Mendoza Beatriz Silva et al vs. State of Argentina et al on damages (damages resulting from environmental pollution of Matanza/Riachuelo river). File M. 1569. XL
Residents of the Matanza/Riachuelo area filed a suit arguing they had suffered damages due to the pollution of the Matanza/Riachuelo river; Environmental Rights; (right to) health; (right to) water and sanitation; (right to) adequate housing; (right to) quality of life; (right to) safe environment.
In July 2004, a group of residents of the Matanza/Riachuelo basin filed a suit before the Supreme Court of Argentina against the national government, the Province of Buenos Aires, the City of Buenos Aires and 44 companies seeking compensation for damages resulting from pollution of the basin, stoppage of contaminating activities, and remedy for collective environmental damage. In July 2008, the Court issued a decision in which it required the national government, the Province of Buenos Aires and the City of Buenos Aires to take measures to improve the residents' quality of life, remedy the environmental damage and prevent future damage. The Court established an action plan requiring the government agency responsible for the Matanza/Riachuelo basin, ACUMAR, to fulfill specific measures, including: a) producing and disseminating public information; b) controlling industrial pollution; c) cleaning up waste dumps; d) expanding water supply, sewer and drainage works; e) developing an emergency sanitation plan; and f) adopting an international measurement system to assess compliance with the plans goals. In order to ensure adequate enforcement, the Court delegated the enforcement process to a federal court, Juzgado Federal de Primera Instancia de Quilmes, to monitor enforcement of the decision. Furthermore, the Court created a working group formed by the national Ombudsman and the NGOs that had been involved in the case as non-litigant parties, seeking to strengthen and enable citizen participation in monitoring enforcement of the decision.
In its decision, the Court did not expressly adopt a human rights perspective. However, the Court stated that the action plan's objective should be improving the residents' quality of life and required specific sanitation programs to be adopted to meet the needs of the basin's population. The wording of the decision leaves open the possibility of promoting the human rights issue in the execution stage. Furthermore, the NGOs, in their submissions as third parties to the case, held that in this case several economic, social and cultural rights are directly affected. The main affected right is the right to health, which covers basic health factors, including but not limited to access to clean and drinking water, to adequate sanitation conditions, and to a healthy environment.
Keywords: Mendoza Beatriz Silva et al vs. State of Argentina et al on damages (damages resulting from environmental pollution of Matanza/Riachuelo river). File M. 1569. XL, Right to Life, Property
 This multijurisdictional agency, including authorities of the National Executive Power, the Province of Buenos Aires and the City of Buenos Aires, is in charge of executing a comprehensive environmental remedy plan covering the whole basin (Plan Integral de Saneamiento Ambiental de la Cuenca Matanza Riachuelo). For more information, see http://www.acumar.gov.ar/causamendoza/?tipo=fallo
 Asociación Ciudadana por los Derechos Humanos, Asociación de Vecinos de la Boca, Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS), Fundación Ambiente y Recursos Naturales, Fundación Greenpeace Argentina.
The Court ordered the government authorities found responsible to fulfill the objectives and schedules given in the decision. Throughout enforcement of the decision, the court in charge has sought ways to single out concrete actions and expand the said objectives, and ACUMAR, through the Plan de Saneamiento Integral submitted in February 2010, has expanded the objectives even more. In spite of such efforts, throughout this process the enforcement court has requested the Ombudsman to issue an opinion on the adequacy, quality and sufficiency of the measures established by ACUMAR. In the months following the sentence, the working group has stated that, although ACUMAR made efforts in 2010 to work towards fulfilling the terms of the decision, it has not yet wholly met any of the obligations set forth in the decision and in the plan established by ACUMAR. Therefore, there have been several requests for fines against responsible officials. The process has also included the establishment of indicators (http://www.acumar.gov.ar/pagina/204/indicadores-informes, 2011 and 2012), hearings, timetables, and the responsability of specific governmental authorities, in order for the enforcement court to define terms missing in the decision and to understand the stage of progress of certain individual measures.
Beyond enforcement, this decision changed the way politics are done in the basin by establishing that the authority in charge of executing the clean-up plan be ACUMAR, an inter-jurisdictional agency, whose function is to correct the issues of poor coordination among agencies and applicable regulations and to improve the oversight of polluting activities. Furthermore, the decision opened spaces for civil society participation in policy making and monitoring processes. The working group is involved on a permanent basis in monitoring Supreme Court orders, replying to court requests and organizing meetings with grassroots organizations to promote and expand citizen awareness and to channel the concerns of the basin's residents.
In 2016, the Supreme Court took note of implementation gaps relating to the 2008 decision and ordered the Basin Authority, ACUMAR, to create a detailed plan to comply with that ruling.
In a November 2016 hearing, petitioners had showed that the ACUMAR was not in compliance with the 2008 ruling. In response, the Court ordered ACUMAR to produce a report by March 1, 2017, detailing a compliance plan, including specific timetables for compliance; additionally, the Court obligated ACUMAR to issue periodic progress reports to monitor compliance. The 2016 decision recalled that the earlier ruling had ordered ACUMAR, the State of Argentina, the Buenos Aires Province, and the City of Buenos Aires to implement a Comprehensive Plan for Environmental Rehabilitation (PISA). The PISA was to include three objectives: improving the quality of life for the river basin residents, the rehabilitation of the environment, and the prevention of foreseeable harms.
The 2016 Court stressed that ACUMAR must comply with all of the PISA objectives and identified seven areas for special attention: 1) A system of effective control and inspection of industrial contamination must be developed; 2) ACUMAR must work with the City of Buenos Aires and the towns within that province to collect trash in the area, particularly around the banks of the river, to prevent open-air dumps; 3) ACUMAR needs to expand the availability to potable water and sewer services and track progress in creating sewer systems; 4) ACUMAR must comply with the Marco Convention regarding the relocation of at-risk towns and settlements, and the City of Buenos Aires should continue construction of the towpath to towns 21-24 and 26 and relocate the residents; 5) Buenos Aires, through ACUMAR, must provide an update on the housing complexes it committed to build for the relocation of residents of towns 21-24 and 26 and give a date when construction will finish; 6) ACUMAR must implement an effective public health plan, including preventative care, emergency care, and continuing care to those suffering health problems in areas of the river basing that are vulnerable or experience high poverty. ACUMAR must give information detailing the number and geographic distribution of health problems related to contamination and how they are improving and report on the development progress of health care systems; 7) ACUMAR must develop a system of quality indices that comply with international standards to monitor environmental quality, particularly regarding the condition of surface water. With special attention to these priorities, the Court ordered the federal judges of the lower courts to intensify control over ACUMAR’s compliance with the PISA objectives.
Asociación Ciudadana por los Derechos Humanos, Asociación de Vecinos de la Boca, Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS), Fundación Ambiente y Recursos Naturales, Fundación Greenpeace Argentina, and Asociacion Civil por la Igualdad y la Justicia (ACIJ).
This case showed the importance of expanding the drinking water and sewage network, of an emergency sanitation plan, and of relocation plans for residents of contaminated areas. Although the Court did not review the issues of water, sewage sanitation, health, and housing with the specificity required by international human rights treaties, the Court did refer to these key issues, setting as a main objective the improvement of quality of life and the needs of the population in general. Furthermore, the Court acknowledged the existence of an abuse of a collective environmental right requiring actions by the authorities. The Court also created a system of enforcement monitoring and recognized and tried to address the difficulties often preventing effective enforcement of obligations imposed on public agencies, ordering coordinated interjurisdictional compliance and setting up an alternative creative model of court intervention.
Last updated on 2 January 2019