The Corner

Law & the Courts

Another River Basin Granted “Rights”

The “nature rights” movement is on a roll.

With three rivers and two glaciers previously been granted legal human-style rights in India and New Zealand, now the Colombia Constitutional Court has joined the anti-human exceptionalism fray. From the Intercontinental Cry story:

In November, in an extraordinary decision, Colombia’s Constitutional Court declared that the Atrato River basin possesses rights to “protection, conservation, maintenance, and restoration.” The decision is only now being made public.

The Court’s ruling comes in a case brought to address the significant degradation of the Atrato River basin from mining, impacting nature and indigenous peoples.

Declaring that the river has rights comes after thousands of years of history in which nature has been treated as “property” or “right-less” under the law.

Much like women, indigenous peoples, and slaves have been treated as property under the law, without legal rights, so today do legal systems treat nature. Under this system, environmental laws regulate human use of nature, resulting in the decline of species and ecosystems worldwide, and the acceleration of climate change.

This is a profoundly anti-human court ruling–one that subverts parliamentary rule to boot–as the needs of people could easily come to be subsumed to protect the conjured “rights” of the river.

Moreover, granting rights to rivers enervates the crucial concept of rights in the way that a wild inflation devalues currency. 

If nature has rights–but clearly, no responsibilities–everything has rights, by definition. In the end, that will mean the hard-fought for principle of human rights itself will be profoundly subverted.

It is time to take the nature rights movement very seriously. It is a direct threat to our thriving, our prosperity, and our existential self-perception. 

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