Japanese court rules that birds and crabs have no right to sue

Mari Yamaguchi Canadian Press Friday, March 18, 2005

TOKYO (AP) - A Japanese court threw out a lawsuit Tuesday against a land reclamation project after taking a close look at the plaintiffs - which include mudskippers, fiddler crabs and Dunlin birds.

The suit, filed by residents on behalf of animals living in Isahaya Bay wetlands in southern Japan, claimed the project was destroying the critters' habitat. The Nagasaki District Court, however, ruled that nature itself has no rights under the law, and therefore cannot act as plaintiffs in a lawsuit, said court spokesman Michiharu Kawasaki.

"It is difficult to find the basis for nature's rights under the current law," Kyodo News quoted Judge Joji Ito as writing in his ruling.

Five plaintiffs argued that a seven-kilometre-long dike built across the Isahaya Bay wetlands on Kyushu island harmed the mudskippers - fish that can breath air and walk on land using their fins as legs - as well as other animals that inhabit the area.

The project to reclaim 700 hectares of the bay for farmland was already suspended last year after the Saga District Court ruled in favour of fishermen and seaweed farmers who had filed another lawsuit, saying it disrupted the tides and hurt their livelihoods.

The government is challenging the Saga ruling, arguing the land reclamation was necessary for flood control.

The plaintiffs in the Nagasaki case claimed they had the right to sue on behalf of Isahaya Bay and the creatures that lived there. They also argued that the project was destroying nature and that the rights of the environment were being infringed upon.

Isahaya Bay is an important habitat for a number of endangered migratory birds.

Critics say the dike has changed weather and water conditions in the area, resulting in a poor seaweed harvest.

The Sierra Club in the United States appealed to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to halt work on the dike three years ago, saying it could endanger wildlife in nearby wetlands.

© The Canadian Press 2005