Archive for environment

Universal Declaration of River Rights

From Earth Law Center (ELC)

In the first half of 2017, four rivers have been granted legal personhood status, that is, they have been granted the same legal rights as a juristic person. This includes the Whanganui River in New Zealand, the Ganges (Ganga) and Yamuna Rivers in India, and the Atrato River in Colombia.

The Earth Law Center is committed to achieving legal personhood for more rivers and waterways.  In support of a campaign to establish rights for the Rio Magdalena and other rivers, ELC has developed a draft Universal Declaration of River Rights. The Declaration draws from victories for the rights of rivers worldwide as well as scientific understandings of healthy river systems.

The Declaration:

1. Declares that all rivers are entitled to the fundamental rights set forth in this Declaration, which arise from their very existence on our shared planet,

2. Further declares that all rivers are living entities that possess legal standing in a court of law,

3. Establishes that all rivers shall possess, at minimum, the following fundamental rights:
(1) The right to flow; [11]
(2) The right to perform essential functions within its ecosystem; [12]
(3) The right to be free from pollution;
(4) The right to feed and be fed by sustainable aquifers;
(5) The right to native biodiversity; and
(6) The right to restoration, …

Review and sign the full Declaration online (español). Or email Grant Wilson at for more information.

ELC is currently soliciting feedback on and endorsements of the Universal Declaration of River Rights.

Declaración Universal de los Derechos de los Ríos

Declaración Universal de los Derechos de los Ríos

Download the Universal Declaration of River Rights flyer in Spanish.

Assassination of South Africa community leader opposing mining by Australian Company



We are appalled at the brutal assassination of Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Rhadebe from Mdatya village, the chairperson of the Amadiba Crisis Committee.  We have had the privilege of working with Bazooka and of representing the people who live along the Wild Coast in Amadiba Administrative Area 24 in their attempts to stop the proposed N2 Wild Coast Toll Highway for almost a decade.  Now a brave and principled man, a real character beloved by his community, is dead because he refused to be bullied or bought, and instead stood up for his culture, his community, for their beautiful land, and for what is right.

Our condolences go out to his family, friends and community who have lost a husband, father, friend, and leader.

For many years Bazooka and the communities which he represented have been successfully resisting the proposed mining of the Wild Coast by an Australian mining company (MRC) and Sanral’s project to construct a toll highway through their lands and very close to the proposed mining sites. They have steadfastly resisted all the inducements offered by the proponents of these projects. When it became apparent that the communities could not be bought off, the violence began to escalate. First armed men attacked community members (including the headwoman) with pangas and guns and now this. The obvious question is “Who benefits from this assassination?”

We salute the incredible courage of the Amadiba coastal communities who have responded to this horrifying act by reiterating that they will not be intimidated into submission and that the mining will not go ahead.  We call on everyone who believes in justice and democracy to join us in demanding that the Minister of Police ensures that competent and unbiased investigators be assigned to apprehend the assassins as soon as possible, to uncover who sent them and to bring them to trial.  Anything less is unacceptable in our democracy.

In South Africa, click to read: 82 organisations want Wild Coast mining applications suspended after ‘assassination’

Cape Town – Eighty-two civil society organisations on Wednesday condemned the murder of an anti-mining activist on the Wild Coast in the Eastern Cape, and called for all mining applications to be suspended.

“We demand that the minister of mineral resources suspends all mining applications until there has been a full and independent investigation of Rhadebe’s murder!” the 82 civil society organisations said in a joint statement.

Amadiba Crisis Committee chairperson Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Rhadebe was shot multiple times in his upper body, Eastern Cape police spokesperson Lieutenant Khaya Tonjeni told Fin24 on Wednesday.

READ MORE: Wild Coast anti-mining leader murdered

Submitted by Cormac Cullinan  BA (Hons) LLB LLM (Environmental Law)

Director, Cullinan & Associates

Recognizing the Rights of Nature and the Living Forest

By Osprey Orielle Lake, Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network International

During COP21 U.N. climate negotiations and actions by the climate justice movement in Paris, two truly transformational ideas were presented that challenge dominant destructive paradigms and instead offer deep systemic change. Today, we invite you to READ and SHARE this article by WECAN Executive Director, Osprey Orielle Lake, sharing the ‘revolutionary and evolutionary’ concepts of Rights of Nature and Kawsak Sacha, ‘the Living Forest’.

Sarayaku Indigenous opening

It is critical to note that the land of the Kichwa people of Sarayaku, who provide the vision of Kawsak Sacha, was signed away last week to Chinese companies for oil extraction. The Kichwa people have nurtured and successfully protected the forest from oil drilling for decades, but this new threat is dire. As we embrace and learn from their critical proposals, we MUST stand up and take effective action in support of the Kichwa, Sapara and all others resisting extraction in the Amazon. WECAN will soon be traveling to Ecuador for solidarity actions.

“The message our Living Forest proposal delivers is aimed at the entire world with the goal of reaching the hearts and minds of human beings everywhere, encouraging us all to reflect on the close relation between Human Rights and the Rights of Nature.”‎ —From Kawsak Sacha, The Living Forest: An Indigenous Proposal for Confronting Climate Change, presented by the Amazonian Kichwa People of Sarayaku, Ecuador

Read Osprey Orielle Lake’s compelling article: Recognizing the Rights of Nature and the Living Forest in EcoWatch now.

Osprey Orielle Lake is the founder and executive director of the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) International and co-chair of International Advocacy for the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature. Osprey is the author of the award-winning book Uprisings for the Earth: Reconnecting Culture with Nature. Follow on Twitter @WECAN_INTL.

COP Out: The hollow promise of the Paris climate deal

Hal Rhoades, Gaia Foundation, December 16, 2015

COP21 has had a mixed reception and the agreement reached has been criticised more for what it doesn’t say as much as for what it does. The Gaia Foundation’s latest blog COP out: The hollow promise of the Paris climate deal reflects on what was agreed and highlights the powerful message from the International Rights of Nature Tribunal.

Hal Rhoades discusses why, despite the hype, the climate agreement hatched by world governments in Paris won’t save us from climate catastrophe. With analysis on key areas of the agreement text and discussion of the latest climate science, he argues that people’s movements, not multilateral theatrics, represent our best hope for avoiding climate disaster.

“Perhaps because it provided this anchor, for me, the most powerful event in the civil society spaces outside COP21was the International Rights of Nature Tribunal. The Tribunal advances a new legal paradigm that draws on Indigenous knowledge and governance systems, recognising nature’s inherent rights to exist, thrive and evolve. It represents one critical way to revive the planetary realism we need so desperately right now and is a model that should be taken and replicated elsewhere, and soon.

There is no one solution to climate crisis, no silver bullet. Nor can any one person, or government, or group of governments articulate an entire alternative system to our current one that is at war with people and planet. Rather, the systems change we want and so desperately need will emerge from the actions of our societies’, bravest, most vibrant, resilient and determined groups, who are driven by a moral imperative that transcends current norms and augurs a better future. Ever was it thus.”

Read Gaia Foundation’s blog at COP out: The hollow promise of the Paris climate deal

Mind the gap: Climate negotiators and civil society don’t agree

By Elisa Garcia for Global Sisters Report
International Rights of Nature Tribunal - Mind the Gap Climate Negotiators and Civil Society Dont AgreePhoto: Indigenous leader from Ecuador speaks to crimes against nature by Chevron to a 13-member international panel of judges headed by South African lawyer Cormac Cullinan, author of Wild Law. Left is co-prosecutor Ramiro Avila. (GSR photo / Elise D. Garcia)

As the second day of the International Tribunal on the Rights of Nature opened in the packed auditorium of Maison des Métallos, a cultural center in the heart of Paris, a disturbing word was shared about the COP21 negotiations taking place just north of the city.

“Some countries are working to remove Proposal 10 today,” Ecuadoran Natalia Greene, secretary-general of the tribunal, said. “This is the only provision in the climate agreement that mentions indigenous people, the integrity of ecosystems, and Mother Earth.” She asked the 500 or more people attending to help generate a “Twitter storm,” urging climate negotiators to retain the language.

The struggle over that provision illustrates the gap that exists between civil society and COP21 government negotiators over what is needed to keep global warming below catastrophic levels. For civil-society and faith-based groups, the climate agreement must be responsive to the harm done to indigenous people and other communities already experiencing the ravaging impacts of climate change. It must protect the interconnected ecosystems that sustain life on our finite planet. And it must recognize our dependence on Earth and our interdependent relationship with one another and the larger community of life on Earth.

These aims require major economic, legal and social systems change, as reflected in the ubiquitous slogan on banners and posters, “Systems change, not climate change.”

. . .

In her closing remarks, Linda Sheehan, JD, co-prosecutor at the International Rights of Nature Tribunal, observed, “There is not one word in the [COP21 climate agreement] about dams, or water, or fossil fuels, or fracking, or even oil.”

The draft agreement mentions the Earth only once, in the preamble. In contrast, Sheehan said, the agreement “mentions economics and the economic system 49 times.”

Read the full article Mind the gap: Climate negotiators and civil society don’t agree

Adrian Dominican Sr. Elise D. García is director of communications for her congregation and the former co-director of Santuario Sisterfarm, an ecology center in the Texas Hill Country dedicated to cultivating cultural and biological diversity. Follow her on Twitter: @elisegarciaop.

Ta’kaiya Blaney – To turn the world around, turn it upside down

Ta’kaiya Blaney, through a poignant closing song at the International Rights of Nature Tribunal in Paris, shared the message If you want to turn the world around, you need to turn it upside down …
video by Citizens’ Voice at the Paris Climate Talks

Ta’kaiya Blaney, from the Tla’Amin First Nation in British Columbia with the Indigenous Environmental Network

“I was told by a Haida elder that to turn the world around, you have to turn it upside down,”Ta’Kaiya interviewed by Amy Goodman and DemocracyNow!

