A Paradigm Shift in Courts' View on Nature: The Atrato River and Amazon Basin Cases in Colombia


Paola Villavicencio Calzadilla
Postdoctoral Fellow,
Faculty of Law,
North-West University.
South Africa


In 2017, the Colombian Constitutional Court gained international attention when issued a ground-breaking judgement recognising a river – the Atrato – as a legal subject with rights (sujeto de derechos) in order to increase its protection. Following the same approach, in April 2018 the Colombian Supreme Court issued another landmark judgement changing the legal status of the Colombian Amazon basin and recognising it as an autonomous rights-bearing entity whose rights deserve special protection. These two landmark decisions are part of a growing number of normative and jurisprudential developments that, challenging traditional legal paradigms, adopt ecocentric approaches to environmental protection. In the light of the environmental crisis facing the planet today, as well as the weaknesses of anthropocentric environmental laws, such novel developments constitute important efforts to move beyond the human-nature dichotomy and to recognize the intrinsic value of nature and the need to protect her not only for human well-being. This case note presents an analysis of the two aforementioned Colombian courts’ rulings that, despite having limitations and challenges ahead, set important precedents for the debate on the rights of nature in Colombia and around the world.


Amazon basin, Atrato River, Constitutional Court, Colombia, rights of nature, Supreme Court.


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