Colombia’s Supreme Court makes historic ruling on the Rights of the Amazon

In response to a legal writ from a group of 25 children and young people, accompanied by Dejusticia, Colombia’s Supreme Court has issued a landmark ruling that calls on the Government to halt Amazon deforestation – and recognises the Colombian Amazon as “an entity subject of rights”.

“This is an historical legal ruling, both nationally and internationally. At the national level, it categorically recognises that future generations are subjects of rights and orders the Government to take concrete actions to protect the country and the planet where they will live,” said César Rodríguez Garavito, lawyer and director of Dejusticia.

A report by Dejusticia explains the the high court demanded that the Colombian Amazon is protected from deforestation, guaranteeing the rights of current and future generations toto a healthy environment, to life, to health, to food and water.

The Colombian government has four months to present an action plan to deal with deforestation in the Amazon, the main cause of climate change in the country. The court decision points out that we are facing “imminent and serious damage” because deforestation causes “the emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, producing the greenhouse effect, which transforms and fragments ecosystems, and impacts on water resources”.

The Supreme Court recognises the Colombian Amazon as an “entity subject of rights”, just as last year the Constitutional Court did with the Atrato River. This means that the State has a duty to protect, conserve, maintain and restore it.

In the legal writ (tutela[1]), the children and young people pointed out that future generations will be the ones most affected by climate change. The Supreme Court has ordered the Presidency, and the Ministries of Environment and Agriculture, to build an “intergenerational pact for the life of the Colombian Amazon,” with the participation of the issuers of the tutela, the affected communities, and scientific and research organisations, to reduce deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions to zero.

“This is a great achievement and precedent, not only for the ruling on the Colombian Amazon but also as a legal action based on the State not guaranteeing a healthy environment for future generations,” said Mariana Gómez, Colombian activist and Gaia international advisor.

Main conclusions from the ruling are that:

  • Deforestation of the Amazon causes imminent and serious damage to all Colombians, for present and future generations, as it uncontrollably releases the emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, producing the greenhouse effect, which transforms and fragments ecosystems, and impacts water resources.
  • The growing deterioration of the environment is a serious attack on current and future life and on other fundamental rights; it gradually drains life and all rights related to it.
  • The inability to exercise fundamental rights to water, to breathe pure air and enjoy a healthy environment is making Colombians sick, increasing the lack of fresh water and lowering expectations of a dignified life.
  • The protection of fundamental rights does not imply only each individual but also “others”. It includes those who have not been born and deserve to enjoy the same environmental conditions experienced by us.
  • Without having an equitable and prudent criterion of consumption, the human species may be compromised in the future due to the scarcity of essential resources for life. Solidarity and environmentalism are “related until they become the same”.
  • We all have the duty to stop thinking exclusively about self-interest. We are obliged to consider the way in which our daily actions and behaviours affect society and nature.

We are delighted that one of Gaia’s international advisors in Colombia, Mariana Gomez, has been working with Dejusticia on this rights of nature precedent. Dejusticia have also been a key legal advisor for the process of popular consultations in Colombia, where communities are saying Yes to Life No to Mining – as in the story of Piedras, in Cajamarca.

This ruling from Colombia’s Supreme Court validates our long-term work with Martín von Hildebrand, Gaia Amazonas and the COAMA programme accompanying indigenous communities to regain their territorial and constitutional rights, and revive their bio-cultural diversity, as key to protecting the Colombian Amazon – and the exciting new initiative for ecological connectivity from the Andes, across the Amazon to the Atlantic.

 

[1] in Colombia, an ‘acción de tutela’ is a writ for the protection of constitutional rights.