In a world where even humans have to fight for their basic rights, it is difficult for many to grasp the idea of the personhood of non-humans, such as animals. As a vegan, this for me is one of the most difficult messages to get across. People just don’t get it that animals are individual sentient beings who should be accorded rights to live their life unbridled by human follies. And if people could not understand the personhood of non-human animals, all the more it is harder to comprehend the personhood of non-human non-animals. Why, you might say, are non-human non-animals accorded the very high status of personhood?
The personhood of non-human animals and non-animals are not an entirely new concept. Indigenous cultures have this deeply embedded in their belief and thought systems, and of course, manifested in their language and their cultural practices. For those who are not much into indigenous cultures such as those of the First Nations, then probably this piece of popular and fairly recent work of genius would help make you understand.
Although as old as time, this belief system is making a comeback via the route of laws and ethics. As early as the 1970s, the question regarding the personhood of non-humans is being asked. American law professor Christopher Stone delved into this question in his article “Should Trees Have Standing?” where he noted that non-human entities such as corporations are given rights. If that is so, should not communal entities such as forests also have rights and be protected?
Many non-human animals are now rendered as persons. Dolphins, for instance, were legally afforded their rights as non-human persons under Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans in Helsinki in 2010. India followed suit by declaring dolphins, whales, and porpoises as non-human persons with rights and banned their captivity and servitude.
In a world’s first, the Māori tribe of New Zealand wins recognition for Whanganui River, after 140 years of fighting for it to be recognized as an ancestor, a living entity that has rights. India again followed suit by according the sacred Ganges and its main tributary Yamuna with the status of living human entities.
What then about the planet? We call her Mother Earth yet we trash her with impunity. She gives so much, and she gives everything, yet we take away everything from her without remorse. Shouldn’t she, more than dolphins and rivers, be treated with respect and be accorded her own rights to protect her from our ignorance and stupidity?
Bolivia was the first country to recognize Mother Earth with its ground-breaking proposal on the rights of Mother Earth when it hosted the World People’s Conference on Climate Change. This later was developed into the Law of Mother Earth, which defines Mother Earth as “a dynamic living system comprising an indivisible community of all living systems and living organisms, interrelated, interdependent and complementary, which share a common destiny.” As such, the planet “takes on the character of collective public interest. Mother Earth and all its components, including human communities, are entitled to all the inherent rights…”
Today is Earth Day all around the world. Shouldn’t we all pay homage and gratitude to her as our Mother?
If you want to learn more, download the full document of the Universal Declaration Of The Rights Of Mother Earth.