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NEWS: The rights of the Whanganui River recognized

TreeHugger reports, “In a landmark case for the Rights of Nature, officials in New Zealand recently granted the Whanganui, the nation’s third-longest river, with legal personhood… The decision follows a long court battle for the river’s personhood initiated by the Whanganui River iwi, an indigenous community with strong cultural ties to the waterway.”

National Geographic adds, “Coming four years after Ecuador’s new constitution granted legal rights to rivers, forests and other natural entities, the New Zealand agreement may give further impetus to the idea that nature has rights that should be legally protected, just as people do. In most legal systems today rivers have no rights at all. In legal parlance, they lack ‘standing’ – the ability of a party to bring a lawsuit in court based upon their stake in the outcome. In 1972 legal scholar Christopher D. Stone argued in his famous essay, ‘Should Trees Have Standing?’, that rivers and trees and other ‘objects’ of nature do have rights, and these should be protected by granting legal standing to guardians of these voiceless entities of nature…”

The New Zealand Herald adds, “Under the agreement the river is given legal status under the name Te Awa Tupua – two guardians, one from the Crown and one from a Whanganui River iwi, will be given the role of protecting the river.”

In April 2011, Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow stated, “The question is not to come at the issue saying nature has human rights in the way we understand them, but rather to say: What kind of society could we build if we introduced laws that actually give the Earth and other species the right to exist and not be destroyed by us? I think when you get your head around it, it’s not at all crazy. It’s introducing balance into our economic and development system. This isn’t some esoteric thing. This is about recognizing the limits to the Earth’s carrying capacity and dealing with it before it’s too late.” She has also noted, “If we believe that rights are inherent, existing by virtue of our creation, then they belong to all nature, not just to humans. We are trying to say that there is no such thing as a human right if the earth cannot sustain life. (The rights of humans and nature are deeply intertwined and) we forget this at our peril.”

For more on a book that discusses these issues – ‘The Rights of Nature: The Case for a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth‘ – please see http://canadians.org/rightsofnature/. The full TreeHugger article is at http://www.treehugger.com/environmental-policy/river-new-zealand-granted-legal-rights-person.html; the National Geographic report is at http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2012/09/04/a-river-in-new-zealand-gets-a-legal-voice/; and the New Zealand Herald article is at http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10830586.