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Building an Alternative Jurisprudence for the Earth: The International Rights of Nature Tribunal

Building an Alternative Jurisprudence for the Earth: The International Rights of Nature Tribunal

Michelle Maloney

In January 2014, members of the civil society network, Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature, held the world’s first International Tribunal for the Rights of Nature and Mother Earth (International Tribunal) in Quito, Ecuador. Since that time, the International Tribunal has met in Lima, Peru and Paris, France in parallel with the Conference of Parties for UN climate change negotiations, and Regional Chambers of the International Tribunal have been held in the United States and Australia.[1] Given that the International Tribunal has emerged from civil society rather than state-centered international law, and given that countries like Australia and the United States do not recognize, in State or Federal law, the intrinsic rights of plants, animals, or ecosystems to exist, what possible benefits do Rights of Nature Tribunals offer the natural world, and what impact can they have on the current legal system?

In this paper, I outline the creation and ongoing hearings of the International Tribunal and its Regional Chambers and provide an overview of Earth jurisprudence, the emerging theory of Earth-centered law and governance from which the Tribunals have emerged. I then contextualize the Rights of Nature Tribunals within the phenomenon of peoples’ tribunals during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. I suggest that like many “peoples’ tribunals” before them, Rights of Nature Tribunals provide a powerful voice for civil society concerns and create an alternative narrative to that offered by western legal systems regarding environmental destruction. They also have the potential to play a role in transforming existing law and offer a welcome, cathartic contribution to the burgeoning field of Earth jurisprudence.

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[1] International Rights of Nature Tribunal, Global Alliance for Rts. Nature, (last visited Nov. 23, 2016).

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