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School of Law

Talk Series Fundamental Rights for Non-Humans: 'Exploring the Boundaries of Immersive Anthropocentric Human Rights Protection. A Political Justification of Rights of Nature'

When: Friday, November 24, 2023, 2:00 PM - 3:30 PM
Where: Online or Room 313, Third Floor, School of Law, Queen Mary University of London, Mile End Road, London E1 4NS

Lunch will be served from 1.30 PM in the same venue.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) has stated that the human right to a healthy environment, as an ‘autonomous right’, addresses ‘components of the environment, such as forests, rivers, and oceans’, as legal interests in themselves, even in cases where a threat to individuals is not certain or proven. The article takes the impetus provided by the IACtHR and examines whether and how ‘Rights of Nature’ (RoN) can be justified and protected in the framework of human rights. It starts from the assumption that the ‘intrinsic value’ argument – often referred to by RoN proponents to justify why nature should enjoy independent rights – is ill-suited to justify nature’s rights entitlement and to derive concrete rights for natural entities. 

More convincing is the political critique of anthropocentrism inherent in the RoN discourse. This critique is as an expression of a ‘governance approach’ to non-human rights and the paper explains the implications on governance that granting human rights to nature might have. The call for RoN is based on the assumption that the traditional human rights approach would not result in similar impacts on states’ action as the RoN approach would. This points to a political justification for the RoN which the article explores. It argues that due to the deficits of the intrinsic value argument, granting legal rights to nature can only be justified if and to the extent that they close legal protection gaps that broad understanding of anthropocentric human rights protection cannot remedy. However, a doctrinal comparison of anthropocentric and physiocentric protection approaches reveals that this is the case only to a limited extent.

Respondent: Visa Kurki, Helsinki

Speaker biographies

Patricia Waiter

Patricia Wiater holds the Chair for Public Law, Public International Law and Human Rights at the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg, Germany, and is a member of the Centre for Human Rights Erlangen-Nürnberg. She has a French-German doctorate in Law with a thesis on European Human Rights Law and Cultural Pluralism from the University of Strasbourg and the University of Leipzig and a doctorate in Political Sciences from the University of Freiburg. In her current research, she deals with the overall phenomenon of human rights governance of non-human subjects (corporations, nature, animals, AI).

Visa Kurki

Dr Visa Kurki is Associate Professor of Jurisprudence at the University of Helsinki where he also serves as the Director of the Helsinki Animal Law Centre. He is the Vice President of both the Finnish Legal Philosophy Society and the Finnish Society for Animal Rights Law. He has a PhD from the Faculty of Law, University of Cambridge. He was the recipient of the Yorke Prize and of the Salje Medal for his doctoral thesis published as A Theory of Legal Personhood (Oxford 2019). His research focus is on legal theory, animal law, and social ontology.

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