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Court stuns the world with historic ruling on the rights of river: 'A transcendental milestone'

The court's ruling has implications far beyond the country's borders.

The court's ruling has implications far beyond the country's borders.

Photo Credit: iStock

A river in Peru now officially has legal rights to "exist, flow, and be free from pollution," as Inside Climate News reported.

The Nauta provincial court in Peru's Loreto region ruled that the Marañón River, which flows from the Andes Mountains to the Amazon River, possesses its own inherent rights. This is the first time the nation has recognized an ecosystem's legal rights. It also includes a provision describing Indigenous organizations as responsible for serving as the river's guardians and defenders. 

The attorney representing Indigenous Kukama plaintiffs, Martiza Quispe Mamani, called the ruling a "transcendental milestone for the protection not only of the Marañón River but also of all rivers contaminated by extractive activities."

The Marañón is an especially significant river in the region because of its proximity to oil production zones, vulnerability to oil spills, and hydroelectric dam construction. The court's ruling ordered the state oil company Petroperú to revisit its environmental management plan to help prevent oil leaks and spills that could affect the river. People living there depend upon the river for drinking water and crop irrigation. 

The Peruvian court's ruling has implications far beyond the country's borders and sets an example of recognizing that nature has rights. 

In 2022, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously affirmed "a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment as a human right — and a right for all, not just a privilege for some." Since then, environmentalists have called upon the U.N. to grant legal rights to our oceans by 2030. 

Giving legal rights to nature might sound silly to critics, but it helps give a voice to voiceless ecosystems needing protection. 

Legal rights offer immediate protection against damage and irreversible, long-term effects while empowering people to place a higher value on the environment around them. In this example in Peru, there's also the benefit of expanding the rights of the Indigenous peoples and drawing legally binding connections between human rights and the well-being of the planet. 

"The legal framework of the rights of nature is not only made up of the articles that grant rights to nature, but it also imposes a series of obligations on the state to respect, protect, and guarantee the rights of nature, and that has included the precautionary principle," said Constanza Prieto Figelist, the Latin America director for the Earth Law Center

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