Country Decisions Archives: Latin America and the Caribbean

Peru: Tribunal Emphasizes Right to Healthy Environment

On September 18, 2015, the Constitutional Tribunal of Peru reversed and remanded a Superior Court’s dismissal of a claim to the right to live in an adequate and balanced environment.

Complainant Marco Antonio Arana Zegarra filed for a remedy because Minera Yanacocha S.R.L.’s Conga project allegedly threatened significant, irreversible harm to the Cajamarca ecosystem and communities. Complainant asserted that the Ministry of Energy and Mines improperly approved the project’s Environmental Impact Assessment (“EIA”).

Two lower courts dismissed the complainant’s claim for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. However, the Constitutional Tribunal ruled that the lower courts had erred by improperly applying constitutional environmental jurisprudence as well as failing to assess the imminent risk of environmental degradation that the project imposed.

The Constitutional Tribunal stated that Peruvians have a constitutional and international-treaty-based right to live in a healthy environment, including the right to enjoy environmental preservation and a balanced and adequate environment. The Tribunal emphasized the precautionary principle and warned that environmental damage harms present and future generations.  It also stated that courts must pay special attention to cases in which there is an alleged threat to the right of an adequate and balanced environment.

For more information about the case, click here.

Costa Rica: Roxana Salazar Cambronero, No. 18442

The Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Costa Rica stated that the right to a healthy environment, recognized in the Costa Rican constitution, requires the government both to refrain from violating the right and to prevent others from violating it. The Court held that the government had not fulfilled its responsibility to dredge a polluted river, which had been contaminated with litter and waste because of heavy rains. The Court required the local government to take immediate action based upon the recommendations of the National Commission of Risk Prevention. It also required the government to pay costs and damages associated with the river’s pollution.

Argentina: Beatriz Silva Mendoza and Others v. National Government and Others

The Supreme Court of Argentina ordered the national government to clean and restore the Matanza-Riachuelo River that had been heavily polluted for many years. The Court’s ruling identified three objectives for restoration: (1) improved quality of life for the inhabitants of the basin; (2) reconstruction of the environment in the basin in all of its components; and (3) prevention of injury with sufficient degree of predictability. The Court’s decision was based on Articles 41 and 43 of the constitution, which recognize the right to a healthy environment and citizens’ power to defend their rights through judicial recourse.

Colombia: Antonio Mauricio Monroy Cespedes

This 1993 case concerns the Colombian Municipal Administration’s decision to place a landfill in the village of Montecarlo near the town’s main source of water. The Constitutional Court held that the operation of landfill near a source of potable water violated the right to a healthy environment protected in the Colombian constitution. The Court stated that the right cannot be separated from the rights to life and health of human beings, and that it is a right fundamental to the existence of humanity.