By Ilona Suran, member of Our Common Cause

The rights of Nature are built on an indigenous thought and belief that embraces life, and recognizes, in this sense, the omnipresent interdependence that binds all natural entities together, of which humans are part. We are complementary expressions of the same living, collective and cyclical being, Pachamama.


The West today positions itself as the great guarantor of hedonistic, individualistic and utilitarian thinking, and is above all concerned with excessive consumerism (1). It seems to neglect to some extent the importance of the social link, of human well-being, of solidarity, of love and mutual aid and rejects any idea of interdependence that humans might have with Nature. The anthropocentrism displayed by our societies sees Man as the only moral subject, the only bearer of dignity and intrinsic value. It is the central agent that regulates actions, values and ethical models. This dualistic vision dissociates the human being, holder of a spirit, from the rest of the world, a sum of « inert » objects. This is reinforced when one listens to the words of Descartes and Aristotle, who understood Man as the sole holder of reason, making him sovereign and the measure of all things (2). It is at the heart of the concerns. In this respect, François Ost perfectly relays this Cartesian thought (3) and the fact that Western modernity « has transformed nature into an ‘environment’: a simple setting in the center of which man, who proclaims himself ‘master and possessor’, is enthroned ».

Western culture thinks of the earth as a thing, a good, that can be dominated, subdued, exploited, with relative contempt for all animal and plant suffering. And it is by proclaiming Man as the great ruler of the living world, that we have lost our way, away from our roots. We have forgotten that Nature is not just a marketable resource, but the matrix of all life – including human life. It is this Earth ecosystem that cradles us, feeds us, shelters us and keeps us alive. And yet, we are in perpetual war against life, with permanent dissatisfactions, mercantile appetites, and human misunderstandings. Capital and the logic of profit have taken precedence over any other societal objective, increasingly threatening limited natural resources, biological diversity, ecosystems and landscapes. The liberal-capitalist system is in the process of destroying the biophysical conditions of existence (4). Pollution is raging, while the climate is going crazy and biodiversity is crying out for help. Swept of a reverse side tainted of instrumentalism, the Nature is not any more, it is denatured of its substance; it is not so much a source of metaphysical meanings thanks to which to understand, to feel, to symbolize aesthetically and spiritually, that a resource to be exploited, a « natural resource », violated and disabused.

So, the model of society in which we are enrolled must be absolutely questioned; the way in which it evolves and functions does not cease to feed social inequalities and environmental destruction, largely endangering the conditions of existence on Earth. We must at all costs break with this Cartesian and scientistic vision of the world, rethink the theoretical foundations of modern societies, and open ourselves to those cultures that think of Life in a completely different way.


Many peoples throughout the world are at the opposite end of the anthropocentric spectrum, and have a more holistic view of life and a profound respect for ecological balance. The vision of a world in harmony where Man is in fact a component of the biosphere within which all living organisms evolve. In reality, in the image of the cosmovisions of the Andean indigenous peoples, Nature is no longer an environment external to the human, it is the human, and the Man is Nature (5). A biocentric approach that dethrones Man from his pedestal, and roots him in his origin.

For the sake of clarity, the semantics of some terms related to the cosmos must first be briefly studied. While cosmology is understood as the science of the general laws that govern the Universe, this « more or less coherent set of representations concerning the form, content and dynamics of the Universe: its spatial and temporal properties, the types of being found there, the principles and powers that account for its origin and their becoming » (6). Cosmogony, on the other hand, is based on orality and memory, and is a matter of sacred stories, told to explain the genesis of the world and of humanity; it is fundamentally based on myths linking beliefs and realities, legitimizing social practices and justifying the order of the world and the social link (7). In its continuity, almost sororal, the cosmovision comes to assert itself as a perception of the Universe, a set of beliefs allowing to analyze and to recognize the reality from the very existence. It is a truth of the world and the cosmos thought by a person, a society or a culture at a given time, gathering in itself all the aspects of life, religion, politics, philosophy, morals, manners and customs.

