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Rivers as living beings

Rights in law, but no rights to water?

Since 2017, some of the most beloved and iconic rivers in the world have been recognised in law as legal persons and/or living entities, with a range of legal rights and protections. These profound legal changes can transform the relationship between people and rivers, and are the result of ongoing leadership from Indigenous peoples and environmental advocates.

Since 2017, some of the most beloved and iconic rivers in the world have been recognised in law as legal persons and/or living entities, with a range of legal rights and protections. These profound legal changes can transform the relationship between people and rivers, and are the result of ongoing leadership from Indigenous peoples and environmental advocates. This paper uses a comparative analysis of the legal and/or living personhood of rivers and lakes in Aotearoa New Zealand, India, Bangladesh, Colombia to identify the legal status of specific rivers, and highlight the disturbing trend of recognising rivers as legal persons and/or living entities whilst also denying rivers the right to flow. Rather than empowering rivers in law to resist existential threats, the new legal status of rivers may thus make it even more difficult to manage rivers to prevent their degradation and loss. This paper highlights an ‘extinction problem’ for rivers that environmental law has exacerbated, by recognising new nonhuman living beings whilst simultaneously denying them some of the specific legal rights they need to remain in existence. The paper also shows how a pluralist analysis of the status of rivers can help to identify some potential ways to address this problem.

Bron: Erin O’Donnell (2021): Rivers as living beings: rights in law, but no rights to water?, Griffith Law Review, DOI: 10.1080/10383441.2020.1881304

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Icon image: Wikimedia Commons - Rivier de Drôme

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