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Panama enacts national law recognizing Rights of Nature

Rain forest of Panama_Source_

The law establishes an extensive list of eco-centric principles, such as, “in dubio pro natura” meaning that when in doubt, one must act in favor of protecting Nature which will help implement the law in practice.

By Salam Rajesh

With the world community forging global alliance to work collectively for nature and the natural environment to meet climate deadlines by 2030, Panama became the latest country in the world to join nations that have enacted national laws recognizing the Rights of Nature. Panama is one of the 25 most mega-diverse countries globally, playing a pivotal role in preserving biodiversity and mitigating climate change.

The President of Panama, Laurentino Cortizo signed the Rights of Nature into national law on the 24th of last month. Panama now joins a number of countries who recognize the Rights of Nature at the national level. The bill for the new law was introduced by the young Panamanian Congressman Juan Diego Vásquez Gutiérrez to Panama’s National Assembly on 23 September, 2020.

Reacting on the new law, Vásquez says, “This law aims, first and foremost, to acknowledge Nature as a subject of law, therefore redefining its legal scope of protection and guaranteeing an inherent list of rights to be safeguarded. It also creates a framework that enhances and complements the legal and judicial means, resources and arguments available for environmental lawyers and activists”.

Other than Panama, Bolivia passed the Law of the Rights of Mother Earth in 2010, and the Law of Mother Earth and Integral Development for Living Well in 2012. Ecuador codified the Rights of Nature into their Constitution in 2008. Uganda enacted national Rights of Nature provision that applies to designated areas, while Chile is presently considering incorporating Rights of Nature into their new Constitution.

The law recognizing the Rights of Nature requires the State and all persons, whether natural or legal, to respect and protect Nature’s rights. Some of Nature’s rights recognized in the law include (i) Nature’s rights to exist, persist, and regenerate its life cycles; (ii) Nature’s right to timely and effective restoration; and (iii) Nature’s right to the preservation of its water cycles.

The law establishes an extensive list of eco-centric principles, such as, “in dubio pro natura” meaning that when in doubt, one must act in favor of protecting Nature which will help implement the law in practice.

To defend the Rights of Nature, the law authorizes all natural or legal persons to represent the interests of Nature before the courts and authorities of Panama. Finally, the law establishes that the Cosmo vision and ancestral knowledge of Indigenous peoples (and local communities) must be an integral part of interpreting and applying the Rights of Nature.

Upon enquiry how they envision this law affecting the relationship between Nature and society in Panama, Vásquez says he is ‘convinced this law will institutionally strengthen the struggle to protect Nature in Panama and against climate change by redefining the link between human beings and Nature’.

The law has the potential of re-conceptualizing Nature’s conservation as a main goal of human development and as a requirement for society’s true progress. “By setting a catalog of obligations, the Rights of Nature Law will originate and hopefully perpetuate a sense of responsibility and commitment within the communities of our country”, Vásquez says.

Constanza Prieto Figelist, Latin American Legal Director at Earth Law Center, says of the new law, “With the approval of this law, Panama joins the efforts of Colombia and Ecuador to recognize and enforce the Rights of Nature, creating a conservation corridor in the region that opens the doors for holistic, joint, rights-based governance of forests, rivers, the ocean, and other ecosystems. We look forward to working with Panama and our partners to implement the Rights of Nature law, with one initial target being a rights-based law protecting sea turtle populations”.

Panama has embraced a holistic worldview in which human beings and natural entities are interdependent and connected beings, recognizing that Nature has a value in herself. Through recognition of the Rights of Nature, Panama is promoting a shift in the collective consciousness of humanity’s relationship with Nature, and transforming the ethics, values and beliefs that underlie humans’ legal, governance and economic systems.

This legal movement is gaining traction as a solution that can effectively address the root causes of environmental problems globally by harmoniously balancing the needs of humankind with the capacities of the blue planet, and Earth’s systems.

Concurrent to this development, it may be recalled that the Society of Wetland Scientists (SWS) and the Ramsar Culture Network (RCN) had pushed forward a proposal calling for the Rights of Wetlands during 2021.

The proposal lobbies for the inherent rights of wetlands, wherein, (i) Wetlands have the right to exist; (ii) Wetlands have the right to their ecologically determined location in the landscape; (iii) Wetlands have the right to natural, connected and sustainable hydrological regimes; (iv) Wetlands have the right to ecologically sustainable climatic conditions; (v) Wetlands have the right to have naturally occurring biodiversity, free of introduced or invasive species that disrupt their ecological integrity; (vi) Wetlands have the right to integrity of structure, function, evolutionary processes and the ability to fulfill natural ecological roles in the Earth’s processes; (vii) Wetlands have the right to be free from pollution and degradation; and (viii) Wetlands have the right to regeneration and restoration.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) 2021 report of the Science Task Force for the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration re-emphasizes the vitality of Nature in its natural system, wherein it says, “Ecosystem restoration can produce multiple social and environmental benefits, including enhancing human health and well-being, helping mitigate and adapt to climate change, improving water quality and flows, reducing soil erosion and flooding, regaining soil fertility and preventing species extinction”.

It, therefore, is seen that such positive push for respecting Nature in the real sense of the word, so much as Panama, Bolivia and the other nations had set in motion, gives hope for the speedy recovery of Nature where human-led ‘developmental’ activities had largely ravaged the natural landscapes and leading to possible climate catastrophe in near future.

(The writer is a media professional working on environmental issues. He can be reached at [email protected])

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