NEW YORK, United States — Humans have rights and so does nature, environmentalists said Tuesday as the UN General Assembly planned a meeting to uphold the ''Rights of Nature'' one year after the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
The 192-nation assembly was to meet Wednesday in commemoration of Earth Day. Wednesday is also the first anniversary of the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico that led to the months-long BP oil spill that devastated the Gulf's marine life as well as the livelihoods of inhabitants in the region.
Environmental organizations like the Council of Canadians, Global Exchange, and the Fundacion Pachamama have called for the UN to adopt a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth.
''Today's environmental laws place commerce above nature, and in so doing they legalize harm to ecosystems,'' said Shannon Biggs, director of the non-governmental organization Global Exchange.
''We see communities across the world, including in the United States, taking action to change this model in recognition of the Rights of Nature and to protect our environment, our communities and our future. This week's dialogue at the UN recognizes the Rights of Nature at another, important level.''
It was also an occasion for environmental groups to advance their agenda defending nature and cite progress made so far.
Countries like Bolivia and Ecuador, and some US cities, have already adopted legislations, to protect nature against damage caused by commercial exploitation, advocates noted.
The assembly meeting called for discussion on new international standards that allow rights to nature and the ecosystems against individual and business exploitation.
Maude Barlow, a UN adviser on water and chair of the Council of Canadians, said, ''The case for acknowledging the Rights of Nature cannot be understated.''
Barlow said a declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth could be the equivalent to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for people around the world.
The environmentalists backed the case at the UN by citing countries that have erected laws to defend nature.
Ecuador became the first country in the world in 2008 to amend its constitution to include a clause in favour of nature ''to exist, flourish and evolve.''
The US city of Pittsburgh upheld the rights of communities and nature over those of corporations with an ordinance in 2010 banning the practice of shale fracking to extract energy within city limits.
Other US cities have also passed similar ordinances to protect local ecosystems.
In Canada, pro-earth movements are trying to demand legal rights for nature to stop the privatization of public water systems and halt tar sands extraction in Alberta.