Norwegian version
Tasman River System

Riverine Rights: Exploring the Currents and Consequences of Legal Innovations on the Rights of Rivers

The project will investigate legal cases from New Zealand, Colombia and India, where rivers have been granted personhood rights. It is an interdisciplinary project, spanning perspectives from social anthropology, law, economics and resource governance.

Photo: Robin Smith

About the project

In the past three years, rivers have been granted rights as persons or legal subjects in countries as different as New Zealand, Colombia and India. These cases are new and concrete manifestations of broader proposals of giving legal rights to nature, which have been discussed by scientists, legal
scholars, environmental activists, indigenous communities and policy-makers for some time. In this project, we will investigate the implications of this socio-legal innovation through comparative and in-depth studies of these three country cases.

We wish to explore possible tensions and synergies between human rights and nature’s rights, and whether the cases of riverine rights are convincing attempts to establish a new mode of human-nature relations. While rivers’ rights followed from grassroots activism in all these cases, it is not a given that this legal innovation will serve grassroots interests, nor that it will ensure the protection of rivers. We will explore these issues through an interdisciplinary approach, involving experienced researchers with backgrounds from social anthropology, law, environmental governance and economics, with in-depth experience with the case countries.

The project will produce new, relevant and critical knowledge about an innovative form of environmental protection, with particular attention to a) the mechanisms established for enforcing river rights and their implications for river protection and for the different water user groups; b) implications for existing legal frameworks and debates on the rights of nature, and c) the insights these cases may offer for current debates about how to understand the relationship between society and the natural world.

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Wild river
Should rivers be granted the same rights as humans?

Axel Borchgrevink is busy investigating what happens when rivers are granted the same rights as humans.