Bugs to be given human rights; The UN
UNITED NATIONS — Bolivia will this month table a
draft United Nations treaty giving "Mother Earth" the same rights as
humans — having just passed a domestic law that does the same for bugs,
trees and all other natural things in the South American country.
bid aims to have the UN recognize the Earth as a living entity that
humans have sought to "dominate and exploit" — to the point that the
"well-being and existence of many beings" is now threatened.
wording may yet evolve, but the general structure is meant to mirror
Bolivia's Law of the Rights of Mother Earth, which Bolivian President
Evo Morales enacted in January.
That document speaks of the
country's natural resources as "blessings," and grants the Earth a
series of specific rights that include rights to life, water and clean
air; the right to repair livelihoods affected by human activities; and
the right to be free from pollution.
It also establishes a
Ministry of Mother Earth, and provides the planet with an ombudsman
whose job is to hear nature's complaints as voiced by activist and other
groups, including the state.
"If you want to have balance,
and you think that the only (entities) who have rights are humans or
companies, then how can you reach balance?" Pablo Salon, Bolivia's
ambassador to the UN, told Postmedia News. "But if you recognize that
nature too has rights, and (if you provide) legal forms to protect and
preserve those rights, then you can achieve balance."
application of the law appears destined to pose new challenges for
companies operating in the country, which is rich in natural resources,
including natural gas and lithium, but remains one of the poorest in
But while Salon said his country just seeks
to achieve "harmony" with nature, he signalled that mining and other
companies may come under greater scrutiny.
saying, for example, you cannot eat meat because you know you are going
to go against the rights of a cow," he said. "But when human activity
develops at a certain scale that you (cause to) disappear a species,
then you are really altering the vital cycles of nature or of Mother
Earth. Of course, you need a mine to extract iron or zinc, but there are
Bolivia is a country with a large indigenous
population, whose traditional belief systems took on greater resonance
following the election of Morales, Latin America's first indigenous
In a 2008 pamphlet his entourage distributed at
the UN as he attended a summit there, 10 "commandments" are set out as
Bolivia's plan to "save the planet" — beginning with the need "to end
Reflecting indigenous traditional beliefs, the
proposed global treaty says humans have caused "severe destruction . . .
that is offensive to the many faiths, wisdom traditions and indigenous
cultures for whom Mother Earth is sacred."
It also says
that "Mother Earth has the right to exist, to persist and to continue
the vital cycles, structures, functions and processes that sustain all
In indigenous Andean culture, the Earth
deity known as Pachamama is the centre of all life, and humans are
considered equal to all other entities.
The UN debate
begins two days before the UN's recognition April 22 of the second
International Mother Earth Day — another Morales-led initiative.
activist Maude Barlow is among global environmentalists backing the
drive with a book the group will launch in New York during the UN
debate: Nature Has Rights.
"It's going to have huge
resonance around the world," Barlow said of the campaign. "It's going to
start first with these southern countries trying to protect their land
and their people from exploitation, but I think it will be grabbed onto
by communities in our countries, for example, fighting the tarsands in
Ecuador, which also has a large indigenous
population, has enshrined similar aims in its Constitution — but the
Bolivian law is said to be "stronger."
Ecuador is among
countries that have already been supportive of the Bolivian initiative,
along with Nicaragua, Venezuela, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and
Antigua and Barbuda.
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