Asia & Australia

March 20, 2017

Parliament Approves A Law, Giving New Zealand’s Whanganui River Legal Rights Of A Person

Whanganui River

The New Zealand Parliament voted to approve a law that grants the Whanganui River the legal rights of a person. The new law states that the river is now recognized as "an indivisible and living whole, comprising the Whanganui River from the mountains to the sea, incorporating all its physical and metaphysical elements," and "is a legal person and has all the rights, powers, duties, and liabilities of a legal person."

Also, the law mandates that two guardians be assigned to "act and speak for and on behalf of" the river. One guardian will be appointed by Parliament, and the other by the local Maori tribe. Albert Gerrard, a lead negotiator for the Whanganui tribe, called the 170-year legal fight for recognition a "long, hard battle."

New Zealand Attorney General Chris Finlayson said that the legal recognition is important to the local Maori people, “I know some people will say it's pretty strange to give a natural resource a legal personality, but it's no stranger than family trusts, or companies, or incorporated societies. The approach of granting legal personality to a river is unique. Te Awa Tupua will have its own legal identity with all the corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a legal person.”

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