Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Do Rivers Have Rights?

Colombia's Constitutional Court made a surprising ruling recently.
The Atrato River flows into the
Caribbean near the border
with Panama.

The court ordered the government to end illegal mining in the Chocó region and clean up the widespread environmental damage mining has caused. But the ruling went further, and declared that the Atrato River possesses rights which must be respected - giving the river a legal status something like personhood.

There's no doubting the environmental catastrophe caused by illegal mining, logging and other resource extraction activities in the Chocó region. Huge areas have been deforested and poisoned with mercury. According to news reports, mercury concentrations in residents' blood may be as many as 120 times higher than levels considered safe.

Land denuded by illegal mining in the Chocó region.
But stopping the environmental damage is easier said than done. Illegal and informal gold miners use mercury because it's the cheapest, easiest way to pull out the precious metal, and believe they can't afford to use safer methods. Poverty drives impoverished Chocó residents to suffer the dangers and miserable conditions in illegal mines, and that won't change until Colombia's economy undergoes a transformation.

Future court decisions will define what rights a river can have, and perhaps, also give trees, seas and non-human aniimals human-like rights as well.

But, in light of Colombia's inability to protect its rivers and forests, it would be nice to arm those trees, rivers and forests and enable them to protect themselves

The lawsuit was filed by the NGO Tierra Digna, which works to protect the rights of traditional communities.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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