A new law in New Zealand grants to a major river and all its tributaries the same legal status as a human being.
The New Zealand Parliament passed a law on Wednesday giving the Whanganui River, a 180-mile river located on New Zealand’s North Island, the same legal status as a human under New Zealand law. The designation is the first known time in history a river has been given the same status as a person under a nation’s laws.
According to a report by the BBC, the Maori, an indigenous people in New Zealand, have been pushing for the designation for more than a century. Chris Finlayson, the negotiations minister of the Treaty of Waitangi for New Zealand, made it clear the river will no longer “belong” to anyone.
“The Crown will not own the river bed,” said Finlayson, according to a report by the Wanganui Chronicle. “The river will own itself. That’s a world-leading innovation for a river system.”
Because a river is not capable of speaking or thinking, two human legal representatives will be appointed to represent the river in court when legal disputes arise. The Wanganui Chronicle reports one of those people will be selected by the “river tribes” and the second by the New Zealand government.
In addition to the increased legal rights for the river, the new law grants $30 million to repair the Whanganui River and $80 million to settle disputes with local tribes.
Although New Zealand now feels compelled to grant human rights to non-living entities in the nation, the country allows women of any age to have an abortion under a number of circumstances.
Women may abort a pregnancy under 20 weeks if the mother’s life is in danger, there is a physical health danger present or any danger to mental health, in the case of incest or rape, when there is a lack of mental capacity or when there is a fetal abnormality. Very young or very old women may also be eligible without any of the conditions listed above. After 20 weeks of pregnancy, abortion is restricted to situations in which there is a risk of severe health problems for the unborn child or the mother.