8 October 2018

Rights for the River

UCWOSL Rights for the River workshop
The organisers and participants of the workshop.

The recent developments to grant rights or legal personhood to rivers was the theme of a recent workshop organised by three researchers of Utrecht University.

Cathy Suykens, Herman Kasper Gilissen and Marleen van Rijswick, all researchers at Utrecht University, organised a workshop on 4 October 2018 on the theme: ‘From the Law of the River towards Rights for the River’. In this workshop recent developments were discussed on granting rights or legal personhood to rivers. It was discussed by a variety of scholars and practioners from multiple perspectives, such as law, environmental governance, ecology, hydrology, morphology and economy.

Healthy rivers, healthy ecosystems

The topic concerns a new but yet complex development that illustrates a shift toward more attention for ecological needs and healthy ecosystems and rivers. A shift that attracts a lot of attention. During the workshop a wide range of questions became apparent such as: Do we need a new approach and why? How can a rights based approach for rivers best be designed? Do we need it all over the world? Are current approaches sufficient, or can ‘Rights for a River’ contribute to better and more equitable and inclusive water resource management or to a better balancing of human and nature interests? What elements should be part of the design? What elements might be interesting for other river basins besides the experiences in New Zealand, Australia, India, Colombia, Equador and Bolivia? Who can represent the river and how to design custodianship? Who else should be involved in planning, decision making, implementation and enforcement?

Rivers all over the world

The participants from several parts of the world discussed developments in rivers and countries such as the Mekong/Asia, the Rhine/Europe, the Scheldt/Europe, the Ganga/India, the Yamuna/ India, the Drentsche Aa (Ems river basin), the Dommel (Meuse river basin), the Yarra/Australia, the Wadden Sea/Northern Europe, and of course the Whanganui/New Zealand (the river that was granted the same legal rights as a human being in 2017) as well as developments in Equador, Bolivia and Colombia.

The aim is to have all contributions published in a special issue of Water International.

The workshop was possible thanks to a financial grant from the Strategic theme: Pathways to Sustainability of Utrecht University