Peru dispatch: Inter-American Court of Human Rights holds state responsible for not protecting its citizens from mining pollution – JURIST

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Peruvian law students from the Facultad de Derecho y Ciencias Políticas, Universidad Nacional de San Antonio Abad del Cusco are reporting for JURIST on law-related events in or affecting Perú. All of them are from CIED (Centro de Investigación de los Estudiantes de Derecho, a student research center in UNSAAC’s faculty of law dedicated to spreading legal information and improving legal culture through study and research, promoting critical and reflective debate to contribute to the development of the country. Mirian Maza Amache is a law student from UNSAAC and a member of CIED. She files this dispatch from Cusco.

Peru is the second-largest producer of silver, copper and zinc worldwide and the leading producer of gold, zinc, tin, lead and molybdenum in Latin America. But this production is sometimes the product of human rights violations.

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La Oroya, a city of 33,000 inhabitants ranked in 2011 as the second most polluted in the world, is located in the central highlands of Peru. For more than 20 years its people have been seeking justice in national and international courts in order to have their rights to a healthy environment, health, personal integrity, special protection for children and life, among others, respected. Along the way, 2 minors aged 5 and 14 years old have already died.

Late last month, on March 22, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights released its decision in the case “Inhabitants of La Oroya vs. Peru”, a ruling that establishes the responsibility of the Peruvian state for violating the human rights of 80 inhabitants of this city as a result of air, water and soil pollution caused by mining and metallurgical activities in the Metallurgical Complex of La Oroya (hereinafter CMLO), and the failure of the State to regulate and oversee such activities.

CMLO was created in 1922. This metallurgical complex is dedicated to smelting and refining polymetallic concentrates with high lead, copper and zinc content and with metals such as silver and gold. Its administration has changed over the years, and the last purchaser was Doe Run Perú S.R.L. in 1997.

Prior to 1993, our country did not have specific regulations on environmental control and pollution prevention in the mining-metallurgical sector, so in 1993 the Mining-Metallurgical Regulation was enacted for the first time, which established that in order to carry out this type of activities, an Environmental Adjustment and Management Program (PAMA) had to be in place to control the impacts of mining-metallurgical activities on the environment. However, this provision was not only not complied with in the time established by the aforementioned company, but the state granted many extensions for compliance, and even modified through a Supreme Decree in 2017 the maximum permissible sulfur dioxide values in the air, which were lower than what was established worldwide.

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All this resulted in the contamination of air, water, soil and subsoil, in addition to illnesses among inhabitants of La Oroya and the death of some its most vulnerable members who breathed in heavy metals on a daily basis. It should be noted that this sentence not only shows the struggle of the inhabitants of La Oroya to have a healthy environment for more than two decades, but also the difficulties they had to go through to reach this ruling, given that there are several complaints of harassment of environmental defenders, which also shows the violation of access to justice that exists in this country.

After so many years, the inhabitants of this locality only hope that the Peruvian state will promptly and effectively honor the sentence issued by the Inter-American Court and comply with the remediation plan and the respective monitoring system.

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Thus, this ruling becomes today the first binding precedent in Latin America on the protection of the right to a healthy environment as an autonomous right, in addition to promoting and strengthening the standards of protection of human rights as an obligation of states to vulnerable populations. It also recognizes the interdependence of the right to a healthy environment with the rights to health, life and personal integrity.

Opinions expressed in JURIST Dispatches are solely those of our correspondents in the field and do not necessarily reflect the views of JURIST’s editors, staff, donors or the University of Pittsburgh.

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