses over 5 years of experience in dealing with Human Rights and International Law issues both in Brazil and internationally, including the protection of refugees’ rights and the strengthening of accountability measures against torture crimes.

João has an extensive research engagement with subjects related to International Justice in general, and more specifically with the study of the jurisprudence of Human Rights Courts regarding the rise of populist and anti-terrorist measures taken by national governments. He is also interested in the different impacts that new technologies may provoke on the maintenance of Human Rights online, and how enforcing the due diligence rules among private technology companies might secure these rights against gross Human Rights violations.

Célinne Bodinger
Environment and Human Rights Coordinator

As the Environment and Human Rights Coordinator, Célinne is passionate about the health of our planet and every life on it.

Angela Roncetti
Team Coordinator and Head Researcher- South America

Angela holds a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) from Vitória Law School (FDV) in Brazil. Her research combines more than five years of experience conducting debates and studies on the rights of homeless people, the elderly, children, and refugees. Besides that, she also volunteers in a social project called Sou Diferente (I am Different in English), where she coordinates and takes part in actions aimed at the assistance and the emancipation of vulnerable groups in the cities of the metropolitan area of Espírito Santo state (Brazil).

Lina Borchardt
Team Head (Promotions)

She is currently heading the Promotions Team and University Chapter of Global Human Rights Defence. Her background is the one of European and International Law, which I am studying in The Hague. She has previously gained experience at Women´s Rights organizations in Germany, the Netherlands and Turkey over the past years.
She has been working for Global Human Rights Defence in the Netherlands since 2020. Her focus now is concentrated on the Human Rights and Minorities Film Festival and the cooperation of GHRD with students across the country.

Pedro Ivo Oliveira
Team Coordinator and Researcher

Pedro holds an extensive background in Human Rights, especially in Global Health, LGBTQ+ issues, and HIV and AIDS. He is currently finishing his Bachelor’s Degree in International Relations and Affairs at the Pontifical Catholic University of Minas Gerais, Brazil. Moreover, he successfully attended the Bilingual Summer School in Human Rights Education promoted by the Federal University of Minas Gerais and the Association of Universities of the Montevideo Group. Besides, Pedro Ivo has a diversified professional background, collecting experiences in many NGOs and projects.

With outstanding leadership abilities, in 2021, Pedro Ivo was the Secretary-General of the 22nd edition of the biggest UN Model in Latin America: the MINIONU. Fluent in Portuguese, English, and Spanish, Pedro Ivo is the Team Coordinator and Head Researcher of the Team Africa at Global Human Rights Defence. Hence, his focus is to empower his team from many parts of the world about the Human Rights Situation in the African continent, meanwhile having a humanized approach.

Alessandro Cosmo
GHRD Youth Ambassador
(European Union)

Alessandro Cosmo obtained his B.A. with Honors from Leiden University College where he studied International Law with a minor in Social and Business Entrepreneurship. He is currently pursuing an LL.M. in Public International Law at Utrecht University with a specialization in Conflict and Security. 
As GHRD’s E.U. Youth Ambassador, Alessandro’s two main focuses are to broaden the Defence’s reach within E.U. institutions and political parties, as well as mediate relations between human rights organizations abroad seeking European funding. 
Alessandro believes that human rights advocacy requires grass-roots initiatives where victims’ voices are amplified and not paraphrased or spoken for. He will therefore act on this agenda when representing Global Human Rights Defence domestically and abroad

Veronica Delgado
Team Coordinator and Researcher- Japan, Sri Lanka & Tibet

Veronica is a Colombian lawyer who leads our team of Japan, Sri Lanka and Tibet. She holds a master’s degree in Public International Law from Utrecht University. She has experience in Colombian law firms. Here she represented clients before constitutional courts. She also outlined legal concepts to state entities such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ombudsman’s Office on international law issues.

Veronica has an extensive research background with subjects related to public international law. She worked as an assistant researcher for more than two years for the Externado University of Colombia. Here she undertook in-depth research on constitutional, business, and human rights law issues. She was involved with consultancy services with the Colombian Army regarding transitional justice. 

Wiktoria Walczyk
Coordinator & Head Researcher (Nepal & Indonesia)

Wiktoria Walczyk has joined GHRD in June 2020 as a legal intern. She is currently coordinator and head researcher of Team Nepal and Indonesia. She has an extensive legal knowledge concerning international human rights and is passionate about children’s and minorities’ rights. Wiktoria has obtained her LL.B. in International & European Law and she specialised in Public International Law & Human Rights at The Hague University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands. Moreover, she is pursuing her LL.M. in International & European Law and focusing on Modern Human Rights Law specialisation at the University of Wroclaw in Poland. In order to gain an essential legal experience, Wiktoria has also joined Credit Suisse’s 2021 General Counsel Graduate First Program where she is conducting her legal training and discovering the banking world. She would like to make a significant impact when it comes to the protection of fundamental human rights around the world, especially with regard to child labour. 

Fairuz Sewbaks
Coordinator and Head Researcher

Fairuz Sewbaks holds extensive legal knowledge regarding international human rights, with a specific focus on human rights dealings taking place in continental Africa. She holds a bachelor’s degree from The Hague University in public international law and international human rights and successfully followed advanced human rights courses at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria. She furthermore participated in the Istanbul Summer School where she was educated about the role of epidemics and pandemics in light of human rights.


Fairuz is the coordinator and head researcher for GHRD Africa. Her primary focus is to establish and coordinate long-term research projects regarding the differentiating human rights dealings of vulnerable and marginalized groups in continental Africa, as well as conducting individual research projects.

Priya Lachmansingh
Coordinator and Head Researcher, Political Advisor
(Asia & America)

Priya Lachmansingh is currently pursuing her bachelor’s degree in International & European
Law at the Hague University of Applied Science.
As GHRD’s Asia & America human rights coordinator and GHRD Political Advisor, Priya’s
prominent focus is to highlight human rights violations targeted against minority and
marginalized groups in Asia and America and to broaden GHRD reach within Dutch political
parties and as well seek domestic funding.

Jasmann Chatwal
Team Coordinator & Head Coordinator: North America

Jasmann is a political science student at Leiden University who joined GHRD in May 2021 as an intern in team Pakistan. Now, she is the team coordinator for North America and is responsible for coordinating the documentation of human rights violations in USA, Canada, and America.