First International Tribunal on Rights of Nature

Inaugural session in Ecuador admits nine cases

Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature

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Quito, Ecuador – Before an audience of 400 people, the world’s first Ethics Tribunal on the Rights of Nature and Mother Earth held its inaugural session on Friday, January 17th in Quito, Ecuador, the first country to recognize the Rights of Nature in its constitution. The Tribunal will be a permanent platform for hearing and judging cases from around the world.

Dr. Vandana Shiva, internationally renowned author, physicist and environmental activist presided over the historic Tribunal together with nine other distinguished judges from seven countries and five continents. The Tribunal heard compelling presentations on nine cases of alleged violations of the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth, adopted in Cochabamba on April 20, 2010 by 35,000 people during a global summit on the subject. For cases in Ecuador, presenters also noted violations of the Ecuadorian Constitution.

After a full day of presentations and deliberations, the Tribunal took the unanimous decision to admit all nine cases and set a date for the next session of the Tribunal for the first week of December 2014 in Lima, Perú.

The special Earth Prosecutor, Ramiro Ávila (Ecuador) opened the Tribunal with testimony from two experts on the critical importance of Rights of Nature from Native American leader Casey Camp-Horinek (Ponca from Oklahoma, USA) and Patricia Gualinga, representative of the Kichwa community of Sarayaku in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

Seven specific cases were presented to the Tribunal: the Chevron-Texaco pollution case (Ecuador); BP Deep Horizon oil spill (USA); Yasuní-ITT oil project (Ecuador); the endangerment of the Great Barrier Reef by coal mines (Australia); the Condor Mirador open-pit copper mine (Ecuador); hydraulic fracturing (USA); and the case of persecution of Defenders of Nature (Ecuador). Two additional cases were admitted that were global in scope and represent systemic violations of the Rights of Mother Earth, namely threats from Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and Climate Change.

At the conclusion of presentations on the part of experts for each of the cases Special Earth Prosecutor Ramiro Ávila passionately argued for the Tribunal to admit all nine cases in the names of the affected ecosystem, species and indigenous peoples in isolation.

The fundamental tenants of the Rights of Nature that are enshrined in the Ecuadorian Constitution and the Universal Declaration include: the right of nature to exist and be respected; to maintain its vital cycles and evolutionary processes; to comprehensive and prompt regeneration and restoration; and to not have its genetic structures disrupted among other rights.

The first members of the Ethics Tribunal for the Rights of Nature and Mother Earth were: Alberto Acosta, economist and former president of the Constituent Assembly from Ecuador; Blanca Chancoso, Kichwa leader and educator from Cotacachi, Ecuador; Cormac Cullinan, lawyer and author (Wild Law), Earth Democracy Coop, Cape Town, South Africa; Tom Goldtooth, Dine’/Dakota, director of Indigenous Environmental Network, Minnesota, USA; Julio César Trujillo, constitutional lawyer for Yasunidos, Ecuador; Elsie Monge, human rights activist and president of CEDHU and FIDH, Ecuador; Atossa Soltani, founder and director of Amazon Watch, USA; Enrique Viale, environmental lawyer, Buenos Aires, Argentina; and Tantoo Cardinal, actress (Dances with Wolves) and activist from the Tar Sands of Canada.

The Tribunal brought together participants from Australia, Switzerland, South Africa, United States, Spain, Canada, India, Romania, Bolivia, Argentina, the United Kingdom and Ecuador.

The Earth's living systems and human communities face multiple crises of climate change, mass species extinction, rampant deforestation, desertification, collapse of fisheries, toxic contamination with tragic consequences for all life. Under the current system of law, Nature is considered an object, a property, giving the property owner the right to destroy ecosystems for financial gain. The Rights of Nature legal doctrine recognizes that ecosystems and plant and animal species cannot simply be objects of property but entities that have the inherent right to exist. People, communities and authorities have the responsibility to guarantee those rights on behalf of Nature. These laws are consistent with indigenous people’s concepts of natural law and original instructions as well as the understanding that humans are a part of nature and only one strand in the web of life.

It is fitting that the Tribunal on the Rights of Nature was founded in Ecuador, the first country to have adopted this legal doctrine in its constitution. It is ironic that Ecuador is abandoning its leadership and failing to respect its own constitution. The Ecuadorian government is currently promoting large-scale oil and mining operations that put at risk some three million hectares of its remaining Amazon rainforests while engaging in a systematic crack down on activists and organizations who are defending the rights of Mother Earth.

During his passionate argument for admitting the Yasuni-ITT case, Alberto Acosta asked the Tribunal to establish a special chamber for the immediate processing of two cases: the Yasuní-ITT and the defenders of Rights of Nature, given urgent threats facing activists who are collecting signatures for a national referendum on the Yasuni-ITT. Additionally, he asked the Tribunal to demand the suspension of all oil exploitation activities in block 31 and in ITT block and called for a comprehensive audit of the exploitation activities underway.

"I condemn the actions of Chevron and BP and I stand with those indigenous communities who have won their case against Chevron," said Vandana Shiva. "I ask Ecuador's President and the National Assembly to not give up the vision, the dream of Yasuni. Everyone can drill, but Ecuador would dream bold by having the rights of nature in its constitution and creating the vision of Yasuni ITT." In closing, Dr. Shiva called for the cases that were admitted by the Tribunal "to be deepened until the rights of Mother Earth become the framework for governing our lives."

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