Professors Cited in Ecuador’s Landmark Decision

On January 27, 2022, the Constitutional Court of Ecuador issued a landmark decision holding that the rights of nature doctrine, enshrined in Article 71 of the Ecuadorian Constitution, extends to wild animals. The decision opens a new dimension in the legal protection of animals, complementing the more familiar protections flowing from environmental law and animal law.

In reaching its decision, the Court cited an opinion piece authored by clinical professor and Global Law Alliance director Erica Lyman ’06 and adjunct professor and Latin American program director Nicholas Fromherz, titled, Re-thinking the Rights of Nature to Encompass New Protections for Wild Animals. The article foreshadowed the basic logic adopted by the Court.

As Lyman and Fromherz explained, prior to the Court’s decision, Ecuadorian jurisprudence on the rights of nature “had followed a place-centric understanding, focusing on rivers, forests, and mountains.” However, as Lyman and Fromherz observed, this approach was not necessarily inevitable as a matter of law. Lyman and Fromherz framed the issue as follows:

Though Ecuador’s Constitution can be read to define “nature” (and thus its rights) as site-centric, it is not entirely apparent that this is the only permissible reading. Article 71 of the Constitution describes “nature” as the place “where life is reproduced and realized”; Article 71 goes on to provide that the state shall “promote respect for all of the elements that form an ecosystem.” The latter phrase, employed as it is in the context of the rights of nature, suggests a legal understanding of nature that coincides with its scientific counterpart: “Nature” is an amalgam of several different “elements,” one of which is wildlife.

Employing this basic rationale, the Constitutional Court agreed. As a result, wild animals are now constitutional rights-holders under Ecuador’s Rights of Nature doctrine.