Inter-American Court makes historic ruling on human rights and the environment

February 2018: The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has confirmed for the first time that states must respect the rights to life and personal integrity in relation to environmental protection. The ruling came in response to Colombia’s consultation on states’ obligations to protect human rights from damages to the marine environment in the Greater Caribbean.

SRT grantee the Inter-American Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA) presented observations on Colombia’s consultation and participated in a hearing before the Inter-American Court.

The Court concluded that a healthy environment is an autonomous right, ‘fundamental to the existence of humanity’. It also recognised the impact of climate change on the effective enjoyment of human rights, particularly for the most vulnerable populations, such as indigenous peoples, children, and those living in extreme poverty. The Court established that states’ obligation to respect the rights to life and personal integrity, in relation to environmental protection, implies that they must:

  • Avoid causing ‘significant’ environmental damage in and outside their territory, for which they must regulate, supervise and monitor activities that could cause harm;
    • Assure, among other things, the realization of effective and independent environmental impact studies, as well as mitigation and contingency plans for potential damages;
    • Cooperate with other states and provide them with information regarding risks to their natural environment;
    • Apply the precautionary principle to protect the rights to life and personal integrity due to serious and irrevocable environmental degradation, even when scientific uncertainty exists; and
    • Guarantee the rights to public participation, access to information related to potential environmental harms, and access to justice in decision-making that could affect the environment.

Astrid Puentes Riaño, co-executive director of AIDA, said, ‘We celebrate this decision, which will undoubtedly serve as a global example and a fundamental legal tool for those of us who work for environmental and climate justice’.

Full story from AIDA’s website:

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