Journal of Human Rights and the Environment

Human rights and nature: intercultural perspectives and international aspirations

Cristiano Gianolla * *

Keywords: human rights, Earth, Nature, environment, indigenous people, intercultural dialogue, environmental justice, common inheritance of Humanity, living commons


What is the impact of human rights on the protection of Nature? Considering the rapid development of international human rights law during the last century and the parallel degradation of the environment leading to climate change, it could be concluded that human rights have had a negative impact on environmental protection, or at least that they have not had a positive impact on it. This article aims to investigate whether this is true, and if so, how the issue can be addressed. The article challenges the mainstream (western) approach to human rights and proposes that intercultural perspectives provide the basis for alternative approaches with the potential to recognize and better protect the environment. The argument focuses on the indigenous peoples of Ecuador and Bolivia and identifies, in respect to environmental justice, a bridging movement between the western and non-western conceptions of human rights. It argues that the protection of Nature would benefit from the evolution of the concept of the ‘common inheritance of Humanity’ into the concept of the ‘living commons’, thereby identifying Nature and Humanity alike as living beings to be protected at the international level. The underlying supposition of the argument is accordingly that Nature is a living being with its own dignity and therefore is a subject rather than an object: Nature should not be reduced to an object and consequently, should not be protected simply due to Nature's instrumental role in relation to the well-being of human beings.

Author Notes

This article was developed in the framework of the research project ‘ALICE – Strange Mirrors, Unsuspected Lessons: Leading Europe to a New Way of Sharing the World Experiences’ <>, funded by the European Research Council (269807), under the supervision of Boaventura de Sousa Santos at the Centre for Social Studies (CES) of the University of Coimbra, Portugal. I am extremely grateful to the editorial team and the anonymous reviewers of the Journal for their assistance and critique. In particular, I would like to thank Anna Grear, Evadne Grant and Karen Morrow for their detailed editorial engagement with this article and Hanna Hefner for her engaged effort in the language revision. Any errors are the author's alone.

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