From Rights to Responsibilities using Legal Personhood and Guardianship for Rivers
in ResponsAbility: Law and Governance for Living Well with the Earth, B Martin, L Te Aho, M Humphries-Kil (eds) (Routledge, London & New York, 2019), pp 216-239
25 Pages Posted: 14 Nov 2018
Date Written: August 21, 2018
This chapter surveys a range of examples whereby rivers have been given legal personality or similar rights, seemingly in an effort to uphold human responsibility to better protect them from degradation. The examples are first drawn from the United States of America, where nature has been given a range of rights, in order to illustrate key rights of nature arguments. Then four examples of rivers in different countries are addressed: the Vilcabamba River in Ecuador, the Whanganui River in Aotearoa New Zealand, the Ganges River in India, and the Atrato River in Columbia. Two of these examples emphasise the rights of the rivers and two emphasise duties and responsibilities, while three of them create a separate legal personality for the river. The tools used to protect each of these rivers are slightly different from each other and they illustrate interesting comparisons and likely lessons, even though they are still very new.
A key lesson from this difference is that rights – including rights for nature – are useful tools, but also, that collective responsibility may be even more useful. All of the examples in this paper can help our societies and their legal systems evolve to protect nature more effectively and engender a greater appreciation of its importance. But explicit frameworks and tools of collective responsibility may provide a clearer path to the paradigm shift that is necessary to better respect humans’ role within nature and ecosystems within which we live. Any framework or tool chosen needs to support a paradigm of collective responsibility and should be carefully designed and worded so as not to obscure or distract from that.
Keywords: Earth Law, Rights of Nature, legal personhood for nature, responsibility, environmental law, Te Awa Tupua, Whanganui, Vilcabamaba, Atrato, Ganges River, River Guardians, Ecuador Constitution
JEL Classification: K1, K2, K11, K32
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation