Sumudu Atapattu

Director, Global Legal Studies Center

Atapattu, Sumudu

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 the Director of Research Centers and Senior Lecturer at UW Law School. She teaches in the area of International Environmental law and climate change and human rights . She holds an LL.M. (Public International Law) and a Ph.D. (International Environmental Law) from the University of Cambridge, U.K., and is an Attorney-at-Law of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka.  Her books include:  "Human Rights Approaches to Climate Change: Challenges and Opportunities" (2015, Routledge, U.K); "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). 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, in summer 2014 and Giessen University, Germany in summer 2016. She is also the Executive Director of the Human Rights Program at UW-Madison.

Dr. Atapattu has received numerous awards and scholarships for academic excellence, including a Cambridge Commonwealth Trust scholarship and a Benefactor Studentship awarded by St. John's College, Cambridge. In 1986 she was awarded the best student prize and Sir Lalitha Rajapakse Memorial Prize by the Sri Lanka Law College, Colombo where she graduated at the top of her class. In 2000 she was awarded a Senior Fulbright scholarship and carried out research on "Environmental Rights and Human Rights" at 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.

From August 1995 to January 2002, Dr. Atapattu worked as an Associate Professor (equivalent) at the Faculty of Law, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka, where she taught Environmental Law and Public International Law and was instrumental in introducing a course on environmental law to the law curriculum. She also taught International Organizations for the LL.M. degree and the Public International Law component of the M.A. in International Relations course, both at the University of Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Dr. Atapattu also worked as a Senior Research Consultant to the Law & Society Trust, a human rights non-governmental organization in Colombo, Sri Lanka. She was the editor of Sri Lanka: State of Human Rights 2002, an annual publication on the human rights situation 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 the McGill International Journal of Sustainable Development Law and Policy.

Dr. Atapattu has worked on several projects as an independent consultant, attended several experts consultations and human rights and the environment organized by the UN, and taught several blended learning courses on human rights and the environment for human rights officials in South Asia and Southeast Asia organized by the Raoul Wallenberg Institute for Human Rights. In 2001 she served on a panel of experts on liability and compensation issues for the World Health Organization's proposed Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. She has many publications in the fields of international environmental law, environmental rights and international sustainable development law and is particularly interested in the link between human rights and the environment, especially, climate change.

Scholarship & Publications


Law Repository

Research Interests

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


  • 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.

  • Sumudu Atapattu presented her paper, "The Role of Human Rights Law in Protecting Environmental Rights in South Asia," at the 2011 conference on "Rights and Their Translation into Practice: Toward a Synthetic Framework" at the Rogers College of Law, University of Arizona.  

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Teaching Areas

  • Environmental Law
  • International Law

Recently Taught Courses

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