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‘Legal animism’: when a river or even nature itself goes to court

On 30 March 2011, a truly unprecedented event took place at a provincial court in Loja, Equator, located some 270 miles from the capital of Quito.

The Vilcabamba River, a plaintiff in a trial there, convinced the tribunal that its own rights were being undermined by a road development project.

The project was then halted due because it would have jeopardised the river’s flow.

I was fortunate to be able to both attend this trial and examine what has been termed “legal animism” in two pioneering countries in the field, Ecuador and Bolivia.

Today, nations from Uganda to New Zealand are following suit by opening up their…

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