Year: 2008 (Date of Decision: 8 July, 2008)
Forum, Country: Supreme Court; Argentina
Standards, Rights: Right to life; Rights to water and sanitation; Right to health
Summary Background: This case was filed by residents of the Matanza/Riachuelo basin against the national Government of Argentina, the Province of Buenos Aires, the City of Buenos Aires and several private companies. The suit sought compensation and a remedy for the environmental damage stemming from pollution of the basin. The petitioners further demanded the halting of contaminating activities.
Holding: The Court decided in favour of the petitioners and ordered the Government respondents to take affirmative measures to improve the residents’ quality of life, remedy the environmental damage and prevent future damage.
In its decision, while the Court did not explicitly frame the analysis within human rights law, it focused on issues that have dramatic impact on and relevance for human rights, including the rights to life, health, water, sanitation and a healthy environment.
The Court established an action plan mandating the Government agency responsible for the Matanza/Riachuelo basin to undertake the following: facilitating better information flow to the public [para. 17. II]; containing and cleaning up industrial pollution [para. 17. III]; expanding water supply as well as sewer and drainage facilities [para. 17, VI-VIII]; creating an emergency health plan [para. 17, IX]; and adopting an international monitoring framework as a yardstick to assess compliance with the plan’s goals. The Court directed the goal should primarily be to improve the quality of life for residents [para. 17, I].
Additional Comments: Although the case did not adopt an explicit human rights approach, it clearly highlighted the State’s duty to respect, protect and fulfil rights. The remedies ordered are particularly comprehensive and a mechanism for monitoring compliance and enforcement is included.