Convening the Rights of Nature Tribunal

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” ― R. Buckminster Fuller[1]

In January 2014, the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature hosted an international Rights of Nature Summit held in Ecuador.  The intention of the Summit was to convene experts and advocates from around the world to define ways of further accelerating the global Rights of Nature movement.  In the months leading up to the Summit, Alberto Acosta, the former President of the Constituent Assembly that drafted the Ecuadorian Constitution, proposed the establishment of an international ethics tribunal to hear cases involving significant violations of the rights of Mother Earth.  The idea was inspired in part by the International War Crimes Tribunal that was established in November 1966 by British philosopher and Nobel Prize winner Bertrand Russell and hosted by French philosopher and writer Jean-Paul Sartre, in order to investigate American foreign policy and military intervention in Vietnam. The Russell Tribunal was based on the view that criminal conduct (particularly human rights violations) should be treated as such regardless of which state committed it. However a rights of nature tribunal could not simply apply an existing body of international law since the content of international law (for example the concept of state sovereignty over natural resources) is part of the problem.

The Alliance decided to establish an international tribunal (subsequently named the “International Rights of Nature Tribunal”) but decided that while the Tribunal could have regard to laws which recognised rights of Nature (such as the Constitution of Ecuador) it could not simply apply an existing body of international law like the Russell Tribunal. Instead the Tribunal must be guided primarily by the worldview reflected in the Earth Rights Declaration and by our (imperfect) knowledge of the systems of order inherent in the universe.

In this regard there are some similarities between the Tribunal and the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal (PPT) which was itself inspired by the Russell Tribunal. The PPT was established by the Lelio Basso Foundation[2] in June 1979 and seeks to identify and publicise cases of systematic violation of fundamental rights.   It is guided by the principles expressed in the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Peoples which was adopted by various organisation in Algiers in 1976[3].

For more information on the Convening inception, visit Cormac Cullinan’s A Tribunal for Earth: why it matters.

Convening documents include:

[1] Richard Buckminster Fuller (12 July 1895 – 1 July 1983) was an American philosopher, systems theorist, architect, and inventor, known to many of his friends and fans as “Bucky” Fuller. This quotation was quoted in Beyond Civilization : Humanity’s Next Great Adventure (1999), by Daniel Quinn, p. 137.