In March 2023, the International Rights of Nature Tribunal held its 8th local hearing in Yucatan, Mexico on the case of the Tren Maya (Mayan Train), a megaproject that puts ecosystems and communities at serious risk of destruction. In June 2022, the Assembly of Defenders of the Múuch’ Xíinbal Maya Territory and the Mexican Civil Council for Sustainable Forestry approached the International Rights of Nature Tribunal and presented the case of the impacts of the Maya Train. The case was presented by affected Indigenous communities and specialists from the region and was heard by a panel of world-renowned judges, who examined the case from the perspective of the Rights of Nature.
The Tren Maya will run 932 miles and will cross five states in the Mexican southeast: Chiapas, Tabasco, Campeche, Yucatan, and Quintana Roo. This region is home to 33% of the freshwater in all of Mexico. The train route covers regions that are considered significant areas of biodiversity, and constitute the territories of Mayan communities that have inhabited these lands since ancestral times. These communities continued to maintain their traditional practices, living in harmony with nature today. The Mayan territory, which is the co-evolution of thousands of years between the Mayan people and their habitat, will suffer irreversible transformations in its social and environmental components. This will represent an irreparable loss of the bio-cultural diversity that characterizes the southeastern region of Mexico. The construction of the train will consume more than 2,500 hectares of wet and dry forests, representing almost 9 million trees, and will affect unique and sacred underground caverns such as cenotes, caves, and aquifers that are home for many endemic species, since the train route will pass over these ecosystems. Other collateral effects of this transformation of ecosystems include noise pollution, fires, damage to water reserves and waste management, damage to fauna, contamination of the jungle, and fragmentation of ecosystems, among others.
The project was initiated without conducting environmental impact statements, and there have been irregularities in its implementation and approval. Additionally, the right to participation and decision-making of the Mayan communities whose territory will be impacted has not been appropriately respected, which affects their right to self-determination.
In the Tribunal’s verdict, judges held the Mexican State responsible for “the violation of the Rights of Nature and the biocultural rights of the Mayan People, who have been and continue to be protectors and guardians of their territory” and demand the State to immediately suspend the Tren Maya Megaproject, as well as the demilitarization of indigenous territories. The verdict also declares the cenotes as a subject of rights, “as they constitute the most important water source for the survival of the people, communities, and animal and plant species in the region.”