The course explores a new trend in international legal thinking: the assertion of the rights of nature and animal rights, which go beyond the mere reinforcement of a ‘human’ right to a healthy environment. In order to explore this topic, the course will propose a change of perspective, from an anthropocentric to an ecocentric approach to law (and in particular to international law). Starting with the 1982 World Charter on Nature, the UN General Assembly (UNGA) has adopted a series of non-binding ‘Harmony with Nature’ resolutions, stressing at the international level the coexistence of humankind in harmony with nature. Moving to regional human rights jurisprudence, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has begun to incorporate ecocentric legal reasoning in its recent decisions. In a landmark advisory opinion of November 2017 and the contentious case Indigenous Communities Members of the Lhaka Honhat Association v. Argentina, decided in February 2020, the Court derived an autonomous right to a healthy environment from Article 26 of the American Convention of Human Rights. In the Court’s view, the human right to a healthy environment, for all that it sounds like another anthropocentric example in international law, also protects nature, even in the absence of evidence of possible risks for human beings, because of its importance for the rest of living beings. At the national level, ecocentric considerations have determined the advent of a new “environmental constitutionalism,” which has led to the inclusion of the rights of nature in constitutions.
The course will explore how the rights of nature have entered the legal debate, first in the constitutions of a number of states and then at the international level, with the strong support of UN Special Rapporteur David Boyd. It will analyze the thought of several scholars, including Christopher Stone, author of “Should trees have standing?” and ecofeminists who have challenged the anthropocentric structure of law by adopting a human/nature dichotomy of oppression.
If we consider the environment as “us”, composed of humans, non-human animals, and natural objects, it is useful to inquire whether animals might be entitled to rights. The course will therefore delve into the evolution and still problematic affirmation of what has been called “global animal law”, trying to identify necessary changes of perspective: from the protection of animals for their wellbeing (wellbeing being also mentioned in European Union legislation) to the centrality of animals as subjects of rights. Several examples will be cited of attempts in legal scholarship and jurisprudence to identify animals’ rights.
Reflection and debate will be specifically proposed on whaling, on the rights of indigenous peoples, and on the international fight against poaching and the illegal trade of animals.
None. All the necessary legal background will be provided during the course.
At the end of the course the students:
1) should be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the categories of international law relevant to grasping the paradigm shift from an anthropocentric to an ecocentric approach;
2) will be able to apply their knowledge and understanding in a professional manner with a view to possible future careers or vocational work (internships and work in NGOs, international organizations, agencies, etc), in particular concerning the mechanisms for promoting the right to a healthy environment, and raising awareness of the issues of animal and nature rights;
3) should have the ability to gather and interpret relevant currently existing legal instruments (both soft and hard law) in order to elaborate legal arguments that include reflection on relevant legal and political issues;
4) will be able to communicate information, ideas, problems and solutions to both specialist and non-specialist audiences;
5) should have developed the learning skills necessary for them to continue to pursue more advanced courses or further study with a high degree of autonomy.
The course will include lectures and seminars. During the seminars, the students will be invited to prepare the set readings for the week. The aim will be to discuss the topic of the week in an open debate. Classroom interaction is encouraged. Students are invited to propose issues that have been raised in their country of origin. The week before the scheduled seminar, the lecturer will provide the students with a list of questions related to the chosen reading matter in order to guide the analysis and debate. The rewriting of a judgment from an ecological perspective will be proposed.
10 % participation during seminars (debate)
30 % mid-term exam (analysis of reports, decisions, resolutions)
60 % essay (max 5000 words) on a topic of the students’ choice
Bibliography (books are not compulsory, but are recommended reading)
BOYD, D., (2017), The Rights of Nature, ECW Press.
DECKHA, M., (2021), Animals as legal beings. Contesting Anthropocentric Legal Orders, University of Toronto press.
DE VIDO, S., (2021), Health, in J. d’Aspremont and J. Haskell (eds), Tipping Points in International Law, Cambridge university.
DE VIDO, S., BALDIN, S., (eds), (2020), Environmental Sustainability in the European Union: Socio-Legal Perspectives EUT, open access
DE VIDO, S., (2020), A Quest for an Eco-centric Approach to International Law: the COVID-19 Pandemic as Game Changer, in Jus Cogens, Link
PETERS, A., (2020), Global Animal Law, Springer, Link
STONE, C., (2010), Should Trees Have Standing?, OUP, 3.
ROGERS, N., MALONEY, M., (eds), (2017), Law as if earth really mattered, Routledge.
ROGERS, N., (2022), Law, climate emergency and the Australian megafires.