Ecuador Constitutional Assembly Votes to Approve Rights of Nature In New Constitution
Today, the Community Evironmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) announced that Ecuador became the first nation in the world to shift to rights-based environmental protection. There was a time when people were considered property (slaves) and this idea is no longer generally accepted in the developed world. Yet, Ecuador is the first country to begin to codify in its Constitution the concept that nature is not just property, but has an inherent right to exist.
On July 7, 2008, the Ecuador Constitutional Assembly – composed of one hundred and thirty (130) delegates elected countrywide to rewrite the country’s Constitution – voted to approve articles for the new constitution recognizing rights for nature and ecosystems. “If adopted in the final constitution by the people, Ecuador would become the first country in the world to codify a new system of environmental protection based on rights,” stated Thomas Linzey, Executive Director of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund.
Over the past year, the Legal Defense Fund has been invited to assist Delegates to the Ecuador Constitutional Assembly to re-write that country’s constitution. Delegates requested that the Legal Defense Fund draft proposed Rights of Nature language for the constitution based on ordinances developed and adopted by municipalities in the United States.
The Legal Defense Fund has now assisted communities in Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and Virginia to draft and adopt new laws that change the status of natural communities and ecosystems from being regarded as property under the law to being recognized as rights-bearing entities.
Those local laws recognize that natural communities and ecosystems possess an inalienable and fundamental right to exist and flourish, and that residents of those communities possess the legal authority to enforce those rights on behalf of those ecosystems. In addition, these laws require the local governments to remedy violations of those ecosystem rights. In essence, these laws represent changes to the status of property law, eliminating the authority of a property owner to interfere with the functioning of ecosystems and natural communities that exist and depend upon that property for their existence and flourishing. The local laws allow certain types of development that do not interfere with the rights of ecosystems to exist and flourish.
In the past, I've been involved in CELDF's Democracy School programs in Seattle and written about this kind of rights-based organizing for ONE/Northwest's newsletter. It makes good background reading on the Democracy School movement. You can also watch a lecture by CELDF's Thomas Linzey given in Seattle in 2005 on YouTube.
Ecuador's efforts stand in stark contrast to what happened in South Africa's Constitution where transnational corporations were able to push through clauses giving corporation the same rights as people.