Do Natural Objects Have Legal Rights?

AuthorTuttle, Myrna El Fakhry

In 1972, Christopher D. Stone wrote an article entitled "Should Trees Have Standing?--Towards Legal Rights for Natural Objects". This article is still, even today, mentioned every time there is a discussion on legal rights and natural objects.

In his article, Stone suggested that we give legal rights to natural objects such as forests, oceans, rivers, etc. In other words, to the natural environment as a whole.

Stone stated that:

It is not inevitable, nor is it wise, that natural objects should have no rights to seek redress in their own behalf. It is no answer to say that streams and forests cannot have standing because streams and forests cannot speak. Corporations cannot speak either; nor can states, estates, infants, incompetents, municipalities or universities. Lawyers speak for them, as they customarily do for the ordinary citizen with legal problems. One ought, I think, to handle the legal problems of natural objects as one does the problems of legal incompetents--human beings who have become vegetable. If a human being shows signs of becoming senile and has affairs that he is de jure incompetent to manage, those concerned with his well being make such a showing to the court, and someone is designated by the court with the authority to manage the incompetent's affairs. The guardian... then represents the incompetent in his legal affairs. Courts make similar appointments when a corporation has become 'incompetent'--they appoint a trustee in bankruptcy or re-organization to oversee its affairs and speak for it in court when that becomes necessary. (See: Stone at p 464.) Taking this concept into consideration, many countries have enacted laws that recognize natural objects as legal entities. Courts in different countries have also granted legal rights to natural objects.


In 1993, Tony Oposa, a Filipino citizen, sued the Philippine government on behalf of 43 Filipino children for neglecting the country's forest resources. The trial court ruled that there was a lack of legal personality to sue and dismissed the case. However, the Philippine Supreme Court supported the legal standing and the right of the children to start the lawsuit on their behalf and on behalf of future generations.


In 2008, the

new Ecuadorian Constitution incorporated a chapter called Rights for Nature. This chapter acknowledges that nature has the right to integral respect for its existence and for the maintenance and regeneration of its life...

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