Two South American countries already recognize the rights of rivers, lakes and mountains, as well as those of individuals and companies. This new approach challenges judicial conservatism and those who only want to extract economic gains from nature.
Can a river or a mountain have rights? The answer comes from social organizations, indigenous peoples and critical academics: if companies have rights (human creation whose main purpose is profit), how can nature not have rights? The National Constitution of Ecuador and the national law of Bolivia contemplate the rights of nature. Judicial decisions in Colombia and regulations in New Zealand legislated in the same sense. And the National University of the Litoral inaugurated an unpublished course that challenges the conservatism of the judiciary: “Rights of nature. A theoretical, practical and interdisciplinary approach ”.
In March 2017, the New Zealand Parliament granted legal personality status to the Whanganui River, requested by the indigenous Maori people. The watercourse, the third longest in the country, will have legal rights and duties and may be represented in court by a delegate from the State and another from the native people.
"I know that the initial reaction of some will be to think that it is quite strange to give legal personality to a natural resource, but it is no more strange than a family foundation, a company or another type of society," said Chris Finlayson, Minister for the Negotiation of Treaties of New Zealand.
"I am the river and the river is me", they explain from the Maori culture, difficult to understand for those who only visualize nature as an economic resource. For indigenous peoples, nature has always had rights, but now they are beginning to understand it from political power.
In May 2017, it was Colombia's turn. The Constitutional Court declared, for the first time in the country, that a river "is subject to rights" and ordered its protection and conservation. It is the Atrato River, one of the largest in the country, which is affected by the illegal extraction of gold. The Court confirmed that the watercourse is vital for the life of the local communities and urged the State to protect it.
Ximena González, spokeswoman for the Tierra Digna Center for Social Justice Studies, pointed out that the ruling creates a commission of "guardians of the Atrato River", made up of people from local communities and the national government. And it establishes the creation of a commission of experts to advise the guardians of the river that, in addition to protection, include a comprehensive intervention plan to recover it from contamination.
The Centro de Estudios para la Justicia Social Tierra Digna acted on behalf of the Greater Community Council of the Popular Peasant Organization of Alto Atrato (Cocomopoca), the Greater Community Council of the Integral Peasant Association of Atrato (Cocomacia), the Association of Community Councils of the Bajo Atrato (Asocoba) and the Inter-Ethnic Forum Solidaridad Chocó (Fisch).
"It is a very important, historical ruling for Colombia, because for the first time the rights of nature are given a place, in particular a river," said the spokesperson for the Center for Studies. There are also court rulings in Ecuador and India.
The Constitution of Ecuador recognizes the rights of nature in article 71: “Nature or Pacha Mama, where life is reproduced and carried out, has the right to have its existence fully respected and the maintenance and regeneration of its vital cycles, structure , functions and evolutionary processes. Any person, community, people or nationality may demand that the public authority comply with the rights of nature ”.
In Bolivia, it was sanctioned by law in December 2010. Article 1 states: “The purpose of this law is to recognize the rights of Mother Earth, as well as the obligations and duties of the Plurinational State and of society to guarantee respect for these. rights". It has ten articles. It establishes that Mother Earth has the right to life, to water, to clean air, to balance, to restoration, to live free from contamination.
In Argentina, Senator Pino Solanas presented a bill in the same direction. "The exercise of the Rights of Nature requires the recognition, recovery, respect, protection, and dialogue of the diversity of feelings, values, knowledge, knowledge, practices, skills, transcendence, transformations, sciences, technologies and norms, of all cultures that seek to live in harmony with Nature ”. Creates the "defense of nature", whose mission is to ensure the "validity, promotion, dissemination and fulfillment of the Rights of Nature". It was presented in 2015 and had no treatment in the National Congress. It was presented again in 2017 and has not yet had a turn in the Constitutional Affairs Commission.
The Faculty of Legal and Social Sciences of the Universidad Nacional del Litoral (based in Santa Fe) shook the conservatism of judicial training with the course “Rights of nature. A theoretical, practical and interdisciplinary approach ”. The general objective is “to contribute from a theoretical, practical and interdisciplinary perspective to the debate and reflection on one of the responses that, from Latin America, has been building in relation to the environmental problem in recent years: the recognition of nature as the subject of law, within the framework of models that are presented as alternatives to capitalism under the idea of 'good living', 'living well' ”.
With a workload of 240 hours (an average of 30 hours per month), in charge of the teacher and researcher of Conicet Valeria Berros, it is explained that it is a process that began in Ecuador and Bolivia, with progress in Brazil, Argentina and Mexico , and with debates in the same vein at the United Nations.
Among the specific objectives, the need to "extend legal subjectivity beyond human beings" stands out.
“The course is important because it allows us to see that the right to a healthy environment or the regulation of natural resources are not the only way that exists to think about the ecological problem. Although both perspectives have assumed a preponderant role in recent decades, the truth is that the problems are getting worse and, therefore, it is even more relevant to investigate other legal translations present in the diversity of societies and worldviews, especially those that discuss anthropocentrism ”, explained Berros. A look that challenges the hegemonic idea of the human being as the center, and absolute end, of everything.
On the other hand, the teacher and researcher stressed that the new approach involves many disciplines: “It is becoming more and more visible that the law cannot continue only looking at itself, on the contrary, it needs to start a dialogue with other knowledge, not only those institutionalized as part of the natural sciences, the humanities and the social sciences, but rather those from struggle movements, indigenous peoples, health professionals deployed in the territory ”.
By Dario Aranda
Source: ECO World