Legal Rights to Non-humans

Why in news?

  • Recently, A report titled ‘Law in the Emerging Bio Age’ have proposed giving legal rights Non-humans like to plants, animals, and non-living entities for building meaningful human-environment relationships.

Need for awarding legal rights to non-humans-

  • Use of modern tech- Presently, Integration of life sciences with modern technology through genetically modified organisms (GMOs), genetic engineering, gene editing, etc. has been attaining significance.
  • Human-environment relation- Awarding legal rights would recalibrate human-environment relationships.
  • Ethical concerns- Bio age also brings with it concerns about safety, consent, justice, equity, genome-editing research including embryos and concerns over ‘eugenics’. It would bring ethical conduct to the field.
  • Accountability- This era will need legal intervention to hold researchers responsible for the impact of their work on the environment.
  • Climate change- The climate change and exploitation of natural resources needs laws to be brought into the natural world.
  • Environmental concerns- unchecked gene flow from GMOs to wild populations will result in gene pollution there by affecting the whole environment.

What is the “bio age”?

  • The increased integration of bio-technology in human life will bring in the bio age.
  • Integration of life sciences with modern technology through the production of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), engineering of genes express that bio-technology is most likely to spread into our lives in the near future. It will mark the end of the digital Information Age.

Need to give non-human entities rights-

  • To address climate breakdown and biodiversity loss, countries need to provide the ‘rights’ to the neglected elements of nature.
  • Something very different has to be done to leave this planet more survivable to our future generations.
  • It means granting legal rights and protections to non-human entities like animals, trees, and rivers is vital.
  • Human makes up a fraction of this global ecosystem, and an evolving legal framework suited for the future requires assigning rights to non-human entities.

Constitutional Provisions-

  • Article 51-A of the Constitution of India mentions that it is the fundamental duty of all citizens to have compassion for living creatures.
  • Article 48-A of the constitution of India requires the State to protect and enhance the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country.
  • At local and village level, Panchayats have been authorized under the constitution to take measures like soil conservation, water management, forestry and protection of the environment and promotion of ecological aspect.
  • Legal rights to water-bodies- In 2017, The Uttarakhand High Court granted the river Ganga and its longest tributary Yamuna the legal right to be protected and not be harmed. Though, the Supreme Court has ruled that Ganges and Yamuna rivers cannot be viewed as living entities.

What efforts were taken by countries?

  • Ecuador is the first country in the world to recognise the rights of nature and individual wild animals.
  • Ecuador- In 2008, Ecuador passed a Constitution that grants tropical forests, islands, rivers and air, legal rights to exist, flourish and evolve.
  • The wild species and their individuals have the right not to be hunted, fished, captured, collected, kept, retained, extracted, trafficked, marketed or exchanged.
  • Bolivia- In 2011, Bolivia provided legal status to Mother Earth and all its components, which involves human beings through the Law of the Rights of Mother Earth. This involves,
  • The right to life and to exist.
  • The right to continue vital cycles and processes free from human alteration.
  • The right to pure water and clean air.
  • The right to balance.
  • The right to pollution-free living.
  • New Zealand- New Zealand passed the Whanganui River Claims Settlement Bill in 2017, which granted legal personhood to river Whanganui which is respected by the Maori people.
  • Bangladesh- The Dhaka High Court in Bangladesh recognised the river Turag as a living entity with legal rights in 2019 and held that the same would apply to all rivers in Bangladesh.
  • United Nations- In 2009, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming April 22 as ‘International Mother Earth Day’. Afterwards, it adopted a resolution on Harmony with Nature.
  • In 2018, the rights of wild rice were recognised.

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