Berliner Tageblatt - Colombian court recognizes environmental refugees

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Colombian court recognizes environmental refugees
Colombian court recognizes environmental refugees / Photo: © AFP/File

Colombian court recognizes environmental refugees

A Colombian court has ruled that environmental calamities, sudden or gradual, can legally be considered a cause of forced displacement, placing obligations on the state to shield and aid affected citizens.

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The Constitutional Court found that people can be forcibly displaced by "sudden environmental catastrophes or processes of gradual environmental deterioration such as climate change, deforestation or ocean acidification," according to a statement it issued late Monday.

Colombia already has millions of people displaced by six decades of armed conflict.

In a groundbreaking case for Latin America, the court ruled in an application by a rural couple who said they had been forced from their land by the Bojaba river in the eastern Arauca department repeatedly bursting its banks.

The damage caused meant they were never able to return home, the couple contended, and said authorities had provided "insufficient" aid.

The court found the state had "obligations before, during and after displacement due to environmental factors."

These included organizing emergency evacuation drills and providing space to relocate people affected by an environmental disaster.

The court ruled the state must assure the couple's fundamental rights, just it has for the more than 8.6 million people displaced by armed conflict -- many of whom fled the countryside to find refuge in the cities.

Experts say droughts and floods that are expected to worsen with climate change threaten the natural wealth of Colombia, one of the world’s most biodiverse countries.