Year: 2013 (Date of Decision: 8 May, 2013)
Forum, Country: Supreme Court; Mexico
Standards, Rights: Right to adequate housing; Rights to water and sanitation; Right to free, prior and informed consent; Right to an adequate standard of living; Indigenous people
Summary Background: The Mexican Government approved a large-scale water supply and construction project involving the transmission of around 60 million cubic metres of water from the “El Novillo” dam to the Sonora river basin to supply the city of Hermosillo. The Yaqui tribe (the initial appellants) claimed the project was in violation of their rights to territory, consultation and to a safe environment and sought a writ for the protection of their constitutional rights (an “amparo”). The group argued the river is a source of both economic and cultural sustenance and that they were, by law, holders of 50 per cent of the water, as provided for in a presidential decree.
The Fourth District Court found in favour of the Yaqui tribe. SEMARNAT (the federal environmental agency) appealed to the Supreme Court of Justice.
Holding: The Supreme Court upheld the Fourth District Court’s decision in favour of the Yaqui tribe and maintained that the State of Mexico had erred in failing to inform or consult the tribe at first instance [p. 88]. Upon request for further clarification from the appellants, the Supreme Court issued a decision expressly outlining the conditions to be met by the State; namely, the project was to be halted until proper consultation was effected between the State and the Yaqui tribe [p. 86].
The Supreme Court ordered that such consultation be prompted in accordance with the appropriate tribe customs, that it outline any irreversible damage caused by the project, and that a finding of any violations may result in the project being stopped [p. 83].
Additional Comments: Since this decision was issued, it has been noted that enforcement of the judgement has been poor and consultations with the Yaqui tribe are yet to take place. This was the first time the Inter-American standards on the right to consultation with indigenous communities was acknowledged in Mexico.