Director, Global Legal Studies Center
LL.M., University of Cambridge (U.K.)
Ph.D., University of Cambridge (U.K.)
Attorney-at-Law (Sri Lanka)
Sumudu Anopama Atapattu is a Teaching Professor and Director of the Global Legal Studies Center at UW Law School. She is also the Executive Director of the Human Rights Program at UW-Madison. She teaches in the areas of International Environmental law and climate change and human rights. She is affiliated with UW-Madison's Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, Global Health Institute, the Center for South Asia, and the 4W Initiative and was a visiting professor at Doshisha University Law School, Japan (2014), Justus Liebig University, Germany (2016, 2022) and Universitat Rovira i Virgili, Tarragona, Spain (2019).
A prolific writer, her books include: "UN Human Rights Institutions and the Environment: Synergies, Challenges, Trajectories" (Routledge, forthcoming, 2023); "Cambridge Handhook of Environmental Justice and Sustainable Development (2021, Cambridge((co-editor): Human Rights and the Environment:Key Issues (Routledge, 2019) (co-author); "Human Rights Approaches to Climate Change: Challenges and Opportunities" (2015, Routledge); "International Environmental Law and the Global South" (2015, Cambridge University Press) (co-editor); and "Emerging Principles of International Environmental Law" (2006, Transnational Publishers, New York).
Dr. Atapattu has received numerous awards and scholarships for academic excellence, including a Cambridge Commonwealth Trust scholarship, a Benefactor Studentship awarded by St. John's College, Cambridge and a Senior Fulbright scholarship and was affiliated with the New York University Law School and the George Washington University Law School as a visiting scholar. From 2002-2006 she was a visiting scholar at the Institute for Legal Studies at UW Law School and was part of the adjunct faculty during that time.
Before moving to the US, Dr. Atapattu worked as an Associate Professor (equivalent) at the Faculty of Law, University of Colombo, and as a Consultant to the Law & Society Trust, a human rights NGO in Sri Lanka. She serves as affiliated faculty at the Raoul Wallenberg Institute for Human Rights, Sweden, and the Lead Counsel for Human Rights at the Center for International Sustainable Development Law, Canada, and is on the advisory board of several journals including the McGill International Journal of Sustainable Development Law and Policy.
Dr. Atapattu has worked on several projects as an independent consultant, attended several climate COP meetings, UN experts consultations, and taught blended learning courses on human rights and the environment in Asia organized by the Raoul Wallenberg Institute for Human Rights. Her research examines the link between human rights and the environment, especially climate change, climate migration and small island states.
Scholarship & Publications
- Environmental Rights
- International Sustainable Development Law
- Climate Change and Human Rights
Sumudu Atapattu presented "Climate Change and Human Rights: A Justice Conundrum?" during a virtual event hosted by the United Nations Associaton of Dane County on Dec. 13, 2022.
Sumudu Atapattu’s book chapter, titled "Loss and Damage, Climate Displacement and International Law: Addressing the Protection Gap," was published in Research Handbook on Loss and Damage edited by Sara Seck and Meinhard Doelle by Edward Elgar (2021).
Sumudu Atapattu attended the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, United Kingdom. She was invited to speak at the side event titled “Connecting the Dots: Human Rights and Climate Change” organized by the Raoul Wallenberg Institute at the Nordic Pavilion and spoke on “Climate Adaptation and Human Rights.”
In July 2020, Sumudu Atapattu presented “Climate Change and Human Rights: The North-South Divide” to Shahid Beheshti University in Tehran, Iran. Atapattu spoke at the invitation of the United Nations Educational, Scientific & Cultural Organization's (UNESCO) Chair for Human Rights, Peace and Democracy.
In June, Sumudu Atapattu presented a webinar, “Climate Change, Human Rights and Justice: Role of Law and Lawyers,” for Dharmashastra National Law University in Jabalpur, India.
In April 2020, Sumudu Atapattu participated in the webinar "Law at the Intersection of Human Rights and the Environment," organized by the Global Network for the Study of Human Rights and the Environment. She spoke on climate displacement, refugees and human rights.
Sumudu Atapattu's article, “Climate change and displacement: protecting ‘climate refugees’ within a framework of justice and human rights,” was published in the Journal of Human Rights and the Environment, in March 2020.
Sumudu Atapattu participated in the 2019 United Nations Climate Change Conference, held in Madrid, Spain, in December. She spoke at the Climate Law and Governance Day symposium on the theme “Strengthening Legal Foundations for Climate Ambition and Compliance.” She also spoke on two panels, “Advancing Future Global Responses to Climate Change through World-class Legal Research and Teaching” and “Intersection between Sustainable Development Goals 5 (Gender Equality) and 16 (Peace, Justice and Institutions) and the Paris Agreement.”
In December 2019, Sumudu Atapattu was invited to speak on a panel addressing climate change and human rights at the international conference, “Advocating Human Rights in the 21st Century,” organized by the Federal Foreign Office in Berlin, Germany.
Sumudu Atapattu’s chapter titled “Environmental Justice, Climate Justice and Constitutionalism: Protecting Vulnerable States and Communities” was published in 2019 in the Research Handbook on Global Climate Constitutionalism, edited by Jordi Jaria-Manzano and Susana Borras, published by Edward Elgar.
Sumudu Atapattu's article, “An Idea Whose Time Has Come: On an Emerging Right to a Healthy Environment," was posted in Verfassungsblog on October 29, 2019. Verfassungsblog is a journalistic and academic forum of debate on topical events and developments in constitutional law and politics in Germany, the emerging European constitutional space and beyond.
Sumudu Atapattu’s book chapter, “Environmental Rights and International Human Rights Covenants: What Standards Are Relevant?”, appears in "Environmental Rights: The Development of Standards." The book was published in 2019 by Cambridge University Press.
Sumudu Atapattu’s article, “From ‘Our Common Future’ to Sustainable Development Goals: Evolution of Sustainable Development under International Law,” was published in the Spring 2019 issue of Wisconsin International Law Journal.
Sumudu Atapattu's textbook, "Human Rights and the Environment" (co-authored with Andrea Schapper), was published in March by Routledge.
Sumudu Atapattu was an invited plenary speaker at the 2017 IBS Conference on Climate Change and Human Migration, held in Busan, South Korea. She presented “The Human Face of Climate Displacement: Small Island States and Their People.” While in Korea, she also gave a lecture at the Kyungpook National University Law School in Daegu on the role of human rights in relation to climate change.
News & Media
Friday, Dec 1, 2023Sumudu Atapattu to Speak on Virtual Panel About Health Effects of Climate Change
Wisconsin Public Radio
Thursday, Nov 30, 2023Sumudu Atapattu Discusses Upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference
Wednesday, Nov 16, 2022Sumudu Atapattu Discusses a Global Approach to the Climate Crisis
Tuesday, Mar 29, 2022UW Law launches Wisconsin Initiative on Law and Climate Change
Monday, Mar 21, 2022Sumudu Atapattu discusses climate change, environmental justice and human rights
Tuesday, Aug 4, 2020A Q&A on human rights and climate change with Sumudu Atapattu
Organization for Defending Victims of Violence
Thursday, Jul 9, 2020 COVID-19 adds to adversity for climate refugees; Sumudu Atapattu comments
Tuesday, Feb 11, 2020Sumudu Atapattu discusses the U.N.'s new ruling on climate change refugees
Tuesday, Jan 21, 2020Sumudu Atapattu discusses UN ruling that climate threats can be grounds for asylum
Friday, Oct 25, 2019International law ill equipped to deal with people crossing borders due to climate disasters, says Sumudu Atapattu
Anadolu News Agency
Monday, Oct 7, 2019Sumudu Atapattu says climate change is a human rights issue
Wisconsin Public Television
Thursday, May 9, 2019Sumudu Atapattu helps raise funds for Sri Lankan bombing victims
Wednesday, Apr 10, 2019In student conversation series, Sumudu Atapattu describes human rights implications of climate change
- Environmental Law
- Human Rights Law
- International Law