At the recent World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, there were appeals for taking hands across the globe to further the work of alternatives such as the Rights of Nature and Restoration of the Commons to counter-balance the current trend to commodify and marketise ecosystems and nature as a way of combatting climate change. In addition, several recent case studies have shown that communities and lawyers had been able to fight back the vast powers of multi-national companies to exploit their natural resources by applying the concepts of the Rights of Nature.
Environmental lawyer Cormac Cullinan is part of a global alliance whose aim is to give legal rights to nature, thereby ensuring that humans have a future on this planet.
The African Declaration is a DRAFT document, it is not a complete document and will need to be continually discussed. The idea is to work with citizens across South Africa to further develop, comment, translate, and critique the African Declaration, to open up a form of exchange around the Universal Declaration of Rights for Mother Earth. This declaration feeds into and contributes to the universal declaration, and should not be seen as a conflicting document but rather a complimentary process.
We, the peoples of South Africa, Grateful to Africa for feeding our bodies, sheltering us, inspiring our imaginations, and shaping our many cultures and spiritual beliefs; mindful that the ancestral wisdom of Africa teaches that we come into being through our relationships with the whole community of life and that to unfold our full humanity we must respect and live in peace with all beings; inspired by our love for this ancient land and for the animals, plants, mountains and rivers that are our kin and who safeguard the well-being our people; mourning the harm that has been caused to the community of life by the arrogant and disrespectful manner in which industrialised societies treat other members of that community; convinced of the need to take decisive action to turn the course of our societies away from selfishness, greed, exploitation, and separateness; Determined to create healthy human communities in which everyone lives well through respecting Earth in all her many forms; standing in solidarity with all who defend the rights of the natural communities to which we belong; pledge ourselves to strive whole-heartedly together to live in harmony within the community of life and to respect and defend the rights of all beings to fulfil their role within that community.
Earth is sacredEarth is sacred to us and no person or legal entity has the right to pollute or degrade the soils, waters and atmosphere that sustain life.
All plants, animals and other creatures are our kin and we shall respect, uphold and defend their rights to play their unique role within the community of life. Sacred forests, pools, mountains and other places shall remain wild.
Each has the right to its place in the communityEvery creature, large or small, every plant, rock, mountain, river, or sea that has come into being has the right to exist in its place, to be respected and to fulfl its role within the community of life.
We shall respect the rights of all the other members of the natural
communities to which we belong so that all may live well in harmony with
All shall live well
We shall safeguard the fertility of the soils, the purity of water and air, and the health of natural communities that make living well possible so that all beings can live well now and in the future.
Human communities shall provide their people with food, water, shelter and social opportunities in ways that do not prevent natural communities from doing the same for their other members. No person has the right to pursue their own wellbeing at the expense of the natural communities, systems and processes that sustain us all.
Every person and each generation shall maintain natural balances by
giving to natural communities in return for what they receive. Until the
composition of the atmosphere is restored to balance each person and
each generation must ensure that their presence on Earth causes more
carbon to be removed from the atmosphere than is release into it.
A giving for every taking
Human activities that disrupt vital ecological balances and functions
shall be stopped and replaced with practices that improve the health of
Healing shall replace exploitation
Practices that erode the land and deplete the natural fertility of the soil shall be replaced with growing and harvesting practices that work with natural processes to enhance the fertility of the land and the health and resilience of natural communities.
The rights of people to beneft from the land and other beings fows
from our relationships with them and decisions that impact on the
integrity or health of a natural community shall be made by people who
have deep relationships with that community and will experience the
consequences of the decisions most directly. Those who are not part of a
natural community do not have the right to make decisions or take
actions that harm or threaten the integrity, health or functioning of
that community. Those who intentionally or recklessly damage natural
communities or put them at risk shall forfeit the right to make
decisions that may harm them.
Communities shall decide for themselves
Each community has the right to defend itself from being harmed by
outsiders. People who respect and live in harmony with the other members
of a natural community shall care for and defend that community and
stop human activities that they have good reason to believe may harm the
Communities shall protect themselves
The rights of present and future generations to live in harmony
within healthy natural communities shall prevail over the rights of any
person or legal entity to property or profts. The interests of
corporations, the state and other artifcial entities shall not be
permitted to take precedence over the interests of natural communities.
Life before property and profit
Those that harm Earth shall be held accountableAny person or legal entity that harms or profts at the expense of a natural community shall be held accountable for restoring its integrity, functioning and health.
No person shall be permitted to use corporations or other legal devices to avoid or limit their responsibilities to their fellow members of natural communities. Corporations and legal entities that harm or violate the rights of natural communities shall forfeit their privileges as legal persons.
All shall have legal rightsThe Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth shall be adopted and implemented. Laws that recognise, respect, and protect the rights of all members of natural communities shall replace those that give people or legal entities the right to pollute the waters, seas, soils, and atmosphere, to infict cruelty and to violate the rights of natural communities.
Public bodies shall safeguard the conditions for living well Public bodies shall promote human development through living well in respectful co- existence within natural communities and shall safeguard the conditions necessary to do so. In order to do so they shall:
- Make the effective protection of the integrity and health of natural communities and the maintenance of the conditions necessary to live well their highest priority;
- Develop and implement policies, laws and systems that prevent human activities from disrupting the natural processes and functions on which we all depend;
- Cease funding activities that disrupt or endanger vital natural processes and systems; and
- Promote values, technologies, production methods and behaviour patterns that enable people to live well and that beneft the whole community of life.