Using law-based advocacy as a sword, shield and armour against environmental harm

A justice scale against a blue and gray background
Daphina Misiedjan

As part of #SocialJusticeWeek at ISS, today we’re talking about Climate Justice. Dr Daphina Misiedjan takes us through her work within her latest research project called ‘Legal Mobilization: Analyzing law-based advocacy’.

Four new and exciting research projects have kicked off within our Global Development & Social Justice research programme. We narrowed in on some of the latest work within the Environment and Climate Change research theme at ISS. Read along as we unfold the conversation we had with Dr Daphina Misiedjan to learn a little more about the project, “Legal Mobilization: Analyzing law-based advocacy” that she is currently working on.

Can you tell us a bit about the Legal Mobilization Project and what your research focus is?

“Legal mobilization” essentially means the way in which communities are using the law to reach their social goals. For instance, using the law to get access to water or to address certain concerns that communities have. The project aims to strategically analyse how they use the law in that sense. We’re looking into case studies from South Africa and Suriname and many other examples. Our colleague Jeff Handmaker, who leads the project, will focus on the overall concept of legal mobilization while I study how it connects to the “rights of nature” movement. That is my perspective within the larger, interdisciplinary research team.

“…we are really looking at how we can create that equal playing field for people”

How does the theme of social justice fit into your current research project?

Social justice is very much connected to legal mobilization. The way I understand social justice is that everyone gets access, protection and equality within the law. Ideally, that should translate into people being able to move freely in the world, have access to certain resources, and abilities to develop themselves as individuals. The reality, however, is that different communities and different individuals can experience oppression or boundaries that should not be in place. Within this project, we try to analyse how communities are using the law to actually reach social justice goals that are relevant to them. So we are really looking at how we can create that equal playing field for people.

What does social justice mean to you?

Social justice to me, really means equity. It means that communities and individuals get what they need in order to develop themselves without having any type of historical boundaries or having to face marginalisation. Channeling my efforts into really trying to create such an environment is what it means to me!

You mentioned your focus is on the “rights of nature” movement. Can you tell us more about that?

“Rights of nature” is the movement of giving certain invaluable rights back to nature. For instance, the right of the river to be able to flow, the right of the mountains to have its forests and its trees. What we often observe is that “rights of nature” is very much connected to the perspectives of local and indigenous communities. Their perspectives on nature, what the relationship is between humans and nature and what it means, often defines the concept.

That is why I like to link “rights of nature” to environmental justice. It enables a sense of community and it lends a voice to individuals who are often marginalized. Local communities are coming together to achieve environmental justice and they want to protect local eco-systems while also empowering their own communities and I think we need to listen to them about how we should deal with nature! My research looks at how communities have mobilised these ideas of “rights of nature” and how that can also give them access to certain rights that might have been infringed for them earlier.

What are some of the burning questions that you would like to leave your readers with?

“Rights of nature” is one concept, but ideas around Earth stewardship are also being discussed. How do we as humans take care of nature? What type of responsibilities do we have towards nature? But then, we also have ideas around ecological justice so how do we create more room within law for nature and ideas like ‘ecocide’? We are now also starting to question whether we can criminalise grave environmental degradation. These are all different ideas that are developing because we’ve seen that environmental law, as it is now, has not been sufficient. So we are trying to explore new ideas to make sure that we have a good environment and that we protect nature but also still interact with nature in a sustainable and equitable manner.

More information

Drawing on legal, political, sociological and socio-legal concepts and methodological approaches, the Legal Mobilization project adopts a critical approach and explores law and its mobilization through various, inter-disciplinary angles. It studies law-based interventions in developing and/or transitional justice countries as well as in relation to sustainable development issues, both in the global North and South, and transnationally. Key funders of the project include Erasmus Trust Fund, ISS, Erasmus School of Economics and KidsRights, European Commission, NIAS-KNAW and Leiden University.

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