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Legal Scholars Discuss Climate Legislation & Environmental Justice in Post-conflict Colombia

By Anna Rossi

DUCIGS/Rethinking Diplomacy Program, in collaboration with the Environmental Law Institute (ELI) hosted the second webinar in the series titled Environmental Peacebuilding in