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Decision C-298/16 of June 8, 2016

Jurisdiction: Constitutional Court of Colombia

Side A: Group of Citizens (Individual)

Side B: Colombian Government (Government)

Core objectives: Whether the statutory provisions that allow mining activities in sensitive, high-altitude ecosystems (“páramos”) were constitutional.

A group of citizens filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of (among others) articles 20 and 173 of Law 1753 of 2015. These articles included rules for allowing mining activities in sensitive, high-altitude ecosystems known as ‘páramos’ and gave the Colombian mining authority the ‘indefinite’ power to delimit strategic areas for mining exploitation. Plaintiffs argued that páramos play a vital role in mitigating climate change, since they are natural carbon sinks and provide 70% of Colombian water supply. Claimants asserted that allowing mining activities in these areas will significantly impact Colombia’s climate change mitigation capacity, which can have transboundary impacts in neighboring countries, such as Ecuador and Venezuela. Plaintiffs contended that this Law lowered the previously existing duty of protection standard by allowing mining authorities to decide which páramo areas can host mining activities. In doing that, they argued the Colombian government violated its own constitutional provisions, as well as the obligations derived from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Certain aspects of Law 1753’s constitutionality had been analyzed in a separate case in response similar arguments. Hence, Colombia’s Constitutional Court declared res judicata and reiterated its previous Decision C-035/16 striking down parts of articles 20 and 173 of Law 1753 of 2015, which authorize the Colombian government to designate certain projects as being in the national interest and authorize projects in páramos received prior to certain dates. 

Regarding new arguments not analyzed in Decision C-035/16, the Constitutional Court struck down provisions of Law 1753 that allowed environmental authorities to designate mining areas without a temporal limit (among other provisions). The Court found the provision of an ‘indefinite’ power to delimit strategic mining areas violated the right to a healthy environment and enjoyment of natural resources for both present and future generations. The Court underscored the incompatibility of granting ‘indefinite’ powers to administrative authorities with the right to a healthy environment, since these delimited mining areas are likely to be selected for exploitation, which in turn could cause environmental harms to these sensitive and ecologically important areas.

Case documents

from the Grantham Research Institute
from the Grantham Research Institute
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