U.N. Prepares to Debate Whether 'Mother Earth' Deserves Human Rights Status
02 May 2011 | News story
United Nations diplomats on Wednesday will set aside pressing issues of international peace and security to devote an entire day debating the rights of “Mother Earth.”
A bloc of mostly socialist governments lead by Bolivia have put the issue on the General Assembly agenda to discuss the creation of a U.N. treaty that would grant the same rights found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to Mother Nature.
Treaty supporters want the establishment of legal systems to maintain balance between human rights and what they perceive as the inalienable rights of other members of the Earth community -- plants, animals, and terrain.
Communities and environmental activists would be given more legal power to monitor and control industries and development to ensure harmony between humans and nature. Though the United States and other Western governments are supportive of sustainable development, some see the upcoming event, “Harmony with Nature,” as political grandstanding -- an attempt to blame environmental degradation and climate change on capitalism.
“The concept ‘Mother Earth’ is not universally accepted,” said a spokesman from the British Mission to the U.N. about Bolivia’s proposal. “In general, our view is that we should focus on tackling important sustainable development issues through existing channels and processes.”
The General Assembly two years ago passed a Bolivia-led resolution proclaiming April 22 as “International Mother Earth Day.” The measure was endorsed by all 192 member states. But Bolivian President Evo Morales envisioned much more, vowing in a speech to U.N. delegates that a global movement had begun to lay “out a Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth.”
Morales, who repeatedly says “the central enemy of Mother Earth is capitalism,” called for creating a charter that defends the right to life for all living things. Morales, who was named World Hero of Mother Earth by the General Assembly, has since made great strides in his campaign.
In January, Bolivia became the world’s first nation to grant the natural environment equal rights to humans. Bolivia’s Law of Mother Earth is heavily influenced by the spiritual indigenous Andean world outlook that revolves around the earth deity Pachamama, roughly translated to Mother Earth.
The Bolivian law establishes 11 rights for nature that include: the right to life and to exist; the right to pure water and clean air; the right to not have cellular structure modified or genetically altered; the right to have nature’s processes free from human alteration. The law also establishes a Ministry of Mother Earth to act as an ombudsman, which will ensure nature is “not being affected my mega-infrastructure and development projects that affect the balance of ecosystems and the local inhabitant communities.”
Emboldened by this triumph, Morales’ goal is to emulate his domestic achievement as a U.N. treaty. In a 2008 address to a U.N. forum on indigenous people, he said the first step in saving the Earth is to “eradicate capitalism” and to force wealthy industrialized countries to “pay their environmental debt.” Morales presented 10 points, or Evo’s Ten Commandments, as they are affectionately called by devotees, to save the planet.
Among them is a call to end the capitalist system, and a world without imperialism or colonialism. Respect for Mother Earth is Commandment 6. U.N. critics slammed the decision to devote an entire day debating Mother Earth legislation as not only a waste of time and resources, but a major blunder.
“The UN is a one-act show,” said U.N. watchdog Anne Bayefsky, of Eye on the U.N., in which “Western democracies are responsible for the world’s ills and developing countries are perpetual victims.”
Bayefsky said the General Assembly’s focus on Mother Earth distracts from more pressing issues and problems at the U.N.
“The rights of inanimate objects violated by developed countries are considered a useful focal point this month,” she said, adding that, “Syria is scheduled to be elected next month to the U.N.’s top “human” rights body, and Iran is on the U.N.’s top women’s rights body.” Syria is one of the sponsors of the “Mother Earth” treaty.
Bolivia’s ambassador to the U.N., Pablo Solon, who will represent Morales at the debate and ‘expert’ panel discussions at U.N. headquarters, said, “Presently many environmentally harmful human activities are completely legal,” including those that cause climate change.
“If legal systems recognized the rights of other-than-human beings,” he says, such as mountains, rivers, forests and animals, “courts and tribunals could deal with the fundamental issues of environmental contamination.”
It is not clear if Bolivia’s new tough environmental laws will actually go as far as to protect life forms like insects, but the legislation does include all living creatures.