Tutela action filed by Orlando José Morales Ramos against Drummond Ltd.

Petitioner argued violations of the right to life, to health and to a healthy environment caused by a coal mine in Colombia.  Precautionary principle; relationship between right to a healthy environment and to privacy.

Date of the Ruling: 
Mar 21 2013
Constitutional Court of Colombia, Sixth Chamber of Appeals
Type of Forum: 

Colombia's Constitutional Court reviewed a tutela action case (action seeking protection of constitutional rights) which looked into whether the mining operations of the company Drummond had violated the rights to life, to a healthy environment, to privacy and to health of a citizen and his family living near the Pribbenow open-pit mine, located in La Loma, municipality of El Paso, department of Cesar, in the North of Colombia.  Based in the United States, Drummond develops and processes coal in both the US and Colombia.

Petitioner Morales Ramos argued that the mine was a 24/7 operation which produced noise, sediments in water and dirt particles in the air, all of which threatened and even damaged the health of his family, in particular, his children.

Upon reviewing the case, the Court consulted with several educational and state institutions, getting them involved in the process, about the effects of mining on health and the environment.  Based on the contributions of these institutions and several domestic legal documents and international protocols, as well as domestic and international case law, the Court concluded that there is a concentration of coal particles around Drummond Ltd.'s coal mining site and that the operation is conducted on a continuous basis, 24 hours a day. The Court then determined that, even if evidence for the case were missing, the protection principle should be applied, according to which missing scientific certainty is no excuse to delay adoption of effective measures to prevent environmental degradation and health risks.

Taking this into account, the Court ordered the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development to implement mechanisms aimed at reducing effects damaging health and the environment, as recommended by the World Health Organization (“WHO”), in particular, to decrease noise, eliminate coal emissions, and promote a national action plan to prevent environmental contamination caused by coal development and transportation.

Finally, Drummond was also ordered to take measures to reduce noise and coal emissions in order to protect the rights of the petitioner and his family within 3 months after the action was notified to the company.