International Rights of Nature Tribunal Constituted in Paris

December 11, 2015


PRESS RELEASE – 7 December 2015


In an extraordinary display of global solidarity, vision and determination, communities and organizations from all over the world took the initiative this past weekend by formally establishing the International Tribunal for the Rights of Nature. People flocked to the Maison des Metallos in Paris to listen to more than 65 people from 31 nationalities1 speaking in 7 languages2, who participated as judges, Earth Defenders, or witnesses during the two days of Tribunal hearings. More than 300 people attended the hearings on each of the two days and hundreds had to be turned away due to lack of space.

Indigenous peoples from around the world played a leading role throughout the Tribunal as judges, experts and witnesses. One of the highlights was the signing by the legendary Chief Raoni of the Kayapo people of the Brazilian Amazon, of the People’s Convention that formally established the Tribunal. The judges of the Tribunal reciprocated by signing documents confirming their support for the Alliance of Earth’s Guardians established by Chief Raoni and his delegation.

While governments participating in the COP 21 are locked in tortuous negotiations over the wording of an agreement that will worsen the destruction of Mother Earth, the people of the world demonstrated what genuine global collaboration and solidarity can achieve. They showed the strong, united leadership that is so lacking at COP 21 by signing the People’s Convention that formally established the Tribunal on 4 December 2015 and opened the way to the creation of Regional Tribunals throughout the world.

The Tribunal bases its judgements primarily on the Universal Declaration for the Rights of Mother Earth and international human rights law, but also recognized ecocide as a crime. The judgements provide clear direction in each case on who is accountable and on what must be done to repair the harm and restore Earth (and communities) to health and well-being.

The panel of Judges

The following distinguished judges constituted the International Rights of Nature Tribunal in Paris: President – Cormac Cullinan (Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature, and author of Wild Law- South Africa); Tom Goldtooth (Indigenous Environmental Network, Turtle Island – USA);
Alberto Acosta (Economist and former president of the Constitutional Assembly – Ecuador);
Osprey Orielle Lake (Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network – USA); Terisa Turner (International Oil Working Group, Friends of the Earth – Canada, professor – Canada and USA);
Felicio Pontes (Federal Prosecutor – Brazil)
Damien Short (Director Human Rights Consortium, University of London – UK);
Attosa Soltani (Amazon Watch founder – USA);
Nnimmo Bassey (Health of Mother Earth Foundation / Oilwatch – Nigeria);
Ruth Nyambura (African Biodiversity Network – Kenya);
Christophe Bonneuil (Historian of Sciences, CNRS, Attac – France);
Philippe Desbrosses (Doctor in Environmental Sciences, Farmer, Intelligence Verte – France); – Honorary Judge on December 4th Dominique Bourg (philosopher and author, University of Lausanne, Switerland).

Listening to Nature

The proposed solutions to climate change being presented at COP 21 are almost all abstract, theoretical, market-driven and motivated by self-interest. The approach at the hearings of the Tribunal could not have been more different. Its findings were based on the first-hand experiences of witnesses, and drew on both scientific knowledge and the cosmovision/ worldview and wisdom of indigenous and local communities. The focus was on listening to Nature and was based on the recognition that Nature’s laws cannot be broken – an understanding that appears to be absent from COP 21.

The Tribunal opened and closed with deeply moving evocations of Mother Earth by indigenous people. They also presented testimonies that drew the Tribunal’s attention to dimensions ignored in the COP 21 negotiations. Central to these dimensions was how patriarchal, capitalist and dominating mind-sets and world views deny the sacred, and as a consequence, cause the creative feminine principle of Mother Earth to be attacked, resulting in the disruption of vital balances.

Nature is alive. She has the right to exist, to maintain natural cycles, to flourish and to constantly regenerate life. However, the dominant world political economy in its legal, economic and political systems, treats nature as an object which cannot have rights – as a slave to be used and exploited. Reverence for nature is replaced with utilitarian and perverse views of nature that seek to commodify and commercialize vital natural processes.

Findings of the Tribunal

The Tribunal’s findings are clear, strong and specific with respect to who must be held accountable and why, and in the practical measures that need to be taken to solve the challenges faced by humanity. The Tribunal recognized that solutions do exist: communities and indigenous people have been applying these solutions and have been putting their bodies on the line to protect Earth for hundreds of years. At the heart of the way forward is the recognition that we are living in an unequal world and that the solutions need to be equitable.

The evidence presented at the Tribunal established beyond any doubt that human rights and the rights of nature are inseparable, and that both are being systematically violated by systems based on arrogant delusions arising from the misconception that humans have the right and ability to dominate and exploit Earth. Evidence presented at the Tribunal also showed how indigenous understandings and knowledge complement scientific knowledge. It also demonstrated the extraordinary creative energies that are released when diverse peoples unite, inspired by a shared love of Earth, to find the solutions that humanity so desperately needs, especially at this moment in time.

Cases the Tribunal heard in Paris

Climate change
Former Bolivian ambassador to the United Nations, Pablo Solón led the presentation of the Climate Change case. The evidence showed why geo-engineering, nuclear energy, industrial and “climate smart” agriculture, biofuels, and the accelerated exploitation of fossil fuels are false solutions devised for corporate profit that will increase the damage to Earth. The Tribunal found that the rights of Nature are being systemically violated by climate change, mainly as a consequence of the acts and inaction of governments and international organizations (including the United Nations), within the dominant global political economy with its legal, economic and political regimes that they have established; and the activities of large corporations amongst which the most culpable are a relatively few companies. The Tribunal closed the case and a written judgement will follow.

Commercialization of nature
The case of the financialization of nature, presented by Ivonne Yanez, was expanded from the previous Tribunals that before dealt only with REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation). The Tribunal took note of the evidence that there are emerging many more instances of the commodification and commercialization of Nature. These instances include biodiversity offsets, carbon offsets, (so-called) clean development mechanisms, and (so-called) smart agriculture. The Tribunal decided to keep open the case of the financialization of Nature so that more evidence can be collected and presented – particularly with regard to the identity of the perpetrators.

Genetically modified organisms
Dr. Vandana Shiva led the presentation of this case that deals with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and the agro-food industry. The Tribunal heard expert evidence from Ronnie Cummins, Marie Monique Robin, Andre Leu and José Bové; all of whom exposed the damage that GMOs and associated pesticides are doing to consumers, to animals and to soil. The Tribunal decided to keep the case open in order to hear additional evidence especially through regional Tribunals including in Asia.

Defenders of Mother Earth

Two cases of Defenders of Mother Earth were heard in the Tribunal: (1) the criminalization of Defenders in Ecuador and (2) the persecution of Defenders who protest against the pollution in Houston, Texas arising from fossil fuels and chemical contamination. The judges ratified the principle that the Tribunal would defend the Defenders of Mother Earth and hear further cases where necessary. It condemned the Government of Ecuador’s criminalization of Defenders of Mother Earth in that country, and demanded the restitution of human rights, liberty and the re-opening of closed institutions in Ecuador. The Tribunal closed the Ecuador case but kept the Texas case open in order to gather new evidence.

The Tribunal had already conducted hearings about global fracking at its previous sessions in Quito and Lima. The Tribunal heard evidence from witnesses about the damage that fracking is causing in Argentina. Witnesses testified about how in the USA fracking is “breaking the bones of Mother Earth”, causing earthquakes and imposing widespread suffering on the people who inhabit lands that are being sacrificed to unconventional oil extraction. The Tribunal confirmed that fracking results in a range of serious violations of the rights of Nature. After hearing the new evidence presented in Paris, the judges decide to close this case but recognized that fracking is an ongoing threat that should continue to be examined by regional tribunals.

Mega dams in Brazil

Gert Peter Bruch and Christian Poirier presented the case of mega dams in Brazil, with the powerful testimonies of Antonia Melo, María Lucia Munduruku and Chief Raoni. The Tribunal condemned the building of Belo Monte and Tapajos mega dams and the planned construction of many more, which will cause horrific destruction of the Amazon and its inhabitants. It decided to leave the case open to hear additional evidence in a regional Tribunal in Brazil.

New cases accepted for hearing at subsequent sittings of the Tribunal
A number of new cases were presented as probable violations of the Rights of Nature, thus justifying them being heard by the Tribunal in the future. The Tribunal accepted them all for further consideration and gave directions about how the cases should be developed.

The Corralejas case concerns the cruel killing of animals for ‘entertainment’, notably bulls in Colombia. The Tribunal found that there was clear evidence of torture and cruelty to animals in violation of the Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth and asked that the case be widened to include other violations of animal rights for initial consideration by a regional Tribunal. The case of the community of Rosia Montana in Romania which has been threatened by proposed gold mining by a Canadian corporation was accepted with the direction that it be widened to consider other instances of destructive mining practices. The depletion of marine life was accepted with the request that more specific information be presented about the identity of the main perpetrators. The Shell case in Nigeria was accepted and the violence in the area was condemned with the recommendation that consideration be given to establishing a regional tribunal to conduct hearings. Finally, the case of the tar sands in Canada was accepted and the Tribunal observed that there was evidence that this may be one of the most dangerous instances of ecocide on the planet.

