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  • Writer's pictureEnric Roures

(EN) South America: The rights of nature

Updated: Jan 12, 2021

During my travels in South America, I have been able to get into its spectacular nature and enter into areas under indigenous control, domain and law. This is where I have been able to learn and appreciate the value of the environment for them, not just being a place of extraction and exploitation, but being a sacred subject with great influence on their lives, traditions and culture and which is the object of veneration and protection

At the beginning of the 21st century, many South American countries began to integrate this reality into various laws and constitutional texts, giving the nature of legal personality and granting it rights which the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, for example, doesn't consider.

The first constitution in the world to establish the legal rights of nature was Ecuador under the presidency of Rafael Correa. Article 71 states: "Nature or Pacha Mama, where life is reproduced and realized, has the right to have its existence fully respected and the maintenance and regeneration of its life cycles, structure, functions and evolutionary processes".

This constitutional clause changes the nature of being an object of law into being a subject of law. Thus in Ecuador, nature is no longer considered a thing without legal rights but an entity with rights

Other countries on the continent, such as Bolivia, have also recognized certain rights to nature in their constitution. Article 33 of its constitution states the right to a healthy, protected and balanced environment; it states that it is the duty of the state to conserve, protect and sustainably use natural resources and biodiversity, and to maintain the balance of the environment. In addition, it dedicates special chapters to the themes of the Amazon, biodiversity, protected areas, forest lands and, within the rights of Indigenous Peoples, it establishes the right to the administration of natural resources and to live in a healthy environment with adequate management of the ecosystems.

Another example has been Colombia. The Supreme Court of Justice pronounced a verdict in 2018 declaring the Amazon to be an ecological region. This decision considers the Amazon as a "vital ecosystem for global development", and that in order to protect it, it is recognised "as an entity 'subject to rights', holder of the protection, conservation, maintenance and rehabilitation by the State and the regional entities that are part of it".

Thus we see how the idea of the rights of nature or Pachamama attacks the cultural foundations established in capitalism that conceives it as a source of exploitation and utilitarianism and that understands the environment as a simple set of resources to be exploited.

South America is making progress in this area by understanding its roots, its culture, the impact that climate change is having on its biodiversity, and by committing itself to strengthening respect, rights and conservation of Pachamama. The West should think about and reconsider the vision we have of it.

- Enric Roures -

Documentary: The rights of nature by Isaac Goeckeritz

Learn more about the rights of nature:

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