Should Rivers Have Same Legal Rights As Humans?

From NPR:

In early July, Bangladesh became the first country to grant all of its rivers the same legal status as humans. From now on, its rivers will be treated as living entities in a court of law. The landmark ruling by the Bangladeshi Supreme Court is meant to protect the world’s largest delta from further degradation from pollution, illegal dredging and human intrusion.

“In Bangladesh, the river is considered as our mother,” says Mohammad Abdul Matin, general secretary of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon, a Dhaka-based environmental group. As Bangladesh sits where three major rivers converge and empty into the Bay of Bengal, nearly 100% of its land is delta land, he tells NPR.

Following the ruling, anyone accused of harming the rivers can be taken to court by the new, government-appointed National River Conservation Commission. They may be tried and delivered a verdict as if they had harmed their own mother, Matin says.

“The river is now considered by law, by code, a living entity, so you’ll have to face the consequence by law if you do anything that kills the river,” Matin says.

Bangladesh follows a handful of countries that have subscribed to an idea known as environmental personhood. It was first highlighted in essays by University of Southern California law professor Christopher D. Stone, collected into a 1974 book titled Should Trees Have Standing? Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects. Stone argued that if an environmental entity is given “legal personality,” it cannot be owned and has the right to appear in court.

Traditionally, nature has been subject to a Western-conceived legal regime of property-based ownership, says Monti Aguirre with the environmental group International Rivers.

“That means … an owner has the right to modify their features, their natural features, or to destroy them all at will,” Aguirre says.

The idea of environmental personhood turns that paradigm on its head by recognizing that nature has rights and that those rights should be enforced by a court of law. It’s a philosophical idea, says Aguirre, with indigenous communities leading the charge.”

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