The Rhône an entity in its own right? This is the project put forward by an association in Lyon to give the river a legal existence, following the example of other examples around the world. Focus on the Rhône Appeal.

What if the Rhône had rights?

What if the Rhône had rights?

The idea of conferring rights on the River Rhône is arousing both interest and debate. Initiated by the Notre Affaire à Tous collective, in partnership with the id-eau association, CRI and Ashoka, the idea is to consider the Rhône as a living entity with legal rights.
What are the potential implications of this recognition?

Conferring a legal personality on the river means granting it rights comparable to those of a legal entity, such as a company or an association. This concept is based on the recognition of the river as a living entity, requiring protection and respect. The aim is to ensure the preservation of its ecosystem, improve its management and step up action against pollution.

Granting rights to the Rhône would strengthen the protection of its ecosystem. The river’s legal representatives would be able to take legal action to defend its interests against industrial pollution, abusive exploitation or harmful infrastructure projects. This would encourage more sustainable and respectful management of this natural resource. Similar initiatives have shown positive results, notably in New Zealand where the river Whanganui* now enjoys greater protection.

Legal recognition of the Rhône would require a revision of the legislative frameworks in France and Switzerland, the countries through which the river flows. In France, the Environmental Code would have to be amended to include provisions on the rights of natural entities. In Switzerland, similar adjustments would be necessary. This would also involve setting up specific governance structures to represent and defend the rights of the river, made up of citizens, associations and local authority representatives.

What if the Rhône had rights?

Challenges and controversies

Despite its potential benefits, the project to give the Rhône legal rights is encountering opposition and raising a number of challenges. The administrative and legal complexity of such an initiative is one of the main concerns. In addition, some critics fear that this approach will further complicate the management of river resources, by introducing new players and new regulations.

If this project is to be a success, it will be essential to mobilise the public and raise awareness. Local residents, farmers, fishermen and industries must be involved in the decision-making process. Education on the environmental and social benefits of this legal recognition is crucial to gaining broad and lasting support.

International examples

International precedents, such as that of the Whanganui River* in New Zealand, offer encouraging models. Since the Whanganui was granted legal personality in 2017, it has benefited from enhanced protection against damage to its ecosystem. This status enables local communities and the river’s legal representatives to plead its case in court, guaranteeing its long-term preservation.

Whanganui River in New Zealand

Conferring rights on the Rhône could represent a significant step forward in the protection of this vital river. By overcoming legal and administrative challenges, this initiative would offer better management of the river ecosystem and serve as a model for other rivers. Legal recognition of the Rhône would not only be a tool for environmental preservation, but also a symbol of modern society’s commitment to protecting natural resources.

The call of the Rhône?

Spearheaded by the ID-eau association, the Rhône appeal currently has almost 1,500 supporters. A website dedicated to the initiative allows you to consult, follow and take part in the process, including :

  • Giving legal personality to the Rhône
  • Project news
  • The Rhône appeal in PDF format :

Rhône law podcast

Rhône, Léman and ecology: Rights for nature? A radio programme to listen to again from RTS, Swiss radio and television (French):

Web link

In “On va vers le beau,” Jonas Schneiter and Tristan Miquel set off this week to meet the people who take action every day to protect and care for the Rhône. Over the course of the week, they follow the course of the river to gain a better understanding of the ecological issues surrounding this major waterway in French-speaking Switzerland.

Today, with Frédéric Pitaval, director of the ID-Eau association and initiator of the Rhône Appeal, and Mara Tignino, lecturer and researcher at the Faculty of Law at the University of Geneva and legal specialist for the Platform for International Freshwater Law within the Geneva Water Pole.

Via RTS (French)

Along the Rhône

  • Recognition of the legal personality of the rivers Whanganui, Ganges and Yamuna (French)
  • The Metropolis and the City of Lyon want to give the Rhône a legal personality, La Tribune (French)
  • ID-eau Association and the Rhône Appeal (French)
  • Water parliament, Lyon Demain (French)
  • Rights for the Rhône? Everyone’s business (French)
  • Maps of the Rhône river