Sumudu Atapattu

Director, Global Legal Studies Center

Sumudu  Atapattu

Room 8113A, Law School

PDF Icon Curriculum Vitae


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


Law Repository

Research Interests

  • Environmental Rights
  • International Sustainable Development Law
  • Climate Change and Human Rights


  • Sumudu Atapattu, Joshua Braver, Heinz Klug and Mark Sidel spoke on global perspectives on civic health at the UW-Madison Center for Community and Nonprofit Studies conference on civic health on April 16, 2024.

  • Sumudu Atapattu gave the opening keynote and participated in a panel discussing "Human Rights in the 21st Century: Racial Justice & Migration Through a Global Lens" during a conference hosted by Macalester College March 15-16, 2024. 

  • Sumudu Atapattu presented "Climate Migration, Human Rights and Climate Justice" during a panel on climate migration, displacement and reparations during the Innovations in Environmental Law and Climate Advocacy conference hosted by New York University School of Law on March 1, 2024. 

  • 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.

News & Media

Lock iconProfile Admin