International tribunal demands Chile change its "ecocide attitude" with Patagonia

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The 5th International Rights of Nature Tribunal. Photo: Natalia GreeneThe 5th International Rights of Nature Tribunal. Photo: Natalia Greene
By Patricio Segura
Translation by Rebecca Neal
Earlier this month, the 5th International Rights of Nature Tribunal issued rulings declaring that in Patagonia “mining and salmon farming are carried out contrary to the rights of Mother Earth” and “that the rights of nature have been infringed.” 
An international civil society organization created to provide an alternative system for the protection of the environment, recognizing that ecosystems have the right to live and sustain their life processes with legal standing in court, the tribunal was established by the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature in January 2014.
This year, the tribunal was chaired by the Ecuadorian indigenous leader Yaku Pérez. The other members of the Tribunal were the Argentinian sociologist Maristella Svampay, the director of the Center for Human Rights of the University of Chile Nancy Yáñez, the international analyst Raúl Sohr, the Chilean sociologist Antonio Elizalde and the Ecuadorian economist Alberto Acosta. Acosta was previously the president of the Ecuadorian Constituent Assembly and used his position there to introduce the concept of the rights of nature.
The prosecutor was the Argentinian environmental lawyer Enrique Viale, and the secretary was Natalia Greene of Ecuador.
In front of an audience of around 150 people in the Faculty of Physical Sciences and Mathematics of the University of Chile, experts and victims presented the facts of the three main cases: lithium mining in the Atacama Desert; threats to Patagonia: water and life reserve; and privatization of water in Chile. A number of other cases were also considered, namely cases concerning the Amazon (various countries) and oil production in Vaca Muerta, Argentina. In total, the Tribunal heard 22 speakers from Chile, Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina and Brazil.
Photo: ShutterstockPhoto: Shutterstock
Photo: Agrupación “Puro Ibáñez”Photo: Agrupación “Puro Ibáñez”
Ecocide in Patagonia
Eight people took part in the Patagonia case, with the general presentation undertaken by Peter Hartmann, the director of Codeff Aysén and president of the Aysén Reserve of Life Coalition. The speakers in the case were the journalist Patricio Segura and lawyer Erwin Sandoval of the Corporation for the Development of Aysén, the local tourism businesswoman Miriam Chible of the Chelenko Corporation, the veterinarian Juan Carlos Cárdenas of Centro Ecocéanos, and the lawyer Victoria Belemmi of FIMA. The indigenous tribes affected by the case were represented by María Luisa Muñoz for the Yagán people and Leticia Caro for the Kawésqar people. The Aysén delegation was also accompanied by Rayen Cayún, the leader of the Puro Ibáñez group from Puerto Ingeniero Ibáñez.
The testimony in the case focused on the environmental and social impact of the mining projects Los Domos (Equus Mining-Southern Gold), El Toqui (Laguna Gold), Cerro Bayo and Mina Javiera (Mandalay Resources), and Newmont-GoldCorp and Mina Invierno (Grupo Angelini) in Aysén, as well as the harmful spread of salmon farming across Chilean Patagonia.
After listening to the speakers, the Tribunal concluded that “Patagonia’s vast biodiversity is under threat due to industries which have progressively destroyed nature, and the exploitation of the seafront has affected the ecosystem.” The Tribunal also ruled that “the Chilean state allowed the genocide of the region’s indigenous inhabitants in order to permit the development of sheep farming, and Chile has failed to respect these communities. We also acknowledge the infringement of the rights set out in the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth, which recognizes that every being has the right to a place and to play its role in the harmonious function of Mother Earth.”
The Tribunal recommended that the Chilean state “change its ecocidal approach; strictly respect protected and conservation areas; comply with prior consultation processes; establish precautionary measures so that human activity does not severely impact the areas in question; implement restorative justice for the indigenous populations affected; and issue moral condemnation to mining and salmon fishing companies and oblige them to pay for the real cost of their actions.” The Tribunal further called on the Chilean government to “establish all the necessary conditions to adopt a new constitution which confers Rights to Nature.”
Photo: Natalia GreenePhoto: Natalia Greene
Lithium and water in Chile
The Tribunal also ruled that the rights of nature have been infringed by lithium mining in the Atacama Desert: “the extraction of lithium, and of other precious metals (such as copper) and minerals (such as potassium) is consuming unsustainable quantities of water in Chile’s Atacama Desert, threatening the fragile ecosystem of the desert, its wildlife and the livelihood of the indigenous people who live there.” The court described the mining of lithium in the Atacama salt flats as “water mining, given that this mineral is found in brine.”
Regarding the privatization of water in Chile, the judges ruled that “water has become a business. The privatization of water in Chile has turned it into an object and a commodity.” The Tribunal condemned “the extractivist economic model which denies that water is life; it should be a political, community, spiritual subject” and recommended encoding the rights of water in the country’s constitution. This is already the case in Ecuador: Articles 12, 282 and 318 of Ecuador’s constitution state that water has recognized rights and establishes priorities for its use.
The Tribunal also heard cases relating to the Amazon, which has been seriously impacted by large-scale development projects, and Vaca Muerta in Argentina, which involves the extraction of fossil fuels through fracking. 

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