What Are Rights?
Some Lessons from Struggle

by Larry Lohmann

first published 13 October 2017

One of the biggest buzzwords in forest and land conservation today is “rights”. Environmental NGOs, legal activists, corporate consultants, international institutions and many others are championing “rights-based approaches” as key to effective environmental policy. But, argues this short article from the World Rainforest Movement Bulletin, the “rights” discourse can be a source of confusion. In reality, there is no such thing as a body of “universal rights” lying around waiting to support the struggles of forest defenders and oppressed peoples. Different kinds of rights emerge from different political battles, and often conflict with each other. Instead of assuming common ground in shared “rights”, potential movement allies need to understand the histories of each others’ struggles.