Ecocide cases
The Tribunal also re-considered two cases that it had previously heard. The objective of the reconsideration was to determine whether in addition to being violations of the Declaration, there was also evidence that the two cases were instances of the international crime of ecocide. (Severe violations of the Rights of Nature may also qualify as ecocides, because they constitute crimes against humans and the planet.) The Tribunal re-examined the Yasuní case (which involves proposed oil exploitation in a national park in the Ecuadorian Amazon) and Chevron case (which involves responsibility for rectifying huge damage to the Amazon caused by Texaco/ Chevron) from the perspective of ecocide. The Tribunal found that the Chevron case was one of the worst instances of ecocide perpetrated on the Amazon and that restorative justice should be applied. In preparing the written judgment, consideration would be given to whether or not Chevron itself should be liquidated and its assets used to restore the damage. The Tribunal noted that individuals, such as the directors of Chevron and corrupt government officials, could also be criminally liable in their personal capacity for ecocides. Regarding Yasuní, the Tribunal decided that it would be appropriate to issue a directive prohibiting future exploitation of the Yasuni oil as a measure to prevent ecocide.

General findings and comments

The Rights of Nature Tribunal recommend that the Rome Statute be amended to enable perpetrators of the crime of ecocide to be prosecuted before the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The Tribunal strongly supported keeping fossil fuels in the ground (keep the oil in the soil, the coal in the hole, the gas under the grass and the tar sands in the land) as an essential approach to prevent further harm to Nature.

In regards to Ecuadorian President Correa’s call for the establishment of an Environmental Justice Tribunal, this Tribunal made the point that the peoples of the world had already done so by establishing the existing Tribunal on the Rights of Nature. It called on governments to provide support for Peoples’ Tribunals. It called on President Correa to publically support and help implement the judgements of the Tribunal concerning cases in Ecuador (Yasuni, Chevron and the criminalization of defenders of Mother Earth).

The Tribunal commended the pursuit of the Rights of Nature cases that have been won in Ecuador and the use of local ordinances and other documents that recognize the rights of nature in the USA, as effective means of stopping destruction such as fracking, and recommended that these approaches be considered elsewhere in the world.

The Tribunal noted that the only mention in the official COP21 texts of the integrity of ecosystems and Mother Earth and indigenous peoples (paragraph 10) was in danger of being eliminated. The Tribunal strongly condemned COP21’s shocking failure to address the real drivers of climate change. It highlighted the fact that the magnificent testimonies presented to the Tribunal proved beyond doubt that the rights of Mother Earth are being systematically violated.

The Tribunal condemned the violence produced by terrorism and exacerbated by climate change. We need to make peace with Mother Earth to achieve peace among peoples.

Next steps

Judgments will be written and published for all closed cases, as was done and presented in Paris for the Great Barrier Reef and the Yasuní Case. The Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature will be a hub for accepting the submission of new cases and for providing guidelines, documents, assistance and intellectual support and training in order to expand the initiative to recognize the Rights of Nature worldwide.

The Tribunal calls on all communities and organizations that share its vision:
to become parties to the Peoples’ Convention on establishing the International Rights of Nature Tribunal;
to establish more regional tribunals under the umbrella of the International Tribunal;
and to take creative action to support the implementation of its judgements.

(For more information, visit

System Change with the Tribunal on the Rights of Nature and Oil Watch’s ‘Annex Zero’

by Terisa E. Turner, Senior Policy Advisor – Energy Futures; Friends of the Earth Canada
12 December 2015, Paris, France, outside COP21 – the United Nations Climate Talks

While governments participating in COP21 are locked in the final hours of tortuous negotiations over wording of an agreement that will worsen the destruction of Mother Earth, civil society organizations and frontline communities internationally are taking important initiatives to actually to keep fossil fuels underground, to protect the forests and to defend ecologically sensible agriculture under the control of small farmers. And, in Paris at COP 21, while governments negotiated square bracketed language, communities and organizations from all over the world displayed global solidarity and collaboration by signing a People’s Convention that formally established the International Tribunal for the Rights of Nature.

