A Colombian court on Tuesday ruled that the government must take immediate measures to save the country's main river, Atrato, from gold mining operations run by groups like the Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia, AGC.
Illegal mining, according to the court, has destroyed the gold-rich region's environment.
The river passes through the desolate Choco province, which is off-limits to mining because of its unique ecosystems. The area remains disputed between the AGC and other militant groups that have been fighting over economic and territorial control.
According to a decision that was made in November 2016, the court has urged the government to “build a public policy of mining and energy that takes into account the environmental and social realities of the nation," according to Colombia Reports.
Since 1990, mining has been a major priority for the Colombian government, which often denies its social and environmental implications.
The ongoing violence between armed groups in the region has also claimed lives and displaced locals. Mercury from illegal mining is poisoning communities that live off the river, according to Colombia Reports. The court ruling pointed out that "only 10 percent of the mercury added to one barrel is combined with gold to form the amalgam, the remaining 90 percent is left over and discarded in water sources.”
The court also called out government's inability to protect the region and its inhabitants.
"The defendant state authorities are responsible for violating fundamental rights to life, health, water, food security, the healthy environment, culture and the territory of ethnic communities by their negligent conduct by failing to take effective action to halt the development of illegal mining activities that have created a serious humanitarian and environmental crisis in the Atrato river basin, its tributaries and surrounding territories," the court said in a statement.
The restoration of the river would help cover policies that would impact areas of “poverty, lack of opportunity, inequality, prostitution, illegality, violence, armed actors, and post-conflict, so a number of mining-energy policy measures must be taken.”