“The Earth Charter as a Sui Generis Instrument of International Law for Sustainable Development” Doctoral thesis

The Doctoral Thesis ¨The Earth Charter as a Sui Generis Instrument of International Law for Sustainable Development¨, elaborated by María Elisa Febres, for obtaining the degree of Doctor of Sustainable Development, was presented and approved in April 2015 at Simon Bolivar University in Venezuela.

It was presented and approved by the Dean’s Office of Post-Graduate Studies, in Coordination with the Post-Graduate Department of Development and Environment as part of the PhD in Sustainable Development programme offered by the University. The jury was formed by President Nila Pellegrini, External Member Juan Carlos Sainz-Borgo from the University for Peace in Costa Rica and the Central University of Venezuela, Lead Member Rosa María Chacon, and Main Members/Tutors Arnoldo José Gabaldon and Isabel de los Ríos.

The thesis analyzes the situation and perspectives of the Earth Charter within the framework of International Law.
It qualifies the Earth Charter as an instrument of soft law, based on progressive criteria that favor new forms of legitimacy. At the same time, it points out that this is a sui generis instrument, rich in legal diversity, which incorporates predominantly morally binding norms, which makes it a different instrument than typical laws or regulations.

The work references the theory of legal pluralism, which values rules production generated by various levels of social life and raises the coexistence of different normative orders and their necessary interrelationships. It states that the Earth Charter, from that perspective, can be conceived as a framework, a guide, and a common denominator for all regulatory orders, including informal statements that occur from the bottom up (as was the Charter and as can be law or practices of indigenous or local communities), or corporate legal orders, as well as formal or classical state legal forms at national, regional, or international levels, all considered valuable and efficient tools for a governance that aims for sustainability.

This research reaffirms the importance of the systemic view of the Earth Charter through its commitment to a close connection between the areas of morality and law. It concludes, among other things, that the Earth Charter “can also help in the development of regulations, policies, projects, or programmes, and at the same time, curb or exclude initiatives that are contrary to it. It also fulfills an explanatory and didactic function, synthesizing and systematizing a great deal of environmental information on sustainable development and international law, helping to understand it as a whole, which can also help facilitate and improve its implementation. Future scenarios are presented for expanding the recognition, implementation, and impact of the Charter, considering that its placement in the intergovernmental world (although it should not imply the need to fill a deficiency) is a desirable step. The strategies were channeled in the document itself, the message it contains, and the institutional structure that supports it. It is hoped that this research will be published shortly.

During her stay of almost three years at the Earth Charter International Secretariat while elaborating her doctoral thesis,
María Elisa Febres also completed other work for the Earth Charter such as organizing a searchable database that presents correlations between the principles of the Earth Charter and International Law instruments, published in 2012, as well as completing the publication entitled Earth Charter and International law, published the same year in collaboration among the University for Peace in Costa Rica, Simon Bolivar University in Venezuela, and the Earth Charter International Secretariat, working within the framework of the UNESCO Chair on Education for Sustainable Development and the Earth Charter.

María Elisa Febres is a Law graduate from the Central University of Venezuela, and a Specialist in Environmental Law (Center for Development Studies-CENDES).  From 1996 to 2002 she worked at the Law Office of the Environmental Ministry of Venezuela, and then moved to the Venezuelan NGO VITALIS where she was in charge of the Law and Environmental Policies Department from 2002 to 2010. She is a member of the Environmental Law Commission of IUCN, and as a consultant she has participated in projects for CAN, GWP, OEA, and BID, among others.

Both of these materials are available for free download at the Earth Charter International Virtual Library through the following links:

The Earth Charter and International Law

Database – Earth Charter and International Law