Response of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to the consultation made by Colombia on the obligations of the States of the Americas in relation to the environment, and within the framework of the protection and guarantee of the rights to life and personal integrity.
The Court concluded that a healthy environment is an autonomous right, “fundamental to the existence of humanity,” in the first time they have developed the subject. It also recognized 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. With this decision, taken in November and made public yesterday, the Court welcomed and enhanced similar recognition by organisms of the United Nations and regional courts.
The Court established that the obligation of States 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.
- 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.
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