Last Wednesday, Turkey’s Constitution Reconciliation Commission was presented with a new series of articles for inclusion in the country’s new constitution. Led by the Turkish Green Party, the articles were submitted by the Initiative for an Ecological Constitution (IEC), and prepared by environmental journalist Mahmut Boynudelik from notes he took at several recent Green Party conferences.
If adopted, Turkey would have a constitution like no other in Europe or North America — but somewhat similar to the constitutions of Ecuador and Bolivia, both of whose constitutions recognize legally binding rights of nature.
In ecologically diverse Ecuador, which encompasses the Galapagos Islands as well as parts of the Amazon rainforest, rights for nature were added to its constitution in 2008. Just last year in Bolivia, eleven new rights for nature were added to the constitution, protecting it from pollution, massive development, and genetic alteration.
These countries are the inspiration for Turkey’s IEC, which has summarized its proposed additions to the constitution in the following phrase: “The Republic of Turkey is a democratic, secular, ecological and social constitutional state that is based on human rights, which are a part of Nature.”
Rather than view nature as a pool of resources that exist to be used and exploited by humans, the IEC wants Turkey’s environment to be valued as its own subject, with its own set of “rights”. The group wants the constitutional changes to reflect the truth that the rest of human society is impossible without a healthily functioning ecosystem.
How would this change anything?
Most environmental reforms in Turkey nowadays pass because someone links their damages to human rights.
For example, hydroelectric dams, which have terrible effects on surrounding ecosystems, are only possible to prevent if they can be shown to hurt local human populations, points out Durukan Dudu, environmental policy coordinator for the Protection of Natural Habitats and Combating Soil Erosion (TEMA) Foundation in Turkey.
This hasn’t always been hard to do; even the United Nations issued a report condemning Turkey’s dams for infringing upon the human rights of people living all throughout the region. But with nature’s rights protected in the constitution directly, more cases of environmental degradation could be prosecuted, and prevented more quickly.
So will it pass?
Dudu says the reaction so far from Parliament and the Constitution Reconciliation Commission has been promising.
“TEMA’s presentation to Parliament received many positive reactions, and we’ve heard similar things from our friends with the Initiative for an Ecological Constitution. We have many reasons to believe that together we can create a strong impact,” he told Turkish daily Today’s Zaman.
It’s too soon to tell what the final decision on the ecological articles will be, according to the IEC. But with public support swelling in favor of an “ecological constitution”, it may prove the most politically, as well as environmentally, favorable option.
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Image via Today’s Zaman