Global Human Rights Defence

Why the recognition of 'climate human rights' is relevant for the Punjab region
GHRD Intern - Pakistan Team Source

Author: Giovanni Falcinelli

On the 8th of October 2021 the UN Human Rights Council passed a historical resolution recognising access to a healthy and sustainable environment as a universal right (UN News, 2021). This recognition is not legally binding and may therefore seem symbolic at first glance. However, it has the potential to shape global standards and could truly help lawyers involved in climate mitigation build  t h e i r a r g u me n t s i n c a s e s i n v o l v i n g environmental issues and human rights (Reuters, 2021).

The day before this resolution, in Lahore, Pakistan, the local government of Punjab declared air pollution a calamity and called for action to mitigate this health hazard across the province (Dawn, 2021a). The Punjab region is one clear example of how climate issues (air pollution in this case) and their interaction with human activities have to be monitored and kept under control. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO),1 air pollution, primarily due to burning fossil fuels, causes 13 deaths per minute worldwide, which is approximatively 10% of the total deaths per minute (UN News, 2021). Whilst this is a global problem, focusing on the situation in Pakistan and its current pollution issues can provide useful insights.

In line with WHO indications for travelers, one of Pakistan’s general health risks is air pollution (IAMAT, 2020). Furthermore, according to the World Air Quality report, Pakistan was the second most polluted country in 2018 (Iqbal et Al. 2019), maintaining its position in 2019 and 2020, with an annual PM 2.5 average of 74.3 µg/m³ in 2020 (IQAir, 2020). However, the topic of pollution only became prominent in public debates in 2017, when actionable air quality data was published for the first time in Pakistan by socially active citizens. The data showed Lahore’s incredibly high levels of air pollution, shocking the public and becoming a media talking point (The Nation, 2021).

What is the cause of air pollution in Lahore, and more generally in the Pakistani region?


Pakistan’s air pollution levels have transformed into a dire health emergency, reducing life expectancy more than smoking, tuberculosis and unsafe water and sanitation (Iqbal et Al., 2019). Although children and people with chronic lung diseases are most vulnerable, air pollution continues to affect all of Pakistani society, leading to asthma, chronic obstructive lung disease and lung cancer (Iqbal et Al., 2019). Furthermore, it has been proven to affect the mental health of exposed individuals, especially children (Carrington, 2021).

Experts, as well as United Nations (UN) and World Bank reports, have pointed the finger at the transport sector as the biggest contributor to air pollution in Punjab, followed by the manufacturing industry and agriculture (Dawn, 2021a).

However, the issue is far more complex: air quality usually worsens through October and November because of the smoke produced by farmers in the wider Punjab burning crop residue (Dawn, 2021b). The Punjab Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) has been instructed several times to contain crop burning, but it has never been able to ban it completely. Additionally, dropping temperatures results in creating a layer of warm air that traps air pollutants, preventing them from dispersing (The Nation, 2021). Therefore, the smog results in a seasonal plague that is created by human activities and is worsened by natural climatic changes. Another specific regional problem is the wide use of brick kilns, which are highly polluting. The government has been struggling with ensuring the conversion of brick kilns to the new zigzag technology (Dawn, 2021a).

What is the government doing to deal with this critical situation?

 Prime Minister Imran Khan has made it clear to his cabinet that tackling air pollution is a priority and authorities have taken measures to reduce pollution from brick kilns (The Nation, 2021). Under the Punjab Green Development Program (PGDP), there are plans to do more, including establishing 10 air quality monitoring stations in Lahore. Furthermore, in August Imran Khan inaugurated what officials say is the largest urban Miyawaki forest project globally. The forest, covering 12.5 acres and consisting of more than 160,000 plants, is expected to grow 10 times faster than normal due to the specific “Miyawaki” technique (from its creator Akira Miyawaki)2 (Farooq, 2021). The project is part of a bigger plan to plant 10 billion trees to contrast and reduce smog.

Alongside that, international organisations such as the British Council3 are actively pursuing ways to engage the younger generations and policymakers on shared platforms to give the cause a further push (Dawn, 2021b). Together with Higher Education Commission (HEC),4 they organised a discussion called ‘Education for Climate Action: How Universities can steer the climate crisis’ in Islamabad. One of the speakers was Minister for Education Shafqat Mahmood, who said that climate change is an issue that calls for up-close and immediate action (Dawn, 2021b).

British Council Country Director Amir Ramzan said: “I am hopeful that the conversations taking place here will help us learn from each other, and together we can find a path to mainstream sustainable practices in higher education in Pakistan. I am also positive that this seminar will contribute to the national environmental discourse in higher education and HEC’s strategy on taking charge of our sustainable future through academic leadership” (Dawn, 2021b).

Despite Mr Ramzan’s positivity, to think that national institutional change can and will be pushed forward just by environmental discourse in higher education is to oversimplify the problem. In the past few years, the Punjab government has failed to comply with several recommendations as to procure the required number of air quality monitors, ban stubble burning, and disallow industries without emission controls (Dawn, 2021a), showing a lack of action on an institutional level. That is why the resolution passed in the UN Human Rights Council is particularly relevant to this case and will hopefully foster institutional change much needed in regions like Punjab.

According to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the global recognition of the right to a healthy environment will support efforts to address environmental issues in a more coordinated and effective way (UN News, 2021). In this regard, the WHO’s environment chief said: “The next step will be how we translate that on the right to clean air and whether we can push, for instance, for the recognition of WHO’S Global Air Quality Guidelines and the levels of exposure to certain pollutants at a country level. It will also help us to move certain legislation and standards at the national level” (UN News, 2021). These are the next steps international organisations, together with national governments and private companies, have to bravely push forward. UN Human Rights Council resolutions might not be legally binding, but they do contain strong political commitments (UN News, 2021). If these commitments are taken seriously by the Punjab government, it will hopefully lead to a structural change in the air quality in the region and in the whole of Pakistan.



Dawn, (October 7, 2021b). Climate change requires immediate action: minister. Published in Dawn

Dawn, (October 7, 2021a). Punjab govt declares smog a calamity. Published in Dawn https://

Farooq, Uman. (August 9, 2021). Pakistan seeks to bring fresh air to polluted cities with 10 billion trees. Published in Reuters polluted-cities-with-10-billion-trees-2021-08-09/.

Khokhar Muhammad Fahim, Anjum Muhammad Shehzaib, Salam Absus, Sinha Vinayak, Naja Manish, Tanimoto Hiroshi, Crawford James H., & Mead Mohamed Iqbal. (October 19, 2021). Countries of the Indo-Gangetic Plain must unite against air pollution. Published in Nature https://www.


Iqbal Maria, Malik Ali Osama, Bhulani Nizar Noorali, Chughtai Talaiha, Sabri Taha & Mohsin Ali Mustafa. (December 20, 2019). Why Pakistan needs to deal with air pollution on an emergency footing. Published in Dawn

Reuters, (October 9, 2021). UN declares access to a clean environment a human right. Published in Dawn right.

The Nation, (October 18, 2021). Air quality in Lahore ‘unhealthy’, transition in weather brings back smog. Published in The Nation transition-in-weather-brings-back-smog.

IAMAT (International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers) (April 16, 2020). Pakistan General Health Risks.

IQAir, (2020). World Air Quality Report, region & city PM2.5 Ranking. most-polluted-countries.

UN News, (October 15, 2021). The right to a clean and healthy environment: 6 things you need to know.

Carrington, Damian. (August 27, 2021). Air pollution linked to more severe mental illness – study. Published in The Guardian linked-to-more-severe-mental-illness-study.

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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.