At 8:00 AM on Tuesday, February 25th, 2008 at a hotel in Manta, Ecuador, Fundación Pachamama hosted a policy breakfast for 130 assembly men and women, to share with them the theoretical and practical arguments for incorporating Ecosystem Rights into the new Ecuadorian Constitution. The event was so successful and widely acclaimed that the Constitutional Assembly’s official media coverage included it on its web site’s homepage, less than 3 hours after the event began.
The breakfast included three “expert” presentations on the conceptual basis and practical-legal application of Ecosystemic Rights. First, Mari Margil, the Associate Director of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, spoke of how Ecosystem Rights came to exist. Specifically, they grew out of grassroots efforts in the United States, among local communities in Pennsylvania who were being affected by mining and agricultural activities. These communities came together to fight a common problem: companies had the same rights as citizens (if not more), moreover, the natural environment had no rights at all – a situation very similar to that of Ecuador’s indigenous communities and their ancestral territories. The communities from Pennsylvania reacted by turning the tables on the companies, demanding that they and their natural environment had inherent rights which the companies could not violate and the government had to guarantee and protect. Out of this US-based, grassroots movement grew the concept of Ecosystemic Rights.
Thomas Linsey, expert in Ecosystemic Rights and founder of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, followed Ms. Margil. Mr. Linsey emphasized that nature currently has no constitutional rights, despite it having many inalienable rights that should be formally recognized and protected; therefore, the environment should not be treated as goods to be bought and sold. An example of an Ecosystemic Right, as proposed by Mr. Linsey, is a river’s right to flow fully and freely. Mr. Linsey offered a set of practical suggestions for “operationalizing” these rights, if they were to be incorporated into Ecuador’s new Constitution.
Finally, Fundación Pachamama’s own Mario Melo, a Human Rights lawyer who is currently the lead counsel on the Kichwa Sarayaku case before the Interamerican Court on Human Rights, articulated the connection between Ecosystem Rights and the Collective Rights of Ecuador’s indigenous peoples. For indigenous peoples, there is no separation between their human communities and their natural environments – these are intrinsically linked and manifested through their territories and cosmovision. Mr. Melo argued that both Ecosystemic and Collective Rights should be incorporated into the new Constitution’s fundamental principals, as rights to be protected and guaranteed by the State.
This event reflects an important way in which the Pachamama organization is working to positively influence a new Constitution for Ecuador that recognizes and values our indigenous partners and their ancestral territories.
For more information on Ecosystem Rights, see: