October 8, 2018

Nature’s Rights Defended at the Tribunal on Human Rights, Fracking & Climate Change

By Lisa Mead, 8 October 2018.

The first Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal session ever to focus on nature’s rights as well as human rights took place earlier this year, from 14-18 May 2018. The oral sessions were conducted entirely online over 5 days, using Zoom web conferencing technology.

Lisa Mead and Michelle Maloney, both of ELGA’s Steering Committee, acted as Co-Counsel for Nature’s Rights during the week-long online tribunal. The video recordings and written submissions of the Nature’s Rights oral submissions and witness testimonies are available on the Earth Law Alliance website. All the other human rights-focused oral submissions and professional transcriptions can be accessed on the Tribunal on Fracking website.

Established in 1979, the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal (PPT) has until now always focused solely on human rights abuses and has heard over 40 cases to date. Anyone in the world can bring a case for consideration to the PPT. The PPT’s secretariat in Rome decides which cases can be heard, and the judges are independently chosen from a pool of 70-80 individuals around the world, on a case by case basis.

The co-organizers of the Tribunal hearings were post-graduate students from the Spring Creek Project & the Environmental Arts & Humanities Masters Program at Oregon State University. The hearings were supported by four pre-PPT tribunals (including over 200 witnesses), with both oral and written reports, as well as 17 amicus briefs from 14 lawyers and 12 directors of 20 NGOs in 7 different countries on 5 different continents.

Prior to the oral hearings, Lisa and Michelle were assisted by AELA members, Phoebe Bishop and Cassie Heaslip, in preparing evidence of violations of the rights of nature, which supported their formal case submission. In asserting that various violations of nature’s rights are taking place due to unconventional oil and gas extraction, their pleadings rely on articles in the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth, as well as referring to the growing body of Rights of Nature and legal personhood laws from around the world.

The case for Nature’s Rights was also supported by amicus curiae briefs from Margaret Stewart of the Center for Earth Jurisprudence (CEJ) and Mari Margil of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF).

CEJ’s brief highlighted the indivisible connection between human rights and rights of the Earth, and detailed why they must be considered together. Meanwhile, CELDF’s brief demonstrates the negative ways in which unconventional oil and gas extraction is impacting air and water quality, harming nature and wildlife, and accelerating climate change. It also sets out arguments demonstrating that from a scientific, legal, moral, and spiritual perspective, both state and non-state actors are responsible, and therefore liable, for environmental and climate harm caused by unconventional oil and gas extraction.

The PPT judges published a preliminary statement on the case in June 2018, and their final opinion is due sometime this autumn.

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