Demands for green constitution rise as threats to nature, humans increase

Demands for green constitution rise as threats to nature, humans increase

Volunteers cleaning up the bottom of the Marmara Sea found an incredibly diverse range of trash.

May 22, 2011, Sunday/ 13:01:00/ YONCA POYRAZ DOĞAN

Two small countries of Latin America have been taking Mother Earth, or “Pachamama,” quite seriously so they have passed a series of laws to protect it, and their worries reached some concerned citizens in Turkey where there has been a vigorous debate going on for making a new, citizen-centered constitution.

 “We are just starting a campaign calling for an ecological constitution,” said Turkey’s Green Party spokesperson Ümit Şahin, who is among 40 people including politicians, academics, and lawyers involved in the Initiative for an Ecological Constitution (IEC). “As Turkey has been talking about making a new constitution, which is supposed to value the individual, then we should be talking about an ecological approach to it,” Şahin said, adding that their role models are Bolivia and Ecuador, which understand the value and rights of Mother Earth. The IEC believes in this approach of the Latin American states, he said, because neither the European states nor the United States have been able to fully address the issue even though there are some examples like France, which has a Green Charter, and some states in the US, which have been adopting ecologically sensitive laws.

He noted that Ecuador’s is the first constitution in the world to recognize legally enforceable Rights of Nature. Although a small country, Ecuador is home to the Galapagos Islands, Andean Mountains and Amazon rainforest as it is a geologically, ecologically and ethnically diverse country. Ecuador took a bold step in 2008 to add Rights for Nature to their new constitution providing a system of environmental protection based on rights. Şahin noted like many countries, Turkish laws treat ecosystems as articles of property that give land owners the right to destroy even fragile ecosystems, but that a lot of governments have started to enact environmental regulations to limit harm to ecosystems and impose fines for damage.

Additionally, a group of countries led by Bolivia have recently brought the issue to the agenda of the UN General Assembly as they ask for a UN treaty that would grant the same rights found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to Mother Nature so there will be legal systems to maintain balance between human rights and what they say are the rights of other members of the Earth, such as plants, animals and terrain.

Supporting the idea, Şahin said communities should be given more power to monitor and control industries and development to ensure harmony between humans and nature.

People from the IEC hope to press politicians in that regard following the June 12 general election in Turkey where there are expectations that the priority of the new Parliament will be to make a new constitution to rid the country of the remnants of the Sept. 12, 1980 military coup that left individuals vulnerable against the state despite several amendments to the junta regime’s constitution.

Among 40 supporters of the IEC, there are some political party representatives too. For example, a deputy from the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) Sabahat Tuncel, parliamentary candidate from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Melda Onur, Equality and Democracy Party (EDP) member Arif Ali Çangı and Revolutionary Socialist Workers’ Party (DSİP) member Şenol Karakaş.

Will their voices be heard by the main political parties -- the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and the CHP?

“We heard that the CHP is preparing a draft constitution,” Şahin said.

He added that there are other drafts prepared by different civil society groups, but an ecologically concerned constitution has not been on the agenda despite the recent nuclear crisis that erupted at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex since an earthquake and tsunami hit the country on March 11, plus long-time challenges from global warming and climate change, which pose threats to the future of humanity.

When it comes to the AK Party government, Parliament approved a bill on an agreement between Russia and Turkey for the construction of Turkey’s first nuclear power plant in the coastal town of Akkuyu in Mersin province in July 2010, despite warnings from environmental groups that nuclear power plants in Turkey are a great risk, particularly because it is located in an earthquake-prone region. In response to the warnings, Turkish government officials have underlined many times that Turkey imports most of its primary energy needs, adding that the country’s foreign energy dependence is around 70-72 percent of its total energy consumption.

However, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu called on Green Party’s Şahin to arrange panels to address environmental issues at the İstanbul conference on May 9-13 for the Fourth United Nations Conference on Least Developed Countries (UN-LDC IV). The İstanbul Declaration of the LDCs Academic Council, established for the first time on a request by Davutoğlu, involved the expression of an urgent demand for expected commitments in regards to prevention of environmental crisis and climate change.

Bülent Aras from the Foreign Ministry said that until very recently Turkey has been talking about its “special circumstances as a developing country” but now has been moving toward a different direction.

“Turkey signed the Kyoto protocol [the UN-led pact to combat global warming]. There is a move toward acting with the international community according to universal standards,” said Aras who coordinated the efforts of the Academic Council at the UN-LDC IV conference. “There is also more public awareness domestically about environmental issues.”

He referred to ecological concerns that have been publicly raised by some civil society activists and local people as there are new government projects announced during the election campaign, like new plans for a third bridge over the Bosporus and a new canal between the Black Sea and the Marmara Sea. Asked about the demands of the IEC, he said he supports a constitution that would include clauses reflecting “environmental sensitivities.” On the other hand, Onur, a CHP candidate for deputy from İstanbul who is an active supporter of an ecological constitution said that environment is a neglected area in Turkey.

“There are no ecologically-sensitive approaches in any of the government’s policies. I don’t say that as a CHP member I say that as a person who has been involved in working with various sectors in Turkey,” she said.

She believes that conventional environmental policies are not sufficient to address looming environmental crisis; therefore, an ecological constitution is a must.

“If this issue had been underlined in the constitution, then laws, bylaws and practices would be more meaningful,” she said and added that the CHP’s election manifesto indicates that humans are not owners of the ecological balance, but they are part of it.

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