Also shown on DemocracyNow!


Read more about the International Rights of Nature Tribunal in Paris, France.

Fighting for Our Shared Future: Protecting Both Human Rights and Nature’s Rights.

Fighting for Our Shared Future Protecting Both Human Rights and Nature's Rights ELC ReportBy Linda Sheehan and Grant Wilson,
Earth Law Center (ELC)

Available online at:

Paris, France—December 3, 2015, San Francisco Bay Area-based Earth Law Center (ELC) released a comprehensive report detailing “co-violations” of nature’s rights and human rights worldwide. “Co-violations” occur when governments, industries, or others violate both the rights of nature and human rights with the same action.

ELC’s groundbreaking report, Fighting for Our Shared Future: Protecting Both Human Rights and Nature’s Rights, and associated map are being released concurrent with the COP21 climate talks in Paris.

The report examines 100 examples of rights co-violations worldwide, and it delves into four case studies as examples: mining for iron ore, copper, and numerous other substances in Lapland, Scandinavia (“Europe’s Last Wilderness”); release of industrial pollution in Sarnia, Ontario (home to the severely impacted Aamjiwnaang First Nation); open-pit copper and gold mining in the magnificent Cordillera del Cóndor, Ecuador (the “Mirador Mine,” which would devastate local indigenous communities); and the rapid disappearance of the formerly-massive Lake Chad in Africa due to over-diversion and climate change.

As discussed, the natural world has inherent rights to exist, thrive and evolve. Humans do not “give” inherent rights to nature. Like fundamental human rights, nature’s inherent rights exist because nature exists. However, our laws ignore these core rights, and we and the Earth are paying an increasingly heavy price for that mistake. For example, scientists have found that “[w]ithout concrete, immediate actions, it is extremely likely that Earth’s life-support systems will be irretrievably damaged by 2050.” Defenders of environmental rights, however, are being harassed, arrested and even killed for their activities to prevent this damage.

“Across the globe, we injure both people and ecosystems by treating the natural world as property to fuel mythically infinite economic growth,” states ELC Executive Director Linda Sheehan. “These injuries increasingly represent simultaneous violations, or ‘co-violations,’ of human rights and nature’s rights. We must reverse this trend by evolving our laws and courts to recognize that our well-being is inextricably linked with the Earth’s.”

Among other conclusions, the report finds that:

  • In over half of the cases compiled, the state was implicated as a perpetrator of rights co-violations, either alone or with industry. This finding is consistent with United Nations studies.
  • Over 60 percent of the co-violations compiled involved extractive industries and energy production, which accounted for almost 60 percent of the environmental defender killings reported in these cases.
  • The sources of co-violations are rarely addressed adequately, if they are addressed at all.
  • We cannot protect human rights without also addressing the planet’s own right to a healthy climate.

The report also highlights specific solutions, including:

  • Adoption at the local, national and international levels of enforceable laws recognizing the inherent rights of nature, as well as U.N. adoption of the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth (UDRME).
  • Creation of courts to hear and rule on nature’s rights violations, including co-violations with human rights, with swift implementation in the interim of International Rights of Nature Tribunal judgments.
  • Establishment of global and national moratoriums on particular sources of co-violations.
  • Provision of emergency protection to at-risk environmental defenders.
  • Adoption of an enforceable international climate change agreement reflecting the right to a healthy climate.
  • Other actions consistent with our responsibility under the UDRME for “living in harmony with Mother Earth.”

# # #

Linda Sheehan is Executive Director of Earth Law Center, San Francisco Bay Area, California, USA where she advocates for recognition of nature’s rights in law. She brings 20 years of law and policy experience to ELC, including numerous successes in enforcing and funding environmental laws. For her efforts in “fight[ing] pollution of the Pacific and the streams and rivers that flow into it,” Linda was recognized as a “California Coastal Hero.” Linda is a member of the Commission on Environmental Law in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and teaches Earth Law as Summer Faculty at Vermont Law School.
Grant Wilson is Outreach and Policy Coordinator of Earth Law Center.  Grant Wilson has worked to advance environmental law and policy campaigns in the United States and throughout the world. Grant has published law journal articles including “Deepwater Horizon and the Law of the Sea: Was the Cure Worse than the Disease?” and “Murky Waters: Ambiguous International Law for Ocean Fertilization and Other Geoengineering.” Grant earned a degree in Environmental Policy from Huxley College of the Environment at Western Washington University, and a J.D. with a Certificate in Environmental and Natural Resources Law from Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon.

Prepared with Yale’s Environmental Protection Clinic, the report analyzes 100 examples worldwide of “co-violations” of human rights and nature’s rights and provides recommendations for change.

Making Peace with the Earth

Vandana Shiva asked us to share this personal video message to Paris and to everyone on “Making Peace with the Earth.” Please watch and share.

We also invite you to sign A People’s Pact for Protection of the Earth and Each Other  individually and on behalf of your organization.