The Inter-American Court’s decision in La Oroya sets an important precedent for protecting a healthy environment.

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The Inter-American Court of Human Rights’ decision in Community of La Oroya v. Peru set an important precedent for the protection of the right to a healthy environment and the appropriate state oversight of business activities throughout the Americas. The first-of-its-kind decision holds Peru accountable for failing to protect residents of the Andean city of La Oroya, who were exposed to toxic pollution from a smelter complex that operated without proper pollution controls for a century. asked.

The Inter-American Court heard the case in a hearing in October 2022, more than 16 years after the international lawsuit was filed against Peru. AIDA and the Peruvian human rights organization APRODEH, with support from Earthjustice, first filed an international complaint against the Peruvian government in 2006. In October 2021, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights recognized the responsibility of the Peruvian government in this case and referred it. File a lawsuit in the Inter-American Court.

“This judgment is a very important step forward and an important precedent for environmental justice in Latin America, as it addresses the responsibility of states for violations of the right to a healthy environment and its impact on guarantees. “This is the first case in which a court has recognized that there are several other rights.” Liliana Avila, AIDA Human Rights and Environment Program Coordinator. “The court also noted the collective and individual aspects of this right, recognizing the differential impact of its violations on children, women and the elderly, and the important role of environmental defenders.”

In a judgment published on March 22, 2024, the International Court of Justice recognized the following: a healthy environment, health, personal integrity, dignified life, access to information, political participation, judicial guarantees, and judicial protection. recognized Peru’s liability for violations of the rights of Of the 80 people involved in the incident. Violation of the rights of 57 child victims. and violation of the right to life of the two victims. The court also concluded that the state was liable for violating its progressive development obligations by adopting backward measures in environmental protection.

“This decision establishes a fundamental principle of international law that establishes the obligation of States to regulate, control and remediate the effects of environmental pollution, as well as the parameters of the right to a healthy environment as an autonomous right and the obligations that derive from their interdependence. “and is inseparable from other fundamental rights of human survival, such as health, life, and personal integrity.” Christian Huaylinos, APRODEH Legal Coordinator. “This is great satisfaction for the victims’ 20-year struggle.”

For more than 20 years, La Oroya residents have sought justice and redress for the widespread pollution caused by the La Oroya smelter facility, which was operated by the U.S. Doe Run Company from 1997 to 2009. The most polluted place on earth.

“Twenty years ago, when this fight began, I held up a banner saying that children’s health is worth more than money,” he recalls. Don Pablo, resident of La Oroya. “We never gave up and are now very happy with the court’s decision.”

In its judgment, the court ordered the state of Peru to take comprehensive reparations measures for the harm caused to the residents of La Loloya, including identifying, prosecuting and, if necessary, punishing those responsible for harassing the victims. . Determine the state of air, water, and soil pollution and create an environmental remediation plan. Provide free medical care to victims and ensure specialized care for residents with symptoms and illnesses related to pollution from mining and metallurgical activities. Ensure the effectiveness of the city’s warning system and develop systems to monitor air, water and soil quality. To ensure that the operations of the La Loloya Metallurgical Complex comply with international environmental standards and to prevent and reduce damage to the environment and human health. Providing victims with financial compensation for material and non-material damages.

“Our hope now is that the judgment will be implemented and that for the first time the state will fulfill its obligations and guarantee our rights as environmental defenders.” Yolanda Zurita, resident of La Loloya and the complainant in the case. “Compliance with this judgment is the bare minimum we expect from a nation committed to protecting the rights of its citizens.”

Since 1999, the Peruvian government has known that almost all children living near this complex were suffering from lead poisoning, yet were unable to provide adequate medical care and treatment. For decades, La Oroya residents have been exposed to extreme levels of lead, arsenic, cadmium, sulfur dioxide and other harmful pollutants. Almost all of the children involved had levels of lead and other heavy metals in their blood that were many times higher than guidelines set by the World Health Organization. And many residents suffer from stress, anxiety, skin problems, stomach problems, chronic headaches, heart problems, as well as chronic respiratory illnesses.

“This ruling sends a warning to governments across America that they cannot stand by and watch multinational corporations pollute their communities. Corporations will continue to expose families to unhealthy levels of pollution. “Exposure to industrial pollution is a violation of international law and governments will recognize that they must hold polluters accountable.” Jacob Kopas, Senior Earth Justice Attorney.

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