Contributing to the Historic Hearings on the Climate Emergency of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Barbados 

The Barbados Hearings of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights provided a historic opportunity for governments, researchers, civil society, youth and other human rights holders to express their concerns about the human rights issues related to climate change, including at the ocean-climate nexus. The hearings provided a clear indication of the commitment and depth of engagement of the Inter-American judges with the variety of legal arguments on the obligations of States, and responsibility of businesses, to respect human rights in the context of the climate crisis. The Hearings also provided an opportunity for the Hub to connect with other researchers and entities in Latin America and the Caribbean, who are working on human rights and the ocean, as well as with the Special Rapporteur on Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights (REDESCA) of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The hearings further provided opportunities for the Hub research partner, University of West Indies, to develop new partnerships with Latin American international organizations and civil society.   


On 9 January, 2023, Chile and Colombia signed a joint request for an advisory opinion request to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, aimed at clarifying the scope of state obligations for responding to the climate emergency under the framework of international human rights law. The request acknowledged the human rights effects of the climate emergency, especially highlighting the vulnerability of communities and ecosystems. Colombia and Chile also emphasized the need for regional standards to accelerate action to confront climate change. The request ultimately expects the Inter-American Court to provide guidelines for creating and implementing climate policies with a human rights-centered approach. 

In December 2023, the Hub made a Written Submission to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on States’ human rights obligations at the ocean-climate nexus. The Submission, which touched on a diversity of issues of regional and global importance, was prepared jointly with and spearheaded by the Caribbean Environmental Law Unit of the Faculty of Law of  The University of West Indies (UWI), Cave Hill Campus. As  a complement to the  Written Submission, Hub Director Elisa Morgera and Hub researcher Alana Malinde S.N. Lancaster, who is the Director of UWI Caribbean Environmental Law Unit, contributed to the discussions during the first round of In-Person Public Hearings of the Court on the Advisory Opinion 32 (OC-32), which were held in Barbados from 23-25 April at UWI Cave Hill Campus. The Court’s Hearings in Barbados were the first part of the Public Hearings on the Request for Advisory Opinion; the second part will be held in Brasília and Manaus, Brazil from 20-29 May.   

During the Barbados Hearings, various interventions addressed the human rights obligations of States in the context of the energy transition, the urgent debates around climate loss & damage and climate reparations; and the climate change impacts on the human rights of vulnerable groups, notably Indigenous peoples, Afro-descendant peoples, children and future generations. Of note, for the Small Island Developing States of the Latin America & Caribbean Region, the Barbados Hearing preceded the Fourth International Conference of Small Island Developing States in Antigua and Barbuda (27-30 May 2024) entitled “Charting the Course towards Resilient Prosperity.” The Hub and the UWI Caribbean Environmental Law Unit will submit a written statement to this forum, led by Alana Malinde S.N. Lancaster.  

Hub’s Contributions to the Hearings 

Alana Malinde S.N. Lancaster made an oral intervention at the Barbados Hearings. She underscored that the primary ​focus of the​ intervention was the need to​ clarify specific standards of conduct for states, individually and collectively, in the context of the climate crisis based on​ human rights​,​ taking into account the unique circumstances of Small Island Developing States (SIDS), and their increased vulnerability to the climate emergency. These States experience the hardest, longest, and most disproportionate impacts of the climate emergency. In that connection, she respectfully recommended that the Inter-American Court ​clarify ​human rights ​standards ​with respect to ​the connections between land and sea in the context of climate change, ​especially for SIDS, on the basis of ​a harmonious interpretation of the law of the sea and international biodiversity law, together with international climate change law and human rights.​ 


​​Alana also emphasised that the global relevance of the Inter-American Court’s Advisory Opinion should be understood in the light of the predominant ​ focus internationally and regionally on              land-based causes and solutions to the climate emergency, ​and a continuing separation of climate science and biodiversity science. This separation has led to the current situation, where the ​full consideration of the roles of the ​protection ​marine environment​, including marine biodiversity,​ in climate change mitigation and adaptation, ​has been substantively neglected. This lacuna, the Amici argued, persists, despite a formal inclusion in the international climate change regime at the Glasgow Climate COP in 2022, and continues to exacerbate the human rights of the most vulnerable. ​Further, in her intervention, Alana indicated that such exclusion of relevant science and international legal obligations contributes to the negative impacts on human rights​ of the climate emergency​. Additionally, she invited the Inter-American Court to clarify State obligations in relation to the ridge-to-reef (R2R) approach that best responds to the interdependence and interconnectivity in SIDS, because their size and geographical characteristics make SIDS integrated land-sea systems, which require the management of land and sea areas collectively as a single unit.  

The intervention was deemed “eloquent” and warmly received by the Judges of the Inter-American Court. In response to the oral submission, the Amici were asked questions about the relevance of international biodiversity law as part of the harmonious interpretation of international law that could be developed in the Advisory Opinion; the standards of participation for children and future generations; and the value added of human rights in the context of common but differentiated responsibilities. Within the framework of existing and future co-operation between the Hub and the UWI, as well as with other partnerships developed over the week, there will be an wider exploration of these issues. 

