Constitutional rights given to Ecuador's environment
Ecosystem rights make Ecuador's constitution the first of its kind.
Saturday, January 8, 2011 - 21:26
CAJAS NATIONAL PARK: Ecuador's beautiful environment deserves its rights. (Photo: Rachel Buckley)
Ecuador is a tiny country which rarely makes international news headlines. Located between Colombia and Peru in South America, it is best known for its political instability and populist leaders. However, it seems that Ecuador is on the international forefront in at least one area: nature.
Ecuador is a country home to one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world. The country itself is broken into three parts: the coastal region, the Andes region in the center (which is also called the altiplane) and the land-locked Amazon jungle region. Each region has different ecosystems which flourish in the three diverse zones. Ecuador also lays claim to the Galapagos Islands, a group of renowned islands that attracts visitors from every corner of the earth each year to witness the famous finches Darwin researched in the 19th century, as well as the famed tortoises and blue-footed boobies that roam carefree.
With 2007 came a new president, Rafael Correa, as well as the construction of a new constitution for the Republic of Ecuador, its twentieth. The government enlisted the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund to craft a document which would protect the nation's delicate and vital ecosystems. The new constitution, passed into law on Sept. 28, 2008, most basically gives the environment a right to exist. It reads, "Natural communities and ecosystems possess the unalienable right to exist, flourish and evolve within Ecuador. Those rights shall be self-executing, and it shall be the duty and right of all Ecuadorian governments, communities, and individuals to enforce those rights" (International Law Observer).
To some critics, this distinction seems slightly arbitrary without much promise for change. However, this seemingly simple statement is actually the first of its kind in any constitution worldwide, present or past, to even mention that nature holds unalienable rights. Many environmental activists see this distinction as a step in the right direction in terms of the international community viewing the environment as a legal entity which possesses rights to both exist and to thrive. They also see Ecuador's constitution as possible foreshadowing of future constitutional amendments we can expect from other countries around the globe.