Exploring the Boundaries of Rightful Resistance Through The Urgenda Court Case

By Dieneke de Weerd

O’Brien defines rightful resistance as a peaceful form of protest in which citizens use laws, policies and other officially promoted values in innovative ways in order to demand rights offered at the center. This blog post demonstrates the limits of the applicability of the concept rightful resistance by looking at the Urgenda case.  

Rightful resistance relies upon support from the public. In the Urgenda case Urgenda filed the case against the state together with 886 individuals to demand more climate action to be taken. Furthermore, the resistance was peaceful as they used official means to make the state accountable for their actions. During the court case Urgenda mainly focused upon human rights and the duty of care that the Dutch State adheres to. Thus, Urgenda used existing laws in innovative way to hold Dutch government accountable.

Even though the Urgenda court case resembles rightful resistance the boundaries of this concept cannot be stretched this far, as some essential elements are missing. Firstly, the Urgenda case did not locate and exploit divisions within the state. Secondly, the Urgenda foundation can be seen as a form of sustained resistance rather than episodic resistance. Lastly, while O’Brien does not explicitly exclude rightful resistance in form of court cases, his examples suggest that rightful resistance does not include court cases. It seems that the concept refers to resistance where there are protective mechanisms for the rightful resister but where there is no direct accountability, such as an effective judicial system, in place yet.  

At first the concept rightful resistance seems to fit most cases where the public holds the government accountable for their actions with peaceful means and through the usage of existing laws and values. However, the Urgenda case demonstrates that the term rightful resistance has stricter boundaries and actually has limited applicability