A Tribunal for Earth: WHY IT MATTERS

by Cormac Cullinan


Imagine how different the world would be if courts decided on the legitimacy – or otherwise – of human conduct on the basis of whether or it was in the best interests of the whole community of life. Imagine if there were an international tribunal that concerned itself with the fundamental rights of all beings, including humans, and decided matters on the basis of what was best for the Earth community as a whole, regardless of politics; an Earth Tribunal of respected individuals that drew on the wisdom of humanity as whole, respected the laws of Nature and was not beholden to governments or corporations.

The establishment of the International Tribunal for the Rights of Nature is intended to give effect to this dream. This bold venture by the members of the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature is a creative response to the current impasse at the international level which has led to a widening chasm between what global civil society wants done and what governments are willing to agree to and implement.[2]

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“We the people assume the authority to conduct an International Tribunal for the Rights of Nature. We will investigate cases of environmental destruction, which violate the Rights of Nature.”  Prosecutor for the Earth, Ramiro Avila declared during the opening of the world’s first Tribunal on the Rights of Nature and Mother Earth.  The Tribunal held its inaugural session on Friday January 17, 2014 in Quito, Ecuador.

Dr. Vandana Shiva, internationally renowned author, physicist and environmental activist presided over the historic Tribunal together with nine other distinguished judges from seven countries and five continents. Dr. Shiva presented the closing ruling to admit all the nine cases of alleged violations of the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth, adopted in Cochabamba on April 20, 2010 and, for Ecuadorian cases, of the Ecuadorian Constitution. The Tribunal will be a permanent platform for hearing and judging cases from around the world.







Internationally renowned author, physicist and environmental activist presided over the historic Tribunal.  Dr. Shiva presented the closing ruling to admit all the nine cases of alleged violations of the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth, adopted in Cochabamba on April 20, 2010.




Was Vice-President, Executive Director of the Ecumenical Human Rights Commission (CEDHU).  She is an Ecuadorian educator and  Emeritus Professor at the Andine Simon Bolivar University



is considered by many as the world's most widely recognized American Indian actress. Cardinal is the narrator of the documentary Native Spirit. Raised among the Cree, she turned her political activism into an acting career that has included varios important roles.




She is a recognized indigenous leader, founder of the Confederation of Peoples of Kichwa Nationality of Ecuador (Ecuarunari). She was born in Cotacachi, Imbabura. She studied in a rural school, where he obtained a degree in educational sciences. As an educator she devoted herself to organizing communities in her region. In 1974 she organized the Indigenous and Peasant Federation of Imbabura.



Cullinan is a practicing environmental attorney and author based in Cape Town, South Africa.   He is a director of the leading South African environmental law firm, Cullinan & Associates Inc., and Chief Executive Officer of EnAct International, an environmental governance consultancy. A former anti-apartheid activist, and a London-based commercial lawyer, he has practiced, taught and written about environmental law and policy since 1992, and has worked in more than 20 countries.

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Executive Director – Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) has been involved with environmental related issues and programs working within tribal governments in developing indigenous-based environmental protection infrastructures. 



Economist and former President of Constitutional Assembly. Alberto work as a consultant for the American Institute for Social Research ILDIS (Friedrich Ebert Foundation) and to lead this organization’s project to analyze the economic situation of Ecuador.



is the Founder and Board President of Amazon Watch, a nonprofit organization founded in 1996 to protect the rainforest and advance the rights of indigenous peoples of the Amazon Basin.  Atossa served as Amazon Watch’s first executive director for 18 years and continues to serve the organization as a board member and spokesperson.  Currently Atossa is working as the senior strategist forthe Amazon Sacred Headwaters Initiative.




is an Ecuadorian lawyer and politician who has held positions of deputy and constituent assemblyman in different periods. He currently holds the presidency of the Council of Citizen Participation and Transitory Social Control from where he has carried out the evaluation of the control bodies accused of being influenced by the government of Rafael Correa.



is an environmental lawyer. He became a lawyer in 2000, graduating from the University of Buenos Aires (UBA) and then conducting postgraduate studies in the same house of studies, specializing in Environmental Law. In 2004, he founded, together with other young colleagues, the Asociación Argentina de Abogados Ambientalistas (AAdeAA). He is a professor at the Faculty of Law (UBA) and a guest at other universities.






holds a PhD in Legal Sociology from the University of the Basque Country. Master of Law from Columbia University (New York). Master in Legal Sociology from the University of the Basque Country-International Institute of Legal Sociology (Oñati). Lawyer and graduate in Legal Science from the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador (PUCE). Professor of Law in ​​the Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar-Sede Ecuador, directs the Law Area and coordinates the international Master’s Degree in Law Research. 




is part of the International Rights of Nature Tribunal’s Secretariat.  Natalia is a consultant for Rights of Nature with Pachamama Alliance and is the focal point in Ecuador for the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature. She graduated in Hampshire College, holds a Political Science master’s degree from FLACSO Ecuador and a master’s degree from UASB on Climate Change. She promoted the recognition of Rights for Nature in Ecuador’s Constitution.

For videos of the Summit, visit 2014 Global Rights of Nature Summit. Read more about the objectives and outcomes of the Summit at Global Rights of Nature Summit Outcomes.


In December 2014, the second International Rights of Nature Tribunal was convened in Lima, Peru parallel to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.  The next Tribunal was scheduled for Paris, France December 4-5.