#Tbt 4th International Tribunal for the Rights of Nature

Mother Earth Demands Her Rights Through Her People

By Catalina Rodriguez, CEJ 2018 Earth Law and Policy Fellow

In November 2017, the 4th International Tribunal for the Rights of Nature was held in concurrence with the 23rd United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP23).

The purpose for the two-week Convention was to discuss the advancement of implementation efforts of the Paris Agreement, which was reported to have been met with enthusiasm and positivity from the attendees. Plans to further these efforts have been made and will be explored further during next year’s COP24 in Poland. 

The theme for this year’s tribunal was fundamental changes to the legal systems that are needed to respect Mother Earth as an entity deserving of her own rights, reflected through the eyes of natives of each region who are being affected by deforestation, fracking, mining, and depletion of natural resources. A panel of nine judges from around the world listened while the representatives presented their cases, and later reported their findings and decisions. The Tribunal went on for two days where 53 people from 19 countries brought forth specific violations to the rights of Nature and several cases of abuse to Mother Earth’s ecological resources and the resulting harm to people and biodiversity. The cases brought before the Tribunal included exacerbation to climate change and false energy solutions, violations to indigenous people from the USA, Russia, Scandinavia, and the Amazon in Ecuador, Brazil, Bolivia, and French Guyana.

Respect for the rights of Mother Earth and for its current and future inhabitants of the planet, natural resources, and for the significance of maintaining a healthy place to live, were brought up numerously through the cases and exposed the necessity for change through the whole planet.

The tribunal exposed the exploitation of Mother Earth occurring all over the world at such a rate that requires urgent and immediate action. The speakers through the tribunal addressed the protection of the rights of our Mother Earth as a concept that should become part of our everyday. We depend on this planet to live and we depend on what the Earth can provide for us, but more importantly, this planet requires humans to reciprocate in the effort to take care of our resources in order for us to survive. Finite resources are currently being depleted at levels so high that Mother Earth is not able to replenish herself or create alternatives. Therefore, it is time to act.  

One of the specific cases brought in front of the Tribunal was the case of Bolivian natives of the area known as the TIPNIS (Indigenous Territory and National Park Isiboro Secure for its acronym in Spanish) which is a natural jungle where three different tribes of natives reside. The TIPNIS has already suffered a drastic loss of hectares (about 133,691 or about 330,357 acres) due mainly to coca farming, and now the Bolivian government is planning on building a road that would split the territory in half and would only benefit the farmers. During the tribunal, the natives discussed a road the government is attempting to build through the sacred jungle and explained how the construction of this road would affect not only the natives of that specific area but also how it would mean the disruption of tribes all through the country. They denounced their government’s purposeful exploitation of the land and demanded that prior protective laws are upheld. The speaker, Fatima Monasterio, representing Bolivian natives, ended with a quote from their president who said “the rights of mother earth are even more important than the rights of humans,” which showed the priorities of the people. The judges decided that further research and investigation shall be conducted in Bolivia after which a final decision will be issued.


The judges also had conclusions on the other cases, and their individual judgements continue to be released. Final judgements for all other cases can be accessed here:

After the two days of emotional reports from 53 speakers in seven languages, the Tribunal found “serious and systematic violations to the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth (UDRME),” and in some cases human rights violations, with harms so severe as to constitute ecocide.  The main cause of the violations lies in the approach by legal systems and governments who permit and promote climate-damaging activities, such as mining, for the sake of a capitalist system that caters to the industries conducting the damage.

COP24 will continue the discussions among world leaders and NGOs and hopefully will bring forth improvements to the current mandated judgements.

To watch the 4th International Tribunal for the Rights of Nature in its entirety, please visit the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature’s website.