The Tribunal bases its judgments primarily on the Universal Declaration for the Rights of Mother Earth and international human rights law, but also recognized ecocide as a crime. Judgments provide clear direction in each case on who is accountable and on what must be done to repair the harm and restore Earth (and communities) to health and well-being.

This first Tribunal hearing at the Paris COP21 negotiations, heard from more than 65 people (from 31 nationalities speaking in seven languages) who participated as judges, Earth Defenders or witnesses during the two day session (December 4-5, 2015). Most dramatically, Oil Watch International, a sponsor of the Tribunal, launched its “Annex 0”. This Annex lists countries and territories that have succeeded in keeping fossil fuels underground. It is also a plan that is calling for measures to move from a centralized large-scale energy production model to models of democratic and decentralized energy production by countries, nations, as well as by peoples in sub-national spaces, localities and territories.

The creation of Annex 0 will also incentivize new commitments and specific efforts focused on confronting the decisive causes of climate change. The indicators for these initiatives will be:

1. Fossil hydrocarbons are maintained in the ground
2. Forms of life are respected in the context of a dialogue with nature
3. Struggles are expanded against carbon extraction and other mining due to their impacts on the climate and on promoting elevated consumption of fossil fuels
4. A sustained debate is pursued on the types of energies required – for what, for whom, and how much – and on the exercise of sovereignty of the peoples and territories
5. There is the repudiation of mechanisms such as the carbon market, REDD+ (the United Nations’ Reduction of Emissions from Forest Destruction and Degradation), and other false solutions to climate change
6. There are clear commitments to non-extraction of and emancipation from fossil fuels by the peoples.

The 1997 UNFCCC Kyoto Protocol includes ‘Annex One’ that is a list of industrialized, developed countries, that have historically contributed most to climate change. It is these countries that are legally obliged under the Kyoto Protocol, to provide finances to the global south countries to assist them in making a transition to sustainable, renewable and emissions-free energies (available to populations on a much more equitable basis). However, corporate capture of the United Nations negotiations on climate change has rendered this Kyoto initiative virtually useless and instead, has distorted it into yet another opportunity for profit making that has worsened global warming.

The new ‘Annex 0’ is intended to demonstrate real commitment to stop global warming by providing a list of countries, territories and municipalities that have successfully kept fossil fuels, including petroleum, gas, coal and peat, in the ground. Alongside this listing, Oil Watch International offers estimates of the number of tons of carbon that have not been emitted into the atmosphere as a result of action by ‘Annex 0’ communities. For example, at the Tribunal on the Rights of Nature, an Oil Watch representative from Costa Rica reiterated his country’s commitment as of April 2002, to forbid any exploration or production of oil or gas in that extraordinarily bio-diverse country whether on shore or off shore in Costa Rica’s Pacific and Atlantic territorial waters. Another example is Nigeria’s Ogoni people who, since 1993 have successfully blocked all petroleum extraction on their territory.

Oil Watch has called for the creation of a fund to help peoples who keep fossil fuels in the ground to develop alternative, climate-friendly energies within their own ecosystems, and on a democratic, decentralized basis. Contributions to this fund could be made by any party including individuals, organizations, governments and international networks. The fund is different from carbon off-setting (‘I pollute and pay you to not pollute’). Oil Watch’s fund proposes to reward those peoples who keep fossil fuels in the ground instead of extracting and selling these pollutants. The fund would provide some compensation in the form of support for the development or expansion these communities’ resilient political economies, including energies within them. This kind of energy transition should be understood to be a part of a wider transition from undemocratic and Earth – destructive extractivism to a post fossil-capitalist epoch that has solar energies – and participatory democracy – at its centre.

In sum, the Oil Watch ‘Annex Zero’ initiative centralizes epochal transition, as does the International Tribunal on the Rights of Nature. Both are premised on a level-headed recognition that 21 years of government negotiation at the annual United Nations COPs have produced absolutely no reductions in carbon emissions. On the contrary, these atmospheric pollutants have risen dramatically and have warmed the climate and multiplied extreme weather events. Ecocidal tipping points, accelerated by feedback loops, now threaten humanity and other species of life. That is why tangible action to implement the 2009 slogan, ‘System Change, Not Climate Change,’ is so very welcome. Also welcome is the 350.Org and allies May 2016 global action at multiple sites of fossil fuel business where simultaneous direct shut-down initiatives will test the coordinating capacities of popular networks. Extensions and expansions of all these creative expressions are sure to find higher visibility at Montreal’s World Social Forum this coming August.