Law of Mother Earth approved in Bolivia

Bolivia has enacted new legislation conferring rights on the natural world, elaborating on and fully enshrining the principles set out in a ‘short law’ passed in December 2010

Bolivian president Evo Morales said the full length Law of Mother Earth, which was officially declared on 15 October 2012, would help Bolivians “to live in equilibrium and harmony with Mother Earth.”

The law institutionalises Bolivians’ veneration of the Andean deity Pachamama, or ‘Mother Earth’, by establishing a bill of rights for the natural world. The 11 rights listed include the rights to biodiversity, uncontaminated water and air, freedom from genetically modified crops and freedom from overdevelopment.

The law also creates an ‘ombudsman’ for Mother Earth, and outlines a framework for the responsible use of Bolivia’s vast mineral and hydrocarbon reserves.

“The environmental functions and natural processes … cannot be considered as commodities, but as sacred gifts from Mother Earth,” the law states.

Extractive-industry groups remain sceptical about the new law, while agricultural groups warned that banning GM seeds would hamstring Bolivia’s farmers and drive up food prices.

“It’s like running the 100 metres but shooting ourselves in the foot first,” Marcelo Traverso, president of the APIA agricultural suppliers’ association, told Reuters.

Some activists, meanwhile, say the new law looks good on paper, but that much will depend on how courts and government officials apply the legislation.

One key test could come if indigenous groups use the law to challenge the planned construction of a major new highway in Bolivia’s Amazon region, notes Jim Shultz, founder of the Democracy Centre, a Bolivian thinktank.

“The issue is whether the law will be enforced,” Shultz said. “It’s too soon to tell.”

Other campaigners remain upbeat about the law’s passage, and say they hope to see similar legislation enacted elsewhere. An effort is also underway to have the United Nations pass a Universal Declaration of Planetary Rights, modelled on the Bolivian law, said international environmental lawyer Begonia Filgueira.

“It’s a wonderful legal milestone,” Filgueira said.