Inter-American Human Rights System Right to a healthy environment

IACtHR Advisory Opinion on the Right to a Healthy Environment

In this advisory opinion, requested by Colombia, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights recognized that the right to a healthy environment is a human right for a first time, and affirmed that human rights are dependent on a healthy environment. The Court stated that the adverse effects of climate change, as well as environmental degradation, have an adverse effect on human rights. The advisory opinion finds that States have an obligation to take measures to prevent environmental harms both within their borders, and in transboundary scenarios and thus extraterritorially.

While the right to a healthy environment had previously been recognized in Article 11 of the Protocol of San Salvador, this right is not subject to individual petition. In its advisory opinion, the Court recognized a justiciable right to a healthy environment by finding that this right is part of the right to progressive development in Article 26 of the American Convention. This includes protection of the environment as such, with the Court noting in para. 62 of its advisory opinion that “as an autonomous right, the right to a healthy environment, unlike other rights, protects the components of the environment, such as forests, rivers and seas, as legal interests in themselves, even in the absence of the certainty or evidence of a risk to individuals.”

In addition, the Court engaged with the obligations of the State with regard to the principles of prevention, and precaution, duties of cooperation and the procedural rights derived from obligations to respect and to ensure human rights.

15 November 2017.

Full text:
Click here to read the full text of the advisory opinion.

Suggested citation:
IACtHR, Advisory Opinion OC-23/17 on the Right to a Healthy Environment of 15 November 2017.

Recommended reading:
For more on this advisory opinion, see for example:

Maria Antonia Tigre and Natalia Urzola, ‘The 2017 Inter-American Court’s Advisory Opinion: changing the paradigm for international environmental law in the Anthropocene’, 12(1) Journal of Human Rights and the Environment (2021), available here.

Access to a remedy Indigenous peoples' rights Inter-American Human Rights System Nicaragua Right to property

Mayagna (Sumo) Awas Tingni Community v. Nicaragua

The Awas Tingni community, an indigenous community of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua, had no real property title deed to its ancestral lands. The community contested a concession to a corporation to carry out road construction work and logging exploitation in the forest where the community was located. The community requested that no further steps be taken to grant the concession without the consent of the community. Before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the community argued that the State did not ensure access to an effective remedy, nor obtain the community’s consent before granting the concession on the community’s land. Moreover, it contended that the state had not demarcated the communal lands of the Community.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights found that the Nicaraguan State had violated the American Convention on Human Rights, specifically the right to judicial protection under Art. 25 in connection with Art. 1(1) and 2 of the Convention, as well as the right to property under Art. 21 in connection with Art. 1(1) and 2 of the Convention.

Date of judgment:
31 August 2001

Rights invoked:
Art. 1 (obligation to Respect Rights), Art. 2 (domestic Legal Effects), Art. 21 (right to property) and Art. 25 (right to judicial protection) of the American Convention on Human Rights

Regarding art. 25 of the American Convention on Human Rights, the Court held that the State had not adopted adequate domestic measures for delimination, demarcation and titling of the community’s land. Moreover, the State had failed to process the remedy filed by the community within a reasonable time. Therefore the Court held that Nicaragua had violated art. 25. The Court also ruled that the State had not effectively delimited and demarcated the limit of the territory regarding which the community had property rights. As a consequence, the community did not know with certainty how far their property extended geographically. The Court determined that Nicaragua had violated art. 21 of the Convention (right to property).

The State was required to adopt, in its domestic law, pursuant to art. 2 of the American Convention on Human Rights, legislative, administrative and any other measures necessary to create an effective mechanism for delimination, demarcation and titling of the property of indigenous communities. Moreover the State was requires to carry out the delimination, demarcation and the titling of the corresponding lands of the members of the community. The Court also noted that its judgment constituted a form of reparation. In addition, the State was required to invest, as a form of reparation for immaterial damages, in works or services of collective interests to the benefit of the community, as well as being required to pay the community 30’000 dollars for costs and expenses regarding the proceedings.

Separate opinions:
See the dissenting opinion of Judge Montiel Arg├╝ello regarding the violation of Arts. 21 and 25.

Suggested case citation:
IACtHR, Mayagna (Sumo) Awas Tingni Community v. Nicaragua, Judgment of 31 August 2001