See the video-recording (starting at 51:10):  

Side-Event with the Inter-American Special Rapporteur 

The Hub and the UWI also co-organized a side-event during the hearings, led by Nicole Foster, Head of the Health Law Research Unit of the Faculty of Law (UWI Cave Hill Campus) and Javier Palummo, the Inter-American Special Rapporteur on Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and the Asociación Interamericana para la Defensa de la Ambiente (AIDA), to discuss “Climate Emergency and Human Rights at the   Inter-American Court: What to Expect from the Advisory Opinion Process?” on 24 April 2024. In the first Panel, focused on the most important points that the Inter-American Court of Human Rights should consider in the Advisory Opinion process, Hub Director Elisa Morgera called attention to the opportunity for the Inter-American Court to clarify the transformative potential of human rights in addressing climate change, by illuminating how existing international law, interpreted harmoniously, can support the fairness and effectiveness of climate response measures on the basis of the ecosystem approach and genuine participation. In addition, she reflected on the opportunity to identify as climate reparations specific actions for climate mitigation and adaptation, including ecosystem restoration, to expand their legally binding force. The other panelists included: Ana Elisa Samayoa, Due Process of Law Foundation; Maria Alejandra Serra, Greenpeace International; Rodrigo Sales, Open Society Justice Initiative; and Florencia Reggiardo, Center for Justice and International Law. The panel was chaired by Nikki Reisch, Center for International Environmental Law.   

The   second panel was chaired by Gisselle García Maning, AIDA, and focused on loss, damage and climate reparations, and on future generations and vulnerable groups. Panelists included Alana Malinde S.N. Lancaster, Faculty of Law (The UWI, Cave Hill Campus), Adrián Martínez, La Ruta del Clima, Angélica Corredor, Comité Ambiental por la Defensa de la Vida Tolima, Mariana Campos, Campos, World’s Youth for Climate Justice; and Laura Serna, Latin American Coalition for Clean Air. During her presentation, Alana Malinde S.N. Lancaster described how the jurisprudence of the Inter-American Court could foster the regional drive toward reparations, climate justice and climate security. Additionally, Alana underscored the importance of the Inter-American jurisprudence in influencing international human rights standards, and the complementarity with regional instruments such as the Cartagena Convention for the Wider Caribbean Region (and its three Protocols on oil spills, specially protected areas and wildlife and land-based sources of pollution), the Protocol of San Salvador and Escazú Agreement.

Within the climate and human rights context, Alana underscored the notable example of the Miskito Standards, which are harmonious with the tenets of Escazú, and set out obligations for States and actions to be taken by companies operating in Latin America and the Caribbean, with regards to their duty to respect human rights. The Inter-American Court’s jurisprudence can be influential in shaping legal frameworks and policy initiatives of the sixteen SIDS in Latin America and the Caribbean, and is broadly synergistic within the context of the Antigua and Barbuda Agenda for SIDS – the final outcome document to be adopted at the Fourth International Conference of Small Island Developing States in Antigua and Barbuda in May. 

Deeper Commitments to Engaging within Latin America & The Caribbean  

Within the context of a broader engagement between the primarily English-speaking States of the Caribbean, and the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking states of the Latin American Region, were the expressions of commitment between the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights through a Framework Cooperation Agreement signed on 23 April 2024, will result in improved capacity-building, joint research opportunities and other areas of mutual benefit for both institutions.  

This Agreement complements the remarks (at 1:02:20) made by Alana Malinde S.N. Lancaster, during a webinar hosted by the  Independent Panel to Evaluate Candidates to the Inter-American Human Rights System (IAHRS) Bodies, where she  underscored that selection of judges is an important aspect in achieving SDG 16: peace, justice and strong intuitions by safeguarding the rule of law of Latin American & Caribbean States. As Hub researcher, Alana had already contributed to the synthesis between SDG 16 and SDG 14, and sees this South-South collaboration as a mechanism to bridge the  Anglo-Latin Divide” (Carozzo, 2015) which remains a key flaw in the Inter-American Human Rights System. Alana is resolute that a much stronger effort to explore mutual synergies between the English-speaking Caribbean and  the Inter-American system is an urgent lacuna which needs to be filled, especially in face of pervasive, global issues such as climate change. 


In parrallell with the historic Hearings in Barbados, the Hub had an opportunity to explore areas of shared research interest on human rights at the ocean-climate nexus, notably with regard to the human rights of small-scale fishers with the Colombian NGO Observatorio para la Governanza Marino-costera. As a result, the One Ocean Hub will co-organise with the Observatorio para la Governanza Marino-costera (Colombia), the Caribbean Environmental Law Unit of the Faculty of Law (UWI Cave Hill) and the Commission of Small Island States on Climate Change and International Law, which requested an advisory opinion to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, a webinar titled “Perspectives on Advisory Opinion Proceedings before the Inter-American Court, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, and the International Court of Justice on the Climate Emergency, Oceans and Human Rights”  (in English and Spanish) on13 June 2024.  

The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea is expected to release their advisory opinion on 21 May 2024: Alana Malinde S.N. Lancaster and Mitchell Lennan will provide a rapid-reaction commentary on the One Ocean Hub social media shortly after the release. 

Alana has also been invited to teach on a training course in aimed at creating South-South cooperation in the region, on the role of climate litigation in safeguarding human rights, and the use of the Escazú Agreement (24-28 June). Co-sponsored by South American NGOs –FIMA (Chile), Ambiente y Sociedad (Colombia) and FARN (Argentina), the Programme will include civil society, scholars from the Latin American and Caribbean Region, as well as the Global North, and the UN Special Rapporteur for the Human Right to a Healthy Environment, Astrid Puentes Riaño