Ecuador's Supreme Court recently stopped plans for mining in the species-rich forest of Los Cedros, citing the country's constitution for natural rights. The country is the only one in the world with such a constitution, and the event opens up the idea that the legal rights of non-human beings are a necessary means in the fight against exploitation.
Nature's resources in everyday speech are often associated with things we use and things every human being has Right to. Today's approach to nature where human interests are given priority has, however, proved to be unsustainable.
In Ecuador, there is another environmental ethical approach, where not only people but also nature has rights and possesses an intrinsic value that according to the country's constitution must be respected. The statute thus prevents the exploitation of important natural areas and protects biological diversity. Perhaps the rest of the world also needs to normalize a new standard of rights that includes nature, in order to protect it from destruction.
Recently, the Ecuadorian forest Los Cedros won a feud against the country's state mining company Enami EP, which together with Canadian partners had planned to extract copper and gold in the natural area. The forest is known for its rich biodiversity with several endangered species. At the same time, it is a physical and spiritually important place for indigenous peoples. With the Constitution behind it, Ecuador's Supreme Court denied the plans for extraction.
The Constitution is the only one in the world with a chapter on the rights of nature. Article 71 describes that "Mother Earth", or Pachamama as it is called in the mythology of the Inca people, has the right to have its existence fully respected. It planned mining in Los Cedros would simply restrict the right of life of the forest and ecosystem, and go against the constitution. The verdict was not only a win for the endangered species, but also a restoration for indigenous peoples who are struggling to continue living in the area.
Human rights is a concept that emphasizes the equal value of individuals and the right to influence over their lives. At the same time, it is a Western idea that prioritizes human interests over non-human beings, who are often given only an instrumental value. The verdict against mining in Los Cedros shows how statutory rights for nature can be a way to preserve important environments. The constitution may also become a model for how we should act towards other beings.