In Corsica, the defenders of the Tavignanu river are fighting to obtain the status of legal personality

The right to exist, to live, and to flow. The right to respect for its natural cycles. The right to perform its essential ecological functions. The right not to be polluted … And, above all, the right to sue, that is to say the right to bring actions in court and defend oneself when one is the subject of a lawsuit.

In Corsica, three associations – Tavignanu Vivu,
Umani and
Land of Links Corsica – took up the pen to write
a bill of rights for one of the natural treasures of the Isle of Beauty:
the Tavignanu river. With the idea of ​​obtaining the status of legal personality, which would be a first for a natural ecosystem in France.

A landfill center project as a catalyst

According to this collective, Tavignanu amply deserves it. Of Ninu Lake, in the center of the island, where it takes its source, at its mouth,
in Aléria, on the east coast, the second largest river in Corsica is very useful over its 88.7 km length. Already to biodiversity. Its lower valley is classified
Natural 2000 site and
natural area of ​​ecological interest for the rich fauna and flora it shelters. Then to men. “We take 4 million cubic meters of water from it per year,” explains Pascale Bona, from Tavignanu Vivu. Both to supply drinking water to a large part of the eastern coast of Corsica, and to irrigate the crops of the eastern plain, one of the main agricultural regions of the island, the leading producer of clementines in France. “

An ecosystem in danger? This is the feeling of the three Corsican associations since it was made public, in June 2016, un waste landfill center project in the town of
Giuncaggio, carried by the company Oriente environnement. “It would extend over 60 hectares in the hollow of a bend in the river,” describes Pascale Bona. The terrain is known to be unstable and waterlogged. However, 80,000 tonnes of household waste and 120,000 tonnes of asbestos-containing waste are stored there *. “

Join the nature rights movement

On April 21, the Council of State rejected the appeal brought by the collective and the community of Corsica against the administrative court’s decision authorizing Oriente environnement to start work. The end of a long legal battle. But maybe not the last. A meeting with
Valérie Cabanes, jurist in international law and co-founder of
Our business to all, in September 2019, indeed gave new hope to the three associations.

They learn that several countries have already granted legal rights to their natural heritage. Ecuador started the ball rolling in 2008, by adopting a new Constitution which makes Pacha Mama (Mother Earth) a subject of rights to be respected and even repaired in the event of damage. Bolivia, New Zealand, the United States followed with comparable initiatives, carried at the national or local level and attributing the statutes of living entities to rivers, lakes, forests.
“Or the animal kingdom in India”, details Marine Yzquierdo, lawyer and “rights of nature” referent at Notre Affaire à tous.

In a book she is preparing on the subject, Notre Affaire à tous analyzed some sixty cases in some twenty countries. A non-exhaustive list. “It is still a very recent movement and Europe has fallen a little behind,” notes Marie Toussaint, MEP and co-founder of the NGO. There is nevertheless a striking example in Spain, where a popular legislative initiative is underway to give legal personality to the Mar Menor [dans la région de Murcie]. »The largest saltwater lagoon in Europe is home to a
rich biodiversity but seriously threatened under the effect of urbanization and intensification of agriculture.

Give legal value to their declaration

From this conference with Valérie Cabanes, the three associations emerge convinced that they too must aim for legal recognition for Tavignanu. Their declaration of the rights of the river, published at the end of June and drafted with the help of Notre Affaire à tous, is only a first step. The document still has only symbolic value. “But it has already enabled us to make people talk about us, to mobilize Corsican elected officials and also to push to change the outlook on Tavignanu”, estimates Pascal Bona. Not nothing, insists Marine Yzquierdo. “This would give more force to this declaration if the mayors already committed to apply this declaration, by annexing it for example to their local urban plans”, she points out.

But the ambition is to give this declaration real legal value. In other words, to make it a legally binding text and in particular opening the way to possible new legal remedies against this landfill center project. It is this second stage that the collective and Notre Affaire à tous opened this Thursday, from Marseille, on the sidelines of the IUCN World Conservation Congress. Not easy. “These initiatives to have the rights to nature recognized remain recent and the ways of achieving this differ from one country to another,” explains Marine Yzquierdo. The idea, for Tavignanu, would be to obtain the organization of a citizen consultation or even a local referendum, on this issue of granting rights to the river and then transcribing this into law. ” ” In the same way as
the state had organized a local consultation on the airport project at Notre-Dame-des-Landes (Loire-Atlantique) ”, illustrates Marie Toussaint.

Not a miracle tool … but one that already has some victories to its credit

The objective also, for Notre Affaire à tous, is for this Corsican initiative to have a snowball effect in France. “We have already been contacted by a Pyrenean collective wishing to launch a similar process for a river”, assures Marine Yzquierdo.

These recognition of rights are not always sufficient to protect against environmental damage, including in Ecuador, pointed out the professor of law Laurent Neyret, specialist in environmental law, in the columns of Geo in March 2017. “Instead of recognizing all ecosystems as living entities, I would rather be in favor of extending human duties towards them,” he added. “One does not prevent the other”, answers Marine Yzquierdo. “All jurists interested in environmental protection agree that the legal arsenal available to us is too weak to effectively protect nature and that it must be consolidated in all possible ways” , adds Marie Toussaint.

The recognition of ecocide as an international crime is one of them. “The attribution of rights to nature is another, complementary one, which has the advantage of being able to be thought out locally and initiated by citizens anxious to regain control of their relationship to their environment”, continues the MEP. If it is not a miracle tool, admits Notre Affaire à tous, it already has some great victories to its credit. “In Ecuador, with regard to an intensive shrimp farming project set up in
Cayapas-Mataje Nature Reserve , the judge who made the rights of nature prevail over property rights ”, illustrates Marine Yzquierdo.

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