Sowing constitutional values in mercurial soil: legal struggles for water and environmental protection in São Paulo and Johannesburg

LaDawn Haglund presented her study which explores transformations in water and sanitation sectors that occur as a result of increased legalization of social and environmental policy. The intense human rights and environmental challenges created by rapid urbanization, poverty, and climate variability have pressured states to act with greater urgency on their obligations to protect vulnerable populations and places. Courts have seen a concomitant rise in both human rights and environmental litigation, sometimes with conflicting outcomes. Yet, significant gaps remain in understanding how (and whether) law and rights are able to address policy challenges in water and sanitation sectors. This research analyzes the role of legal mechanisms in this process, with empirical evidence from São Paulo, Brazil and Johannesburg, South Africa. Legal and policy research, as well as interviews with lawyers, judges, public administrators, and activists, reveal the extent to which—and effectiveness with which—courts and law influence public policy for the better.

LaDawn Haglund’s presentation was followed by a conversation with Bruce Wilson, Camila Gianella and Lara Côrtes who are working on a project about the effects of the international recognition of the right to water.

Watch the presentation and debate:


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Lara Côrtes holds a PhD in Public Law from
the Faculty of Law of the University of São Paulo and a Master’s degree in Law and Development from the São Paulo Law School of Fundacao Getulio Vargas. Her research focuses on the promotion of social rights through the functioning of state institutions. In Brazil, Côrtes worked as a lawyer, and later as a public servant at the State of São Paulo as well as with research at the Fundacao Getulio Vargas. In 2012, she moved to Norway where she taught a semester of “Brazilian Studies and Portuguese” at the University of Bergen. She has also collaborated with the Chr. Michelsen Institute in research projects concerning media coverage in Angola and Mozambique. Lara is currently working at the University of Bergen as part of the multidisciplinary team of the project “Poverty, Language and Media in Latin America: The cases of Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Mexico” and is an affiliate researcher of the Centre on Law & Social Transformation, where she is involved in a project about the impact of the international recognition of the human right to water.

Bruce M. Wilson (Ph.D. Washington University) is
Professor of Political Science at the University of Central Florida, Orlando, Florida and Associated Senior Researcher at the Chr. Michelsen Institute, Bergen, Norway.  His research on Latin American politics and comparative judicial politics has appeared in numerous peer-reviewed journals including Comparative Political Studies, the Journal of Latin American Studies, Comparative Politics, Journal of Politics in Latin America, and the International Journal of Constitutional Law.  His books include, Costa Rica: Politics, Economics, and Democracy (1998) and a co-authored book, Courts and Political Power in Latin America and Africa (2010).  He is former editor of The Latin Americanist and is currently the co-editor of the Journal of Political Science Education.

Camila Gianella (MSc, PhD) is a researcher at CMI
and a post doctoral fellow at the department of Comparative Politics, University of Bergen in the project Sexual and Reproductive Rights (SRR) Lawfare: Global battles over sexual and reproductive rights, driving forces and impacts, Dr. Gianella is also part of the team of two related project: Abortion Rights lawfare in Latin America and International Sexual and Reproductive Rights Lawfare. Gianella has a PhD from the University of Bergen.  In her dissertation she analyzed the process of implementation of a structural court decision from the Colombian Constitutional Court which asked for major reforms within the health system. Prior to her PhD from the University of Bergen, Camila worked as researcher and consultant for projects on maternal health, the right to health, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, mental health and transitional justice.