26 May 2011

Legal Rights for Nature

Excerpt from Today's Zaman, 22 May 2011

Two small countries of Latin America have been taking Mother Earth, or 'Pachamama', quite seriously so they have passed a series of laws to protect it, and their worries reached some concerned citizens in Turkey where there has been a vigorous debate going on for making a new, citizen-centered constitution.

“We are just starting a campaign calling for an ecological constitution,” said Turkey’s Green Party spokesperson Ümit Şahin, who is among 40 people including politicians, academics, and lawyers involved in the Initiative for an Ecological Constitution (IEC).

“As Turkey has been talking about making a new constitution, which is supposed to value the individual, then we should be talking about an ecological approach to it,” Şahin said, adding that their role models are Bolivia and Ecuador, which understand the value and rights of Mother Earth. The IEC believes in this approach of the Latin American states, he said, because neither the European states nor the United States have been able to fully address the issue even though there are some examples like France, which has a Green Charter, and some states in the US, which have been adopting ecologically sensitive laws.

He noted that Ecuador’s is the first constitution in the world to recognize legally enforceable Rights of Nature. Although a small country, Ecuador is home to the Galapagos Islands, Andean Mountains and Amazon rainforest as it is a geologically, ecologically and ethnically diverse country. Ecuador took a bold step in 2008 to add Rights for Nature to their new constitution providing a system of environmental protection based on rights. Şahin noted like many countries, Turkish laws treat ecosystems as articles of property that give land owners the right to destroy even fragile ecosystems, but that a lot of governments have started to enact environmental regulations to limit harm to ecosystems and impose fines for damage.

Additionally, a group of countries led by Bolivia have recently brought the issue to the agenda of the UN General Assembly as they ask for a UN treaty that would grant the same rights found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to Mother Nature so there will be legal systems to maintain balance between human rights and what they say are the rights of other members of the Earth, such as plants, animals and terrain.

Supporting the idea, Şahin said communities should be given more power to monitor and control industries and development to ensure harmony between humans and nature...'

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