New Zealand river becomes 'world's first' to be given legal rights of a person

Tom Powell
Legal status: the Whanganui River in New Zealand: Shutterstock

A New Zealand river has become the first in the world to be given the legal status of a person.

The Whanganui River, located in the north island, has been recognised as a living entity with its own rights and values.

The river holds a special and spiritual importance for the local Maori people, who see it as part of the living mountains and sea.

The New Zealand Parliament has passed a bill which gives the river the right to represent itself through human representatives, one appointed by a Maori community and one by the Crown, according to local reports.

MP Adrian Rurawhe said: "The river as a whole is absolutely important to the people who are from the river and live on the river.

"I'll repeat something that [MP] Chester Burrows said in [Parliament] today - it's not that we've changed our world view but people are catching up to seeing things how we see it."

Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson explained that the new law would work like a charitable trust, with the river’s trustees legally required to act in its best interests, Radio New Zealand reported.

He added: "There are some precedents for it overseas - there had been a lot of talk that this is actually a really good way of ensuring that the particular resource is able to have representative to address the kind of environmental degradation that so many natural resources suffer from."

By using Yahoo you agree that Yahoo and partners may use Cookies for personalisation and other purposes