A Voice for Global Justice: César Rodríguez-Garavito addresses climate change as a human rights issue.

To relax, César Rodríguez-Garavito likes to go walking. “I try to escape to mountain landscapes and will take long detours to spend time in old-growth forests,” he says. But in working with Indigenous and environmental organizations in Brazil and Ecuador, he has watched as cattle ranching, mining, and soy plantations—and the attendant deforestation and fires—threaten to turn the Amazon rain forest into a dry savanna.

César Rodríguez-Garavito
César Rodríguez-Garavito

Living in a habitable world, Rodríguez-Garavito believes, is a fundamental human right, and he is a leading scholar and practitioner in rights-based environmental advocacy. He has served as a director of NYU Law’s Center for Human Rights and Global Justice (CHRGJ) and taught the Global Justice Clinic for both JDs and LLMs. Now Rodríguez-Garavito has joined the full-time faculty as a professor of clinical law and chair of CHRGJ.

“César is a brilliant lawyer who also brings a deep ethnographic sensibility to his work and combines this with an intriguingly futuristic take on where the field should go and how it might get there,” says John Norton Pomeroy Professor of Law Philip Alston. “He has done path-breaking work on an amazing range of issues, from climate change and social rights to corporate responsibilities, Indigenous rights, intellectual property rights, and beyond.”

Two things stand out when you ask Rodríguez-Garavito about his work: high stakes and urgency. “The traditional human rights paradigm,” Rodríguez-Garavito says, “is ill-equipped to deal with the simultaneity, speed, and depth of existential challenges to human rights, like global warming, technological disruption, geopolitical instability, polarization, and deepening social inequalities.”

In 2020, Rodríguez-Garavito founded the Climate Litigation Accelerator (CLX), which he describes as “a global collaborative hub for research, advocacy, and strategic litigation on rights-based responses to the climate emergency.” CLX is currently providing support for a legal challenge to an oil pipeline in East Africa; later this year, it plans to file an amicus brief in a case before the Constitutional Court of Ecuador relating to Indigenous rights and environmental protection in the Amazon region. Litigation before national and international courts, Rodríguez-Garavito says, “is proving to be a useful tool to prompt governments and corporations to act with the urgency demanded by science and agreements like the Paris Agreement.”

In addition to a law degree from the University of the Andes in his native Colombia, Rodríguez-Garavito holds a PhD and an MS in sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, an MA from NYU’s Institute for Law and Society, and an MA in philosophy from the National University of Colombia. At the Law School, in Spring 2022 he will teach the Future of Human Rights Practicum Clinic and lead a 1L reading group, Climate Emergency: Lawyers for the Anthropocene.

“César is unusually calm, thoughtful, and effective,” says Professor of Clinical Law Margaret Satterthwaite ’99. “Those who have been in one of his classes or listened to one of his conference presentations will appreciate the way he combines cogent analysis with a disarming style.” Rodríguez-Garavito has long been a devoted meditator, Satterthwaite notes, adding that he “brings his whole self to both work and play, making concrete connections between his commitment to the earth and to his enjoyment of the outdoors, as well as the life of the mind inside the classroom and the mind as refuge during meditation.”

As a resident of New York City, Rodríguez-Garavito will have few nearby opportunities for hiking in old-growth forests. But, he says, he’s found alternatives, including walking and biking along the city’s rivers and in its parks, and making weekend trips to the Hudson Valley.

Posted September 9, 2021