On 5 December, a court in Espinar published a judgement about the contamination of heavy metals and its effects on the population of this province in Cuzco. The court recognised that there had been a violation of the local communities’ right to life, health and physical well-being arising from the contamination of water and soil.
The ruling mentioned severe negligence on the part of various ministries and state entities, including the Ministry of the Environment and the Ministry of Health, on the grounds that they failed to provide immediate assistance to the population and failed both to address the source of the contamination (mining) and provide any remediation.
The ruling comes four years after local communities, with support from the Instituto de Defensa Legal (IDL), Derechos Humanos sin Fronteras (DHSF), and Cooperacción, lodged a plea against the authorities for their failure to address the health emergency in Espinar. According to the DHSF, while the Ministry of Health has undertaken clinical studies involving more than 700 people that proved high levels of metal contamination in their blood, it failed to provide medical assistance.
The court has given the Peruvian state 90 days to design and implement a public health emergency strategy for the people of Espinar. It also requires the development of an action plan with specific epidemiology and sanitary oversight programmes as well as a programme to monitor the quality of water supply.
Civil society organisations and peasant communities welcomed the ruling and they are now demanding full compliance by the Peruvian state. They want the state to take concrete actions to tackle the impact of contamination on communities “which have endured the consequences of mining exploitation for over 30 years, operating within a context that systematically violates human rights”.