Thus, the Andean cosmovision is based on thousands of years of culture, beliefs, conquests and civilizations; it is an Andean mixture extending from Colombia to Chile, passing through Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Argentina. In spite of this ethnico-cultural disparity of the pre-Columbian civilizations (8), the Andean culture holds in a lot to the Peruvian one because of the role that some Peruvian peoples and empires will play throughout the history. The original Quechua peoples then materialized 5000 years ago, a way of interpreting the world and perceiving it, first within the Civilization of Caral, then, until the Incas, who survived until then.

This last Inca Empire bases its origin on certain legends, one of which tells the birth of two children, Manco Capac and his sister-wife Mama Occlo. Fruits of the union between the Sun-Father, Taita Inti, and Mother Earth, Pachamama, their mission would be to find a land to build a new civilization. Then if it was relatively short-lived (1450-1532) (9), this Empire was nevertheless the vastest of the pre-Columbian America. À son apogée, il s’étend le long de la Cordillère des Andes, perché à plus de 2000 m d’altitude au dessus du niveau de la mer, de l’Equateur au Chili, dont Cuzco au Pérou en est la grande capitale, « le nombril du monde ». This dynasty disappeared in 1532 defeated by a troop of barely 200 Spaniards, guided by Francisco Pizzaro, who took advantage of family disagreements related to the successions and the fragility of the people, to deceive the emperor Atahualpa, and to commit ignoble acts in order to reduce to nothing the civilization. Despite the disappearance of the last official Inca emperor, the beliefs and customs have been perpetuated over the centuries, reinforcing this Andean vision of the world and the care it intends to give to Nature, to the living Cosmos, and to the sacred relationship between human beings and Mother Earth. It must be mentioned, however, that in view of the colonization that was carried out from the 16th century, and whose grand slam was to evangelize en masse and subjugate at will, the Andean and indigenous animistic beliefs (10), if they were not extinguished, were practiced in a relatively silent way. The millenary ritual allocated for the Pachamama, which in a more western way, can be related to Gaia (11), even if it remains a more complex and profound entity, is one of the only archaic pre-Columbian paradigms that survived the evangelization. Therefore, it is common to meet this mixture and this ethnological mosaic within ceremonies for the Pachamama, where the Virgin Mary is related to it, she is essence of a whole, she gives life.

As an interpretation of a whole, the Andean cosmovision is a point of convergence between religious and social beliefs, it advocates this sacred link that links the human being and the cosmos, the sky and the earth. The Cosmos is alive and everything in it is intertwined, every entity that makes it up. She admits that everything takes shape in what she calls theIlla Teqsi, « Eternal Light; Foundation of Light », which is then the energy by which the Universe was formed, the primary substance that animates it, the matrix that gives it form and movement. This omnipresent and positive energy, which expresses itself through each being, and links us, humans, to Mother Earth, the Pachamama, circulates unceasingly within Nature, considered as a whole. An ethics of whole life that could endorse this saving term that represents Pachamama. It is common to find Pachamama translated and symbolized by Nature, but this is a mistake (12) in that the term « Nature » does not exist in any way in the indigenous communities, it is a western construction dressed to differentiate the human being from the rest of the wild (13). To reduce the ethics and thought of Pachamama to this simple connotation of Nature is a tasteless shortcut that ignores the knowledge of indigenous peoples.

