Anchicaya River

Press Release | Amicus Brief Urges Fundamental Rights for the Anchicayá and All Colombian Rivers

Tuesday, August 7, 2018


New York, NY: Today, a coalition of organizations submitted an amicus brief to the Constitutional Court of Colombia calling for recognition of the rights of the Anchicayá River, which flows through the vastly biodiverse Colombian Pacific region. The brief also asks the Court to recognize the rights of every other river in Colombia and compensation for affected communities.

“Governments must recognize the inalienable rights of all rivers, with Colombia leading the way,” said Grant Wilson, Directing Attorney at Earth Law Center. “This not only protects river ecosystems, but also empowers local communities to serve as legal guardians of the rivers they rely upon for clean water, food, and their way of life.” 

The case arises from over 17 years of legal proceedings after dam operators discharged some 500,000 cubic meters of sediment from a dam in 2001, devastating downstream Afro-Colombian communities and degrading river ecosystems. Community impacts included unsafe drinking water and losses to their river-based livelihoods, such as fishing and agriculture. Ecosystems suffered too, including from severe harm to fish populations and mangroves. While affected communities won in court, they have yet to receive fair compensation.

The attorney Germán Ospina, today presented a citizen request before the Constitutional Court, to annul the Order of September 2016, which ordered the suspension of the payment by operators of the dam Energy Company of the Pacific SA (EPSA). EPSA belongs to the Argos group, a part of the Antioquian business group. "This payment should have been made since 2009 in accordance with the ruling of the Administrative Court of Valle del Cauca, but after 9 years compensation has not been paid off, due to unjustified delays of this process," Ospina said.

The amicus brief asks the Court to recognize certain fundamental legal rights, including rights to protection and restoration, for all rivers in Colombia, rather than treating waterways as mere property under the law. Where such rights are violated, the rivers themselves could be plaintiffs in a court of law as represented by human guardians.

“In Colombia, the management of the rivers has been fractional without considering a waterway in its entirety, from its source to its mouth,” said Monti Aguirre of International Rivers. “It is of supreme importance to create a new legal framework that guarantees the holistic and permanent protection of rivers and lets them flow freely.”

The amicus brief builds from emerging legal precedent in Colombia, where courts have recognized the rights of the Atrato River and the entire Colombian Amazon. The amicus brief also cites the Whanganui River in New Zealand, whose rights were recognized in 2017, and a civil society initiative to create a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Rivers, in addition to other examples of governments worldwide recognizing the rights of nature. 

“We will continue to seek justice for ecosystems worldwide by fighting for their rights,” said Constanza Prieto Figelist, a volunteer lawyer for Earth Law Center who wrote much of the amicus brief. “Ultimately, this will lead to a new paradigm in which humans and nature thrive together as equals under the law.”

Earth Law Center works to transform the law to recognize and protect nature’s inherent rights to exist, thrive and evolve. This includes advancing the inherent rights of rivers through initiatives with local partners to secure rights recognition.

International Rivers works with an international network of dam-affected people, grassroots organizations, environmentalists, human rights advocates and others who are committed to stopping destructive river projects and promoting better options.

RIDH, the International Network of Human Rights, seeks to contribute to strengthening the capacities of actors related to the promotion and protection of human rights, providing information, analysis, and technical support in the processes in which they participate. They also work as an intermediary in processes of advocacy and dialogue with the goal of having human rights be upheld in a given context.

Media contacts: