Indigenous Rights and Nature Rights are indissociable. Representing less than 5% of global human population, Indigenous Peoples inhabit 25% of terrestrial land where over 80% of biodiversity is found. It is not a coincidence. Traditional knowledge and systems are interwoven with the natural and supranatural world Indigenous peoples inhabits. Ecuador set a precedent that should have become a model for every country. Let’s discuss what it means and how we can work to have these rights implemented globally.
Following his election as President of Ecuador, Rafael Correa called for a referendum on establishing a Constituent Assembly to write a new constitution for the country, which was held on April 15, 2007, and passed with over 80.0% approval. The Constitution was approved by the electorate in the constitutional referendum in September 2008 by 63.93% to 28.10%.
The Constitution is the first in the world to recognize legally enforceable Rights of Nature, or ecosystem rights AND to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ rights according to their specificities.
The entire body of the constitution is accessible here:
Both are interwoven for most Indigenous Peoples culturally identify with their natural environment. On the rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Ecuadorian constitution states:
TITLE II, RIGHTS
Chapter Four: rights of communities, peoples and nations
Article 57. Indigenous communes, communities, peoples and nations are recognized and guaranteed, in conformity with the Constitution and human rights agreements, conventions, declarations and other international instruments, the following collective rights:
12. To uphold, protect and develop collective knowledge; their science, technologies and ancestral wisdom; the genetic resources that contain biological diversity and agricultural biodiversity; their medicine and traditional medical practices, with the inclusion of the right to restore, promote, and protect ritual and holy places, as well as plants, animals, minerals and ecosystems in their territories; and knowledge about the resources and properties of fauna and flora.
All forms of appropriation of their knowledge, innovations, and practices are forbidden.
It further states:
The territories of the peoples living in voluntary isolation are an irreducible and intangible ancestral possession and all forms of extractive activities shall be forbidden there. The State shall adopt measures to guarantee their lives, enforce respect for self-determination and the will to remain in isolation and to ensure observance of their rights. The violation of these rights shall constitute a crime of ethnocide, which shall be classified as such by law.
On the rights of Nature, the Ecuadorian constitution states
Chapter Seven: rights of nature
Article 71. Nature, or Pacha Mama, where life is reproduced and occurs, has the right to integral respect for its existence and for the maintenance and regeneration of its life cycles, structure, functions and evolutionary processes.
All persons, communities, peoples and nations can call upon public authorities to enforce the rights of nature. To enforce and interpret these rights, the principles set forth in the Constitution shall be observed, as appropriate.
The State shall give incentives to natural persons and legal entities and to communities to protect nature and to promote respect for all the elements comprising an ecosystem.
Article 72. Nature has the right to be restored. This restoration shall be apart from the obligation of the State and natural persons or legal entities to compensate individuals and communities that depend on affected natural systems.
In those cases of severe or permanent environmental impact, including those caused by the exploitation of nonrenewable natural resources, the State shall establish the most effective mechanisms to achieve the restoration and shall adopt adequate measures to eliminate or mitigate harmful environmental consequences.
Article 73. The State shall apply preventive and restrictive measures on activities that might lead to the extinction of species, the destruction of ecosystems and the permanent alteration of natural cycles.
The introduction of organisms and organic and inorganic material that might definitively alter the nation’s genetic assets is forbidden.
Article 74. Persons, communities, peoples, and nations shall have the right to benefit from the environment and the natural wealth enabling them to enjoy the good way of living.
Environmental services shall not be subject to appropriation; their production, delivery, use and development shall be regulated by the State.
Couple of organizations to be aware of: