• Bruce Smith

Nature’s Rights

Panama’s president, Laurentino Cortizo, signed into law far-reaching protections for the natural world last week.

   The legislation, which was debated for more than a year in Panama’s National Assembly, recognizes the natural world as a “unique, indivisible, and self-regulating community of living beings” with its own suite of intrinsic rights. It validates nature’s rights to “exist, persist, and regenerate its life cycles” and to “be restored” following damages from human activity.

     Panama joins a host of other countries like Bolivia and Ecuador that have recognized the rights of nature via legislation, constitutional amendments, and judicial decisions. Environmental and Indigenous advocates in other countries — like Canada, Bangladesh, and Peru — are fighting to secure nature’s legal rights in their jurisdictions, too.

     Callie Veelenturf, a marine conservation biologist who first proposed the law to Panamanian policymakers, said the country’s new law would complement existing protections for nature in Ecuador and Colombia, creating a “safe haven” for migratory species that travel throughout the region. “Nature knows no country boundaries,” Veelenturf told me. “We’re hoping that this new legislation will inspire other countries to take similar steps to propose rights of nature legislation.”