Press Release

IACHR Grants Precautionary Measures in Favor of Residents of Areas Bordering the Santiago River in Mexico

February 7, 2020

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Washington, D.C. - On February 7, 2020, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) issued Resolution 07/2020, granting precautionary protection measures in favor of the inhabitants of the areas surrounding the Santiago River, whom it deems to be at serious, urgent risk of suffering irreparable harm to their human rights as a result of the alleged environmental pollution of the Santiago River and Lake Chapala in the state of Jalisco.

In reaching its decision, the IACHR took into account the fact that there is a substantial amount of information suggesting significant levels of environmental pollution in the Santiago River and Lake Chapala. It also took note of the studies put forward by the petitioners, which are a source of concern. It emphasized that recent studies have included groups of affected residents in their samples and demonstrate that the area continues to be affected by pollution. These studies show that there are high rates of signs of kidney disease, presumably as a result of exposure to pollutants in the Santiago River and the surrounding areas, and document that pesticides have been detected in children’s urine samples. In addition, 28 people in the area have died of chronic kidney diseases since 2003, including one person in mid-2019. The vulnerable situation in which the populations in question find themselves may indeed be aggravated by the existence, according to the petitioners, of rudimentary health centers with no medicines or infrastructure for treating patients with kidney problems, who have to travel to the city of Guadalajara to receive medical treatment.

In this regard, the IACHR valued the information provided by the state, which indicated that conditions in the river have improved at most times of the year and described public policies seeking to restore the environmental quality of the river, improve sanitation, and implement sustainable water management programs. Nevertheless, the IACHR warned that the main remediation measure implemented by the state, wastewater treatment plants (WTPs), are not suitable for handling the kind of pollution that arises as a result of the industrial waste that is allegedly present in the river. On this point, the IACHR reminded the state of Mexico that it is obliged to mitigate significant environmental damage using the best available science and technology, even if this damage has arisen despite preventive actions or when the source of the contamination is unknown (for more details, see The IACHR report Business and Human Rights: Inter-American Standards [link in Spanish], 2019).

After analyzing the allegations of fact and law put forward by the two parties, the IACHR believes that the information in question proves, prima facie, that the beneficiaries are extremely vulnerable as their rights to life, personal integrity, and health are at grave and urgent risk of suffering irreparable damage. Consequently, in accordance with Article 25 of the Rules of Procedure, the IACHR requested that Mexico adopt the necessary measures to preserve the life, personal integrity, and health of the inhabitants of areas within a radius of 5 kilometers from the Santiago River in the municipalities of Juanacatlán and El Salto, as well as the inhabitants of the towns of San Pedro Itzicán, Agua Caliente, Chalpicote, and Mezcala in the municipality of Poncitlán, in the state Jalisco, as indicated in the petition. Specifically, it requested that the state take the necessary measures to provide the beneficiaries with expert medical diagnoses, taking into account the alleged pollution, and that it provide them with appropriate medical care, ensuring this is available, accessible, and of an acceptable standard and quality, in accordance with the applicable international standards. It also requested that the state determine the measures to be adopted in consultation with the beneficiaries and their representatives; and that it report on the actions it takes to mitigate the alleged sources of risk.

The fact that this precautionary measure has been granted and its adoption by the state does not entail a prejudgment on any petition that may eventually be filed before the inter-American system to allege that the rights protected by the American Convention on Human Rights and other applicable instruments have been violated.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is an autonomous organ of the Organization of American States whose principal functions are to promote the observance and defense of human rights and to serve as an advisory body to the Organization in this area. The IACHR is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 028/20