Using International Human Rights Law to Redress Environmental Problems in the Americas
Astrid Puentes Riaņo
Thur, Oct 13, 12:45-1:45pm
Cosponsored with the Boalt Hall Committee for Human Rights
Environmental degradation is threatening not only our natural resources, but is also responsible for severe human rights violations worldwide. Disasters such as the hurricane in New Orleans, the tsunami in South Asia, and the explosions in Bhopal are all demonstrations of how environmental degradation can affect human rights. Environmental degradation violates the human rights to life, health, and a clean and healthy environment, (especially in vulnerable communities), and also affects the civil and political rights of impacted communities and their defenders.
La Oroya, a small city in the Peruvian Andes, provides a good example of how these human rights are violated by environmental degradation. In La Oroya the population is suffering from severe contamination caused by a US-based company’s metal smelter, which is releasing contaminants such as lead, cadmium, arsenic, and sulfur dioxide into the air. Despite the abundance of evidence that the Peruvian government and the company have been provided with about the impacts on human health that these contaminants are having, neither adequate nor urgent measures have been taken to remedy the situation. Meanwhile, the health of the people in La Oroya - particularly that of children, women, and elders - is deteriorating daily.
Astrid will describe the case from a human rights perspective by discussing national and international legal options for the protection of the population. She will address both the impacts of the contamination on the rights to health, life and dignity of the people, as well as the pressures that environmental advocates have had to face in attempting to defend these rights. In particular, Astrid will focus on the Inter-American System as a tool for environmental protection in the Americas.
Astrid has an LL.M. in Comparative Law from the University of Florida, holds a Masters in Environmental Law from the University of the Basque Country, and a J.D. from the University of Los Andes, Colombia. She is particularly interested in strengthening human rights and the environment, and the enforcement of environmental laws as a means to environmental protection in the hemisphere. In doing so, she encourages sharing legal strategies and giving legal support to vulnerable communities. As an environmental public interest lawyer, Astrid has litigated environmental cases in Colombia and provided legal support to communities and organizations in Colombia and the Americas. She has lived in Costa Rica, and in the US, where she worked with AIDA, at the Earthjustice International Program in Oakland. Currently she is based in Mexico City, from where she coordinates AIDA's legal work.