Another victory was logged in the galvanized movement to legislate and demand accountability for the Rights of Nature. Spearheaded by international activist, ecofeminist, and physics PhD, Dr. Vandana Shiva, the first global tribunal on the Rights of Nature successfully wrapped this past week in Ecuador.
The event marked the end of a five-day summit that was host to more than 60 international leaders. The overarching network, monikered Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature, is the product of a 2010 gathering in Ecuador upon which international activists converged in the aftermath of Ecuador’s groundbreaking move to codify Rights of Nature into its newly-minted constitution in 2008. The entire movement has been pioneered upon traditional Indigenous wisdom and cosmologically-inclusive views of nature and the Earth, or Pachamama. The far-reaching intent is to hold a duly recognized space of advocacy and accountability on behalf of the Earth, in the context of international jurisprudence, at this crucial crossroads we now collectively encounter.
A number of cases were presented for admissibility in this burgeoning arena of international jurisdiction:
An international case against BP, in relation to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, was officially filed in Ecuador by Dr. Shiva and a group of environmentalists from several countries in the global south (including Indigenous leaders, Delfín Tenesaca and Blanca Chancoso from Ecuador) in November of 2010. Ongoing issues with the oil giant were stewarded at the tribunal by Esperanza Martínez, member of Accion Ecologica – Ecuador. The 2010 lawsuit was filed on the grounds that the criminal negligence of BP, which resulted in what is regarded as the largest oil spill in history that same year, fell under a universal jurisdiction that by virtue equated to environmental crimes against humanity. Cited in the filing, was Chapter 7, Article 71 of Ecuador’s new constitution which explicitly grants protective rights to Pachamama.
The now constitutionalized measure officially reads,
Nature or Pachamama, where life is reproduced and exists, has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes of evolution…Every person, people, community or nationality, will be able to demand the recognitions of rights for nature before the public organisms. The application and interpretation of these rights will follow the related principles established in the Constitution…The State will motivate natural and juridical persons as well as collectives to protect nature; it will promote respect towards all the elements that form an ecosystem.
Sharon Biggs, Director of the Community Rights program at Global Exchange, and hailing from the United States, was present to solicit the tribunal’s attention on issues related to the highly controversial legislature and activities surrounding the dangerous processes and impacts of hydraulic fracking. Often lauded as a ‘clean energy’ alternative, a closer examination of the industry has revealed increasing cause for alarm. Indigenous Mi’kmaq People of North America have been especially active leaders in the international movement to avert the dangerous impact of the controversial and destructive technology.
Juilo Prieto, also from Ecuador, attended the tribunal to expound on the highly publicized environmental case against Chevron. While the battle continues to be waged on an international scale, the indigenous and campesino communities directly impacted in Ecuador continue to pay the true cost. In late 2013, an appeals court in Ontario validated the financial sanctions against Chevron. Secoya Indigenous leader, Humberto Piaguaje called this decision “momentous”, adding that, “It proves Chevron cannot hide behind legal technicalities to avoid justice.”
Carlos Larrea, from Ecuador, addressed the tribunal regarding the ongoing issues surrounding Yasuní-ITT. Originally the grounds of a proposal by the Ecuadorian government to spare the oil reserves of Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini (located directly within the borders of the Yasuni National Park) from future exploitation, in a manner that by design, was ultimately dependent on cooperation from the global financial elite (to the tune of 3.6 billion dollars in yearly compensation in exchange for the conservation measure). The ambitious move was originally lauded as a multi-focused nexus of action that would protect the rights of the Indigenous Waorani, who have inhabited the area for generations, while effectively serving as a mitigating influence in the global effort to reduce the impact of carbon emissions, and simultaneously formalizing a climate of preservation to protect the unique biodiversity of the region. Rafael Correa has since been the center of snowballing controversy after he effectively and officially rolled back on these proposals this past year. Regrettably, in October of 2013 the Ecuadorian Parliament issued an official approval for further oil exploration on the reserve.
Michelle Maloney traveled from Australia to speak on the environmental crisis of the Great Barrier Reef, a 2,300 kilometer, uniquely-biodiverse zone that stretches along the coast of Queensland, Australia and trails around at least 940 islands. It is currently facing myriad threats, largely due to an unsustainable fishing industry, generalized pollution, and the sustained impact of global warming in the region. There are currently more than 70 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Indigenous groups that have traditionally maintained a symbiotic relationship with and lifestyle dependent on the continued health of, this region.
Nathaly Yépez from Ecuador discussed the controversy of the large scale open pit mining project referred to as Minería Condor Mirador. In January of last year, Humberto Cholango (president of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, CONAIE) spoke out citing that, “The constitution is very clear” concerning protections against such extractive projects in relation to watersheds. The project is situated in a densely biodiverse region in the Zamora Chinchipe province and financed by the Chinese company, ECSA.
Elizabeth Bravo, Ecuador, was there to officiate on the highly pervasive subject of GMO’s. Over 25 nations worldwide have explicitly banned the use of GMO’s, including the Diné Nation (Navajo) in North America. Federal and state legislative efforts in the U.S., however, where most of the offending parties are based, have been consistently blocked at almost every turn–even concerning the tangential issue of whether companies should be required to label products and produce associated with GMO production (an attempt to standardize such, known as Prop 37, was defeated in California in 2012).
Pablo Solón, Bolivia, a globally recognized thought leader on matters of climate change, especially as the issues intersect with policies of capitalism and ‘the green economy’, and current Executive Director of the NGO Focus on the Global South, was present at the tribunal to impart a formal perspective on the expansive and fundamental issues underlying the quickening progression of climate change.
Climate change leadership and activism has been the subject of fervent Indigenous mobilization across the world. Such leadership on the collective issues involved, recently garnered the respectful praise of Noam Chomsky who issued a public declaration professing that, Indigenous Peoples are “the ones taking the lead in trying to protect all of us, while the richest and most powerful among us are the ones who are trying to drive the society to destruction.”
The tribunal was also host to a robust and diverse panel of judges made up of: Alberto Acosta, economist and former President of the Constituent Assembly from Quito Ecuador; Tantoo Cardinal from Tar Sands Action, also well known for her role in ‘Dances With Wolves’; Blanca Chancoso, a Kichwa leader and educator hailing from Cotacachi, Imbabra, Ecuador; Cormac Cullinan, a lawyer and author of ‘Wild Law’ representing the Earth Democracy Core from Cape Town, South Africa; Tom Goldtooth, a Diné/Dakota from Minnesota in the United States who is the Director of Indigenous Environmental Network; Julio César Trujillo, the constitutional lawyer for Yasunidos from Quito, Ecuador; Elsie Monge, a human rights activist and president of CEDHU y FIDH and also from Quito Ecuador; Atossa Soltani, the founder and director of Amazon Watch from Washington DC; and Enrique Viale, an environmental lawyer from Buenos Aires, Argentina.
As noted in the original press release, Indigenous activist, Casey Camp-Horinek (Ponca, Oklahoman, U.S.) and Amazonian Indigenous leader and Director of Sayaku, Patricia Gualinga, collaborated in providing crucial “expert witness testimony” regarding the “critical importance of Rights of Nature.” On a related note, Carlos Perez testified concerning his recent activity in defense of Mother Earth, elaborating on the motivation behind his activism and the consequences it evoked.
To learn more about the Rights to Nature movement, watch ‘Why Nature Has Rights’ featuring tribunal members Vandana Shiva and Pablo Solon.