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Finally Being Heard: The Great Barrier Reef and the International Rights of Nature Tribunal

By Michelle Maloney, PhD, Australian Earth Laws Alliance

In January 2014, the newly created International Tribunal for the Rights of Nature and Mother Earth (‘the Tribunal’) sat for the first time in Quito, Ecuador. The Tribunal, created by international civil society network ‘The Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature’, admitted nine cases, including a claim on behalf of the Great Barrier Reef. Given the Tribunal has emerged from civil society rather than state-centred international law and given Australia’s legal system does not recognise the intrinsic rights of plants, animals, or ecosystems to exist, what possible benefit does this Tribunal offer the Great Barrier Reef? In this paper, I outline the creation and ongoing hearings of the International Tribunal and suggest that like many “people’s tribunals” before it, the Rights of Nature Tribunal offers a powerful alternative narrative to that offered by western legal systems regarding environmental destruction. It is also has the potential to play a role in transforming existing law and offers a welcome, cathartic contribution to the burgeoning field of Earth jurisprudence.

Great Barrier Reef Australian turtle

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Finally Being Heard: The Great Barrier Reef and the International Rights of Nature Tribunal is published in the Griffith Journal of Law & Human Dignity Vol 3 (1) 2015, Griffth University, Queensland, Australia.  In the article, Michelle Maloney defines Earth jurisprudence and the Rights of Nature and situates the International Rights of Nature Tribunal within the work of the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature and the broader context of the ecological crisis. She outlines the Great Barrier Reef case, which the Australian Earth Laws Alliance (‘AELA’) took to the International Tribunal in Quito and progressed in October 2014, by convening a Regional Chamber of the International Tribunal in Australia.

She argues that like many “people’s tribunals” before it, the Rights of Nature Tribunal offers a powerful alternative narrative to that currently offered by the mainstream legal system regarding environmental destruction. It is also pregnant with the promise of transforming existing law and offers a welcome, cathartic contribution to the burgeoning field of Earth jurisprudence.

Read the full article at Finally Being Heard: The Great Barrier Reef and the International Rights of Nature Tribunal.

*Michelle Maloney is the National Convenor of the Australian Earth Laws Alliance and is also currently working at the Center for Earth Jurisprudence, Barry University Law School, Florida USA. She can be contacted on convenor@earthlaws.org.au.