November 15, 2019

In Bangladesh, the Rivers Have Rights

“Bangladesh is sometimes known as the “land of the rivers.” It’s got hundreds of them — and over the years, they’ve been getting more and more polluted. But as of early July, every single one of them has a remarkable new level of protection: The Bangladeshi Supreme Court has given all rivers in the country legal rights.

Now, people who damage a river can get taken to court by the government-appointed National River Conservation Commission. They’ll be tried as if they’d harmed a living entity, because each river now has the right to life. That means the river’s government-designated human representatives can sue on its behalf when it’s being endangered.

Bangladesh isn’t the first place to pass such a law. In the US, Ohio voters in February granted Lake Erie the legal right to “exist, flourish, and naturally evolve,” and recent years have also seen national and state laws granting rights to rivers and forests from New Zealand to India to Colombia.

It’s all part of the nascent “rights of nature” movement, which argues that instead of viewing nature as property to be owned, we should recognize that it has its own inalienable rights similar to the ones we enjoy. Activists in the movement want us to give the environment a more central place in humanity’s expanding moral circle — the imaginary boundary we draw around those we consider worthy of moral consideration.”

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