Ecuador extends nature’s rights to wildlife

Ecuador was the first country in the world to enshrine the rights of nature in its 2008 constitution, and Ecuador had recently set an example in the fight against climate change by banning a mining project in the Los Cedros Nature Reserve, home to a lush tropical forest. and a rich biodiversity already threatened by human activities. Today, the South American country goes beyond the bounds of biodiversity protection by extending the constitutional protection of nature’s rights to all wildlife. We return to this good news!

“Wild animals have distinct legal rights, including the right to exist, to develop their innate instincts, and to be free from disproportionate cruelty, fear, and distress.”

This is what was said recently Ecuador’s highest court in historic decision[1] interpretation of the country’s constitutional principles concerning “rights of nature”.

Usually recognized by ecosystems, it is the first time that the rights of nature, and in particular the right to exist and regenerate, have been extended to animals;. In fact, according to Kristen A. Stilt, professor of law at Harvard University and director of the faculty related to animal rights, ‘What makes this decision so important is it now the rights of nature in Ecuador can be used for the benefit of small groups of animals or just one individual ”[2].

Most important, this decision now raises animal rights to constitutional rightsgiving them the highest level of protection entrenched in the Ecuadorian legal landscape. “Although the rights of nature are enshrined in the Constitution, Prior to this decision, it was unclear whether individual animals could enjoy the rights of nature and be seen as rights holders as part of nature “[3]pleased Hugo Echeverría, an Ecuadorian lawyer specializing in the environment.

Estrellita, the surprising fate of a woolly monkey

Estrellita, little woolly monkey, had been captured in the wild, then one month old, and kept as a pet by Ana Beatriz Burbano until he was 18 years old. Possession of a wild animal is illegal under Ecuadorian law, in 2019, the authorities seized the primate to entrust it to a zoo. Alas, after only a month, Estrellita succumbed to the stress of the change in its environment.

Woolly Monkey – Flickr
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Before we became aware of the monkey’s death, its previous owner brought a lawsuit in the form of habeas corpus, a legal mechanism to establish the validity of a person’s detention, and therefore asked the Court to restore Estrellita and recognize that Ecuadorian authorities have violated the rights of wool monkeys.

In this historic decision, the highest legal body in the country has recognized that animal rights have been violated by the government after its forced removal from its usual environment, given that the transfer, the living conditions of the zoo, and the trauma caused by being separated from its owner had probably contributed to the untimely death of the woolen monkey. Anyway, The court also found that Estrellita’s rights were violated by Mrs Burbano when he was removed from his natural habitat. [4].

Despite his tragic fate, The Estrellita pioneered the recognition of wildlife rights at the constitutional level and paved the way for greater protection of biodiversity in Ecuador.

Extended scope of nature’s rights

Among the various recognized rights of wild animals, the Court declares itthey are right “to live in harmony, to exist, to a habitat, not to be hunted, fished, caught, collected, extracted, stored, retained, traded, marketed or exchanged, as well as the right to free development of their animals’ behavior, which includes the guarantee of not to be tamed ”.

According to the court, these rights derive from the innate and individual value of animals, too long erased in favor of their usefulness and value to humans;.

This decision is particularly important because, for the first time, through the application of the rights of nature, it brings together aspects of environmental and animal legislation in a single biodiversity protection mechanism.

Usually, the principles of natural rights applied to ecosystems whole, composed of many animals and inanimate entities in the biosphere such as rivers, forests or mountains. The classic environmental law, on the other hand, did not protect ultimately than animals taken as a whole when these belong categories of species whose conservation is considered important due to the risk of extinction. As far as animal rights are concerned, it is primarily about animal cruelty.

The Ecuadorian Constitutional Court had recently ordered the halting of a mining project in the Los Cedros Reserve

But according to an argument submitted to the Court in the form ofamicus curiae of Harvard Animal Law School and Non-human rights project, species consisting of individual animals, Removal of a single individual from its natural environment can have adverse effects on ecosystems and the entire species concerned[5].

Therefore, in order to compensate for the ineffectiveness of Ecuadorian law in ensuring effective protection of wildlife, The Court recognized the importance of challenging the traditional view that only ecosystems and species are protected by the rights of nature, not individuals.

Each animal can now assert its rights through a private individual or a representative of an animal welfare association.

Greater protection of biodiversity

In order to avoid any incident similar to that of Estrellita, the Court adds that where the deprivation or restriction of the freedom of a wild animal is unlawful, the authorities must take into account the most appropriate solution to ensure the protection, freedom, integrity and all other related rights of the victim.

The Ecuadorian Constitutional Court also ordered the Ministry of the Environment and Congress to develop a protocol to assess the circumstances and needs of wild animals in captivity to guarantee their protection, as well as to prepare a legal text on animal rights which guarantees all the rights and principles developed in its judgment.

This historic decision will ensure greater protection of the wild biodiversity of Ecuador – Pixabay

Concerning domestic animals and domestic animals, The Court does not mention them directly, but the judgment implies that the rights of wild animals could be extended to them.

Moreover, The court makes it clear that certain human activities, such as shepherding, hunting and fishing, are allowed. Actually based on human right to enjoy the environment, in particular, she stated that these activities are consistent with the “biological interactions” between species integrated into the balance of ecosystems. anywayexisting environmental laws should be respected, including those relating to protected species, and these activities should be carried out while minimizing animal suffering; [6].

In the light of the climate crisis, this decision, by extending the constitutional protection to all animals, from the species to the individual animal, undoubtedly one of the most important legal advances regarding the right to non-human communities of life. On the eve of the sixth mass extinction of biodiversity, the rest of the world should undeniably take inspiration from lessons learned from Ecuadorian jurisprudence.

–WD

[1] Corte Constitutional Del Ecuador, Estrellita Monkey Case – Rights of Nature and Animals as Subjects of Rights, Case No. 253-20-JH, English translation, January 27, 2022, available at: https://animal.law.harvard.edu/wp-content/uploads/Final-Judgment-Estrellita-w-Translation-Certification. pdf

[2] Surma, K., “Ecuador’s Supreme Court rules that wild animals have legal rights” in Inside Cilmate News, March 29, 2022, available at: https://insideclimatenews.org/news/29032022/ecuadors-high-court-rules-that-wild-animals-have-legal-rights/

[3] Lai, O., “Ecuador Becomes the First Country to Recognize the Legal Rights of Animals” in Earth.org, April 4, 2022, available at: https://earth.org/ecuador-becomes-first-country-to-recognise-animal-legal-rights/

[4] Frost, R., “Wild animals in Ecuador now have legal rights thanks to a monkey named Estrellita” in EuroNews, April 6, 2022, available at: https://www.euronews.com/green/2022/04/01/wild-animals-in-ecuador-now-have-legal-rights-thanks-to-a-monkey- called -estrellita

[5] No human rights, A landmark judgment on animal rights in Ecuador, March 23, 2022, available at: https://www.nonhumanrights.org/blog/landmark-ruling-animal-rights-ecuador/

[6] Ibid., Https://insideclimatenews.org/news/29032022/ecuadors-high-court-rules-that-wild-animals-have-legal-rights/

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