University of Waikato student Tāwhiao McMaster travelled to Brazil last month to participate in the first World Water Justice Moot before the International Court of Justice. The moot was part of the eighth World Water Forum organised by the World Commission on Environmental Law (WCEL). Currently in his third year of a Bachelor of Laws, Tāwhiao represented the Alliance of Small Island States.
“We were tasked to present on two issues,” says Tāwhiao. “The circumstances under which international law recognises the rights of rivers as legal persons, and whether international water law is adequate to respond to the global climate crisis.”
He drew on his uniquely Aotearoa experience, citing inspiration from the ancestors of Whanganui, Hine-Ngākau, Tama-Ūpoko and Tupoho-Potiki. Te Awa Tupua Act 2017 was also a defining moment for Tāwhiao, whereby the Crown recognised the Whanganui River as a legal person.
Amongst the presentations, the Conference of Judges and Prosecutors on Water Justice accepted the ‘Brasilia Declaration of Judges on Water Justice.’ The declaration provides a set of 10 principles to guide the legal community for the protection of water and water ecosystems.
Tāwhiao says being part of the forum had made a big impact on him. “The moot affirmed my belief in the importance of being guardians of the environment and making sure that we pass on a sustainable world to the next generation,” he says. “It highlighted the need for legal scholars to pursue environmental law and successfully action protective measures that ensure the safety of the environment, and ourselves.”
“It was interesting to see that New Zealand is regarded to be at the forefront of environmental law and our experiences are much talked about and admired.”
Tāwhiao is currently the co-president of Te Whakahiapo – the University of Waikato Māori Law Student Association. He highly regards the support and opportunities the Association creates, particularly the Māori Mooting Competition.
“Opportunities like these helped me to fuel my motivation tank as well as polish my rusty law bucket. When you explore the infinite legal issues, you find where your professional passion lies. You find out who you are.”
“If I am to give any advice, I’d say use every opportunity as fuel to motivate your study of law and make a positive change in a grey world. But know that the heavy load of making the world a better place is for everyone to carry. So, team up.”
E rere kau mai te awa nui mai i te kahui maunga ki tangaroa, ko au te awa, ko te awa ko au – the river flows from the mountains to the sea, I am the river, the river is me.