Indigenous and afro-descendent communities living near the Atrato River in Colombia filed a “tutela” (amparo mechanism) against governmental authorities arguing that, in failing to prevent river pollution, they violated plaintiffs’ rights to life, health, water, food security, healthy environment, culture, and land property. Claimants asserted illegal natural resource extraction activities as the main cause of Atrato River’s pollution and thus of their rights violation.
Colombia’s Constitutional Court recognized the Atrato River as a subject of rights and underscored its ecological importance. The Court based its reasoning on the precautionary principle and invoked the principle’s advantages in addressing the devastating effects of climate change. The Court found that the Colombian government failed to comprehensively ensure environmental protection and enjoyment of claimants’ human rights by failing to prevent river pollution from mining. The Court stated that to protect these rights, the government had to consider climate change (among other issues) when developing mining and energy public policies.