whanganui river

Rights of Nature

During the last two decades, the connections between nature, human beings and law have become a relevant object of study around the globe. The recognition of rights to domestic animals in India and Pakistan, the constitutionalization of the rights of nature in Bolivia and Ecuador, and the recognition of rights to a river in New Zealand, for example, have attracted the attention of legal scholars both in the Global North and South. In preparation for the upcoming XXI General Congress of the International Academy of Comparative Law, Institute Director Ralf Michaels and Daniel Bonilla (Professor at the Universidad de los Andes, Colombia) have launched a joint research project on the “Rights of Nature”.

The study of rights of nature allows to examine four problems that are of particular interest to comparative law and for global legal pluralism: the processes of cross-fertilization between national legal systems; the interaction, clash, and influence of national legal systems and international law; the relationships between transnational theoretical discourses, international law, and national legal systems; and the geopolitics of legal knowledge.


„Rights of Nature is an exciting topic, also because it is a reverse legal transplant, i.e. a legal idea of the Global South that inspires the Global North, rather than vice versa. Although the idea of rights of nature fits worse into the European tradition of subjective law, these cultural differences do not fundamentally stand in the way of the transplant.“

– Institute Director Ralf Michaels –


This project pursues the following four objectives:

  • To examine how the dialogue between legal systems of both the Global South and North has contributed to the creation of national and international concepts, rules, and principles related to the rights of nature.
  • To explore the interactions between national legal systems with international law that have allowed the articulation of both a transnational discourse on the rights of nature and the creation of national and international legal regimes that aim to regulate the relationship between human beings and nature.
  • To analyze the way in which transnational theoretical discourses on the rights of nature have interacted with and have been used by very diverse legal actors and levels: from local and transnational non-governmental organizations to governments, international institutions, and universities, passing through political parties and ordinary citizens.
  • To study the processes of production, exchange, use, and legitimation of legal knowledge that cut across the discourses on the rights of nature.

To achieve these ends, national committees of the International Academy of Comparative law have chosen a group of national rapporteurs. These rapporteurs are in charge of drafting national reports on the object of study of this project. From 23 to 28 October 2022, the XXI General Congress of the International Academy of Comparative Law will take place in Asunción (Paraguay). Ralf Michaels and Daniel Bonilla will take part in this congress as general rapporteurs for the topic “Rights of Nature”.

Ralf Michaels and Daniel Bonilla have also chosen a group of special rapporteurs who will write reports on aspects related to the international and theoretical dimensions of the rights of nature. They will also be in charge of drafting a general report that puts national and special reports in dialogue. In this general report, the rights of nature will be in dialogue with globalization and legal pluralism. The former will not simply be an example to illustrate the latter, nor the latter a pretext for studying the former. In the general report, the particular objects of study will intertwine with the general objects of study.

Publication planned?

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