The declaration of the Atrato river as a subject of rights was given by the Constitutional Court of Colombia in the 2016 Sentence T-622, being the first case for the country. The ongoing humanitarian crisis, the environmental depletion of the river body, its resources, and the basin’s ecosystems previously led to consecutive legal claims against the State, triggering this novel legal model where the river has rights.
In this talk, Sandra Liliana Mosquera (PhD researcher at IRI THESys, HUB) presented the case through the lens of hydrosocial territories (Boelens et al., 2016) and linked the proposed legal model of river rights with elements of territorial pluralism. She highlighted the divergent territorial interests of multiple actors in the basin and how the T-622 ruling has changed or reinforced their forms of participation and negotiation. At the same time, she critiqued the complexity of implementing river rights at different scales, especially in a region where ethnic groups are reasserting their ancestral Afro-Colombian and indigenous territoriality that was recognized in the 1990s (Agnew & Oslender, 2010).
“Rights of the river” is setting up a new governance model along the whole Atrato river basin. It has implied a complex social organization process among peasants, afro and indigenous communities, triggering micropower conflicts. Liliana has been working directly with the guardian’s board, divided into two instances: communitarian and state guardians. Specifically, she has examined the organizational process of these guardian’s boards throughout the judgment process. Besides, Liliana stated that the guardians represent the river’s voice; besides taking care of it, they must transmit messages among the different organizations (14) along the river. Based on the hydrosocial territories approach, she analyzed how the different imaginaries (war, state, community-based organizations) have changed in the Atrato river through this judgment process.
Liliana showed the timeline of the main events, critical moments, and main results of this process from its beginning, in 2017, to the present. She compared these events with the orders given by the Constitutional Court. She paid special attention to the implementation struggles and the theoretical discussion of the rights of nature and how these are embedded in the collective territories of black communities and indigenous peoples. The case of the Atrato river has a unique feature that makes it different from other world river cases. It is the construction of a biocultural rights framework. However, indigenous communities are uncomfortable with this judgment process and want to shape another.
Agnew, John, Ulrich Oslender, and Ulrich Oslender. 2010. ‘Territorialidades superpuestas, soberanía en disputa: lecciones empíricas desde América Latina’. Tabula Rasa, núm. 13, julio-diciembre, pp. 191-213
Boelens, Rutgerd, Jaime Hoogesteger, Erik Swyngedouw, Jeroen Vos, and Philippus Wester. 2016. ‘Hydrosocial Territories: A Political Ecology Perspective’. Water International 41 (1): 1–14. https://doi.org/10.1080/02508060.2016.1134898.
Note: these partial results are framed in the Research doctoral proposal: Hydro-social territorialisation in the Atrato River Basin, Colombia. Supervised by Prof. Dr. Tobias Krüger at IRITHESys, Humboldt Univerzität zu Berlin.