The inability of, first, the British and subsequently the New Zealand government to uphold the Treaty of Waitangi, has led to the unique decision to grant the Whanganui river similar legal status as a person, the Economist reports.
According to the Treaty of Waitangi, signed in 1840, the indigenous Maori ceded sovereignty to the British colonialists. In turn, the treaty was supposed to protect Maori rights and property. The breaches of the treaty has seen the New Zealand government agree to various settlements in recent years.
By giving the Whanganui river legal status, it will in future be much easier to take legal action against anyone who does environmental damage to the river, according to government minister involved with the project. The river will have two guardians, one from government and the other appointed by the local Maori tribe.
The government will also pay NZ$ 80m for past abuses and damages and put a further NZ$ 30m in a fund to help see to the river’s well-being.
Shortly after this announcement was made, the Indian government declared two of that country’s biggest and most sacred rivers – the Ganges and Yamuna – also with similar legal rights as a person. The court also assigned each of the rivers legal “parents” to protect and conserve their waters.
Various countries in South America had previously bestowed similar status and protection to rivers and landscapes.