India grants sacred rivers status of ‘legal persons’

Monday’s landmark court ruling, while drawing attention to the dismal state of the rivers, will do little to protect them, according to analysts. (AFP)
Updated 22 March 2017

India grants sacred rivers status of ‘legal persons’

DEHRADUN, India: Two of India’s holiest but most polluted rivers have been recognized as a “legal person” in a landmark court ruling that could see the sacred waterways restored to health.
The decision to bestow legal standing to the Ganges and the Yamuna, one of its major tributaries, comes just days after New Zealand awarded similar rights to its own spiritual river in a move described as a world first.
The highest court in Uttarakhand, the Himalayan state where the Ganges originates, late Monday declared the rivers as “living entities having the status of a legal person” and all corresponding rights.
The state’s High Court in the resort town of Nainital said it took the unusual step because the hallowed rivers upon which Hindu rites are conducted were “losing their very existence.”
“This situation requires extraordinary measures to preserve and conserve these rivers,” the court said in its ruling.
The Ganges is India’s longest and holiest river, but the waters in which pilgrims ritualistically bathe and scatter the ashes of their dead is heavily polluted with untreated sewage and industrial waste.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi campaigned in 2014 on a promise to revitalize the Ganges, even tasking a dedicated minister to the job, but results have been mixed three years on.
MC Pant, the lawyer who argued the case in Uttarakhand, said past court efforts to protect the river were done in the name of individual petitioners.
“Now, they can be filed in the name of the river itself,” he said.
Activists celebrated the groundbreaking ruling but cautioned against over-optimism given the scale of the task at hand.
“At the end of the day, one can only hope the symbolism attached to this order translates into real action on the ground,” said Sanjay Upadhyay, a New Delhi-based environment lawyer.
New Zealand last week recognized its third-largest river, ancestral and spiritual waters for its Maori people, as a living entity.
Successive governments in India have attempted with limited success to clean up the Ganges, which snakes 2,500 km across northern India from the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal.


Harvey Weinstein found guilty of sexual assault, rape

Updated 12 min 18 sec ago

Harvey Weinstein found guilty of sexual assault, rape

  • Former movie producer Harvey Weinstein was convicted of sexual assault and rape by a New York jury
  • He was convicted of sexually assaulting former production assistant Mimi Haleyi in 2006 and raping Jessica Mann, a onetime aspiring actress, in 2013

NEW YORK: Harvey Weinstein was convicted Monday of sexual assault and rape but cleared of the most serious predatory sexual assault charges, a partial victory for the #MeToo movement that sparked a cascade of allegations against the disgraced Hollywood mogul.
The jury of seven men and five women found the producer guilty of criminal sexual acts in the first degree and rape in the third degree, a measure of vindication for the dozens of women who came out against the one-time all-powerful filmmaker.
However, the 67-year-old Oscar-winner who produced films including "Shakespeare In Love" was found not guilty of first-degree rape and predatory sexual assault charges that could have seen him jailed for life.
The Time's Up foundation, formed in the wake of the Weinstein case, hailed the verdict as marking "a new era of justice."
"Abusers everywhere and the powerful forces that protect them should be on notice: There's no going back," it said in a statement.
The limited win for #MeToo presents the most high-profile sex assault conviction in the United States since Bill Cosby was found guilty in 2018 of drugging and sexually assaulting a woman 15 years ago.
The decision was announced in a packed New York courtroom where some 100 people had gathered. The defendant, who attended the trial hunched over a walker, was shielded from view by police officers.
More than 80 women have accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct since allegations against him ignited the #MeToo global reckoning against men abusing positions of power in October 2017.
But the jury considered charges related to just two: ex-actress Jessica Mann and former production assistant Mimi Haleyi, with many claims too old to prosecute.
One of the predatory sexual assault charges also included testimony from "The Sopranos" actress Annabella Sciorra, who said Weinstein raped her in her New York apartment in the winter of 1993-94.
Six women took the stand from the opening of testimony on January 22, to say they had been sexually assaulted by Weinstein.
Weinstein's team subjected the women to ferocious cross-examination, as they argued that his relationships were consensual and transactional.
The prosecution cast Weinstein as a conniving predator who demanded sex in exchange for access to a film universe where he was king, but presented no forensic evidence or witness accounts.
The state's case instead rested on asking the jury to believe the women.
Weinstein, who has always said his sexual relations were consensual, was charged with raping former actress Mann in the DoubleTree hotel in midtown Manhattan in 2013.
He was also charged with forcing oral sex on former production assistant Mimi Haleyi at his New York apartment in July 2006 while she was on her period.
Mann and Young both testified that Weinstein's genitals appeared deformed, during graphic and at times uncomfortable testimony, as the prosecution showed jurors nude photos of Weinstein to corroborate their accounts.
The charges of predatory sexual assault, a serious sex crime committed against more than one person, were the most serious and carried a sentence of life in prison.
For the jury to convict Weinstein of that they would have had to believe either Mann or Haleyi plus Sciorra.
Sciorra's allegation was too old to be prosecuted as an individual crime but she was included in the indictment to bolster the predatory sexual assault charge.
Ex-model Lauren Young also told the court that Weinstein sexually assaulted her in the bathroom of a Beverly Hills hotel room in 2013 when she was a 22-year-old aspiring actress.
Judge Burke dismissed the jury just after noon Monday, thanking them for their "care" and "attention."
Eyes now turn to Los Angeles, where Young's allegations form part of a separate sex crimes investigation against Weinstein being carried out by prosecutors in the California city.
Los Angeles prosecutors accuse him of raping an Italian model in February 2013 and of assaulting Young the following night.