Pachamama holds a variety of meanings, it is a complex notion. It is not the result of scientific elaborations, but the manifestation of the knowledge of the ancestral culture, fruit of a coexistence of the people with the Living. Divinity with Andean roots, it represents the whole of the human and non-human entities, from the human, to the animals; from the plants, to the rivers, oceans until the rocks and the stars (14). She is the Mother Goddess. « Pasha » is the earth, nature, planet, living space, time, universe, world, cosmos, and more. These different aspects complement each other; it is « Space-time » and it is « Universe ». Pascha is the All, she is the Great Spirit: « Pascha and her spirit are one, although we all participate in her spirit » (15). While « Mama » is of course the mother, the womb of life, who cradles and protects the beings she gives birth to, the whole of the Living. Pachamama is a true universal intelligence, divine and mystical, she gives rhythm to the spiritual beliefs of the ancestral peoples, who allot her a true devotion estimating this sacred, this divine force that she embodies. The ancestral culture is organized around rites and cults for this feminine entity, understood in its cultural dimension as Mother Earth, without devoting a particular spiritual edifice to it, because it is its own temple, Nature (16). An entity recognized by all the peoples of South America, who pay homage to it for the Life that it carries, considering it as « a living reality, a part of their own human nature, with which they maintain exchanges and reciprocities, but also recognitions and mutual identifications » (17). This conception of the macrocosm at the Incas is unceasingly articulated around a duality, of a search of the harmony of the opposites, what returns to accept the very essence of the Universe (18). As much as the Inca cosmogony embodies the feminine energy of Pachamama, it also recognizes the existence of a masculine force, Pachataita, the Sky Daddy, who together form this fertile Andean duality.

In the same way, the Andean sensibility understands that every constitutive element of the Cosmos is intertwined, that every being is endowed with a spirit, whether it is mountains, rivers, trees, plants, or even rocks. It understands the world as a natural community of diverse and variable living communities, all of which, because of the bond that unites them, represent both their intrinsic value and the Whole. In reality, this means that in each entity, the micro and the macro-cosmos are linked. By understanding our inner self, our own body, it is then possible for us to hear the whole Universe; the Laws of Nature, these biological laws, are identical, regardless of births and conceptions of the Living. In this sense, and in order to integrate well the stakes of such a perception of the Cosmos, it is necessary to mention this very particular way that the Andean cosmovision has to conceptualize the time. It is necessary to understand that the notion of time for these ancestral peoples is very far from the western one which wants to be rational and which paradoxically desires without moderation and at full speed; where each disturbance comes to dethrone the balance of a whole ecosystem, disturbing the wellbeing of its components.

The indigenous temporality is much closer to that of Nature and its natural and biological processes, where the appreciation of time is quite different. The Andean cosmovision recognizes then three dynamic and complementary spaces which articulate to form the Cosmos, three Pachas, Hanan Pacha, Kay Pacha and Uku Pacha. At first glance, it is not easy to understand its meaning. However, it is possible to understand Uku Pasha as the past time, that which was, that world which is no longer, but which continues to exist in a certain way; it is the underworld, that of the dead and of past souls, the root that supports a whole, the depths of the earth, but also the cradle of the seeds that will be reborn, represented by a serpent. The Kay Pacha, the human realm, of the immediate, the here and now, where nothing is static, and everything is in perpetual motion as time goes by (19), where everything materializes, is seen, felt and perceived, which captures our consciousness. It is a bridge between the past sphere and the one to come, an eternal oscillation of time that maintains this cyclic interrelation with the two Pachas, embodied by a panther. Hanan Pacha, the superior kingdom, the world of the skies, where live as animated beings, rivers, stones, trees and animals, where natural phenomena and the Andean gods interact, symbolized by a condor. Linked to the spiritual world, it represents what is to come. The articulation of these three levels form the cosmos, where the micro and the macro-cosmos maintain an intimate correspondence.


A key concept attached to this indigenous philosophy is that of Buen Vivir, which refers to the indigenous paradigm of living in harmony between human beings and Nature. It implies a holistic and integrated vision of the human being, immersed in the great earth community that includes water, air and soil, mountains, trees and animals. It is in fact a true harmonious symbiotic relationship, it is the affirmation of a deep communion with this recognized and prayed divinity, Pachamama, with all the energies of the universe and with God. The Buen Vivir or Sumak kawsay in Quechua, is what we can call a culture of life, which thinks of new forms of organization and development between people, of interaction with the Living and of understanding the world and its metaphysical relations. So the invocation of Pachamama is naturally accompanied by the requirement of respect for her, which is translated into this fundamental ethical norm of Sumak kawsay. And as the Preamble of the Ecuadorian Constitution of 2008 states, it is « by celebrating nature, the Pachamama, of which we are part and which is vital for our existence… [que nous décidons de construire] a new form of citizen coexistence, in diversity and in harmony with nature to live well (or live fully), the Sumak kawsay » (20). Of course, this ethic of life is a philosophical construction carried by many indigenous peoples, which is not limited to the Inca people of Peru; it is all the Andean and Amazonian indigenous communities that represent this alternative to development (21). It is these traditionally marginalized peoples who question this ethic of « living better » insofar as unlimited progress and the competition of individuals lead to unprecedented social fractures and inequalities, and a murderous destruction of our common home, the Earth. It is not a negation of the modern Western world, but an invitation to a permanent and constructive dialogue of ancestral knowledge and wisdom with modern universal thought, with the aim of continuous decolonization of society. This ethic thinks of the harmony between all the individuals of the planetary ecosystem, and more particularly between the human world and the so-called non-human sphere. A particular representation of life and of the way we interact with it, which supposes a regime based on solidarity and no longer on a model of free competition that animates a certain economic cannibalism between human beings. The aspiration to a social and solidarity economy that allows an egalitarian and inclusive recognition of the different forms of work and production. Buen Vivir clashes with the system of global capitalist accumulation that sucks raw materials – that is, Nature – causing serious environmental damage, as well as maintaining a structure of exploitation of human labor, in contradiction with good working conditions. Then rises this paradigm of change of the world and its rules to build a democratic society more sustainable, fair, egalitarian, free and certainly, more human.


This doctrine of life is becoming more and more pervasive in Western societies, even penetrating the foundations of its law. It is a key teaching of the rights of Nature (22) and an essential safeguard for the maintenance of good living conditions on Earth. Indigenous societies remind us of our duty to reconnect to the earth, to our neglected biological laws, they call us to a profound return to solidarity and resilience. An ethic of life that breaks completely with the anthropocentric liberal constitutionalism where the human is at the heart of the concerns. It proposes a real change of civilization. It is from this that the will to grant rights to the Earth’s ecosystem and to the community of the Living is born as the foundation of a culture of profound respect for life, its components and its natural cycles. It is essential to recognize the intrinsic value of each natural entity, as well as the interdependence of each of them – humans, plants, animals, minerals, micro-organisms – in order to consolidate the well-being of humanity, of the great community of life and of future generations. The maintenance of good living conditions on Earth depends on it So, the law invites to the journey to consider this affectionate and visceral relationship that the indigenous communities maintain with the planetary ecosystem, apprehending it as the Mother Earth, Pachamama, perceiving the need to restore its health and the ecosystems that compose it, in a holistic and integrated way, in a systemic way (24)

Pachamama, in which life is produced and realized, has the right to the integral respect of its existence and to the maintenance and regeneration of its vital cycles, its structure, its functions and its evolutionary processes. The esteem in which it is held is based on the philosophy of Buen Vivir, which is positioned in the movement of the rights of Nature, in that it advocates respect and harmony with the Living, recognizing its true intrinsic value. Human rights, as well as the rights of Mother Earth, are then complementary faces of this philosophy of the Good Life, a solution to the current dilemma of Humanity. Faced with the threats to the ecological balance and the habitability of the Earth, we must urgently rethink the legal foundations of our societies in an eco or even biocentric manner (25) and accompany the emergence of a movement to shift environmental law towards an ecological law.

Environmental law, which intends to protect the environment under the aegis of an anthropocentric vision, is confronted with ecological law, which apprehends legal science as an instrument allowing the protection of ecosystems for their own sake, of which Man would no longer be the core, but one of its components, in the same way as the rest of the natural entities. It seems necessary to admit as a new pivotal value, the intrinsic value of Life, whose law in a general way must be able to universalize around this notion and recognize the biosphere as the ultimate subject of law. The legal paradigm of the rights of Nature then apprehends the Earth as the source of the natural laws that govern life, where the human being is neither creator nor principal actor, but an entity like any other. All that comes from Creation (26), all beings that have a life are no longer mere objects, they are true subjects, and can be endowed with a legal personality. A new model is emerging that considers the recognition of rights to ecosystems and biocenosis, where each entity of the biosphere has its own value in that it plays a role in the functioning and regeneration of ecosystems and their cycles.

So in other words, to defend Nature is to defend Nature’s right to be Nature. This new movement of law is forged from the ancestral indigenous traditions that advocate that the existence of each member of the indivisible community of life is interdependent on that of the whole, and therefore that any attack on Nature is in reality an attack on humanity itself. So ineluctably, to defend the right of Nature to exist is to defend even more effectively the fundamental rights of Man, such as his right to life, to safety, to health or to food (27). This visceral relationship that links ancestral culture to Nature is a real traditional knowledge, first transmitted orally and then recently institutionalized (28) through the Federal Constitution of Ecuador (29) and the federal legislation of Bolivia (30). Indeed, countries with a large proportion of indigenous people in their population are bound to be the most inclined to constitutionally recognize the entity of Pachamama and the Buen Vivir doctrine of life. These two Latin American States are great pioneers and symbolize this legal opening which wishes to exceed these outdated Western standards to recognize true personalities to the natural elements and the biotopes which shelter them. The rights of Nature take their strength within the Andean cosmovision and its philosophy of Buen Vivir, which invite to the harmonious and respectful balance between human beings and the rest of the Living. The main point tends to be the awareness that we are part of an interdependent whole in which each element plays a specific role within the Earth ecosystem. A Whole, which is intrinsically penetrated by a cosmic and divine force, the very matrix of Life, regularly represented as God, here implied without particular religious distinction.

So in itself, the rights of nature are not so much a revolution, but rather an inter-cultural dialogue. This way of considering Nature as having a personality, a dignity that must be respected, is not really innovative. The First Peoples have thought of it and respected it in this way for centuries; they produce their own legal norms according to these guiding principles. Yet, because of this exclusionary Western colonialist tradition, the rights developed by « minorities » such as these primary peoples are prevented from being absorbed into positive law (31). They remain a dead letter at the gates of globalization. So, to revive this paradigm that intends to give rights to the natural elements, is to take a philosophy that is already alive and well, and adapt it to rethink the theoretical matrices of the conception of positive law. It is then to break with these foundations of exclusion of the subaltern, marginal groups, and to give again legitimacy to their knowledge, their ethics and their wisdom. It means creating – at last – a true dialogue between cultures, going beyond the Man/Nature dichotomy, as many peoples have already done, and recognizing that the law can indeed be pluralist.


  1. V. CABANES, « Un nouveau droit pour la Terre – pour en finir avec l’écocide », Seuil, 2016, p.27
  2. S. GURTWIRTH, « Trente ans de théorie du droit de l’environnement : concepts et opinions », Environnement et société, n° 26, 2001, p.7
  3. R.DESCARTES, Discours de la méthode, 1637, p. 38, [En ligne]
  4. A. ACOSTA, El Buen Vivir en el camino post-desarrollo – Una lectura desde la Constitución de Montecristi, Policy Paper N° 9, Fundación Friedrich Ebert, 2010, p.18 ; [En ligne] http://library. (consulté le 19/04/2021)
  5. Carta do 7º Congresso Internacional Constitucionalismo e Democracia: O Novo Constitucionalismo Latino americano – Harmonia com a Natureza e Bem Viver, Carta de Fortaleza : Manifesto Pachamama, Fortaleza (Brésil), 29/11/2017 : [En ligne] (consulté le 19/04/2021): « Nous sommes un même organisme vivant. Nous sommes la Terre-Mère : Pachamama. Il semble que nous soyons séparés, cependant, tout ce qui existe naît du même ventre. Les eaux, les oiseaux, les fleurs, les hommes et les montagnes sont les expressions complémentaires d’un être vivant, collectif et cyclique »
  6. P. BONTE, Dictionnaire de l’ethnologie et de l’anthropologie, Izard Michel (éds), 1991
  7. R. BARTHES, Mythologies, Seuil, broché, 1957
  8. C’est-à-dire avant l’arrivée de Christophe Colomb et de ses troupes espagnoles en Amérique (1492)
  9. Dates de l’empire à son apogée, l’Empire en soit apparait vers 1350 avec Manco Capac.
  10. L’animisme : « l’imputation par les humains à des non-humains d’une intériorité identique à la leur », P. DESCOLA, Par delà nature et culture, Gallimard, 2005, p.183 – it is to attribute a spirit to any living being, to any object but also to any natural element like the stones or the windDates of the empire in its apogee, the Empire in itself appears around 1350 with Manco Capac.
  11. J. LOVELOCK, Gaia, a new look at life on earth, Oxford University Press, 1979 – This theory sees in the Earth, a living super-organism, Gaia, far from an inanimate assembly of gas and rocks, it would be a living being in its own right, capable of self-regulating like no other planet yet known
  12. L. ESTUPINAN ACHURY, C. STORINI, R. MARTINEZ DALMAU, F. CARVALHO DANTAS, La naturaleza como sujeto de derechos en el constitucionalismo democrático, Bogotá: Universidad Libre, 2019, p. 284
  13. P. DESCOLA, Par-delà nature et culture, Gallimard, 2005
  14. R. FERNANDEZ, « Constitucionalismo plurinacional en Ecuador y Bolivia a partir de los sistemas de vida de los pueblos indígenas », thèse de doctorat, Université de Coimbra, 2017, p.109 ; [En ligne] (consulté le 19/04/2021)
  15. V. PINEDA, Cultura peruana a historia de los Incas, Fondo de Cultura Económica, Lima, 2001, p.333
  16. E. ZAFFARONI, La Pachamama e el humano, Madres de Plaza de Mayo, Colihue, Argentine, 2011, p.118
  17. F. CAMPAÑA, « Los derechos de la Naturaleza en la Constitución ecuatoriana del 2008 : alcance, fundamentos y relación con los derechos humanos », Revista Esta 17, 2019, p.242
  18. F. MARTINAT, La reconnaissance des peuples indigènes entre droit et politique, deuxième partie, Cosmovisions indiennes et conflits de représentation, Presses universitaires du Septentrion, 2005
  19. L. JAVIER, Qhapaq Ñan: la ruta Inka de Sabiduría, CEnES, Lima (Perú), 2003, p.148-149
  20. E. ZAFFARONI, La Pachamama e el humano, Madres de Plaza de Mayo, Colihue, Argentine, 2011, p.111
  21. A. ACOSTA, O Bem Viver – Uma oportunidade de imaginar outro mundo, tradução de Tadeu Breda – São Paulo : Autonomia Literária, Elefante, 2016
  22. Also called rights of Mother Earth or rights of the Pachamama
  23. V. CABANES, Un nouveau droit pour la Terre – Pour en finir avec l’écocide, Editions du Seuil, 2016, p.281
  24. V. OLIVEIRA, « Dignidade Planetária no Capitalismo Humanista », thèse de doctorat, Université Catholique de São Paulo, 2014 ; [En ligne] (consulté le 15/04/2021)
  25. See in this sense the article of Xavier Idziak, « Ethique environnementale et droits ; réflexions autour d’une évolution de la perception du droit », blog Notre Affaire A Tous, 6/01/2021 ; [En ligne] (consulté le 16/04/2021)
  26. Understood here as the divine creation, matrix of all life
  27. Article 3 and Article 25 – Déclaration Universelle des Droits de l’Homme, 1948
  28. E. MARTINEZ, A. ACOSTA, La Naturaleza con Derechos – De la filosofía a la política, Serie Debate Constituyente, Abya Yala, Quito (Equateur), 2011, p.112
  29. Préambule et article 71 – Constitution équatorienne de 2008
  30. Loi n°071, Loi des Droits de la Terre Mère, Assemblée Législative Plurinationale de Bolivie, 21/12/2010 : « For the purpose of protection and protection of its rights, Mother Earth has the character of a collective subject of public interest. Mother Earth and all its elements, including human communities, have all the inherent rights recognized in this law, and its application will take into account the specificities and particularities of its various elements.
  31. This term is understood as the set of legal rules applicable and in force in a State at a given time