Using Constitutional Provisions to Advance Environmental Justice Some Reflections on Sri Lanka


Camena Guneratne
Professor - Dept. of Legal Studies,
Dean - Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences,
Open University of Sri Lanka,
P O Box 21, Nawala,
Nugegoda 10250, SRI LANKA


This paper examines the principle of environmental justice and its potential applicability to developing countries such as Sri Lanka.  It first considers the interpretation and application of the principle in its country of origin, the United States, where it is used primarily to address problems of discrimination in the context of pollution.  The paper takes the view that while such an interpretation of environmental justice is valid in this particular context, it cannot address issues of environment and development that arise in countries of the global South, which are grappling with development processes.  These processes give rise to issues that may be subject to judicial determination, including sustainable development, protection of natural resources, human rights and social equity.  The principle must therefore be re-interpreted to encompass all these dimensions.

This paper argues that such an expansion and implementation of the principle of environmental justice in a context of environment and development in countries such as Sri Lanka, is most effective within a constitutional framework of human rights. Constitutions provide both the substantive and procedural foundation of rights, which are interpreted, enforced and given validity at the highest level of the judicial process.  Even where environmental rights per se are not contained in a constitution, the existing rights can be, and have been, re-formulated to address issues of environment and development and related human rights.  This paper analyses constitutional rights in Sri Lanka, which although limited in scope, has nevertheless formed the basis of a wide body of jurisprudence which brings new dimensions to the principle.


Arbitrary action, constitutional rights, development paradigms, environmental justice, public interest litigation, right to equality, Sri Lanka.             LEAD Journal - ISSN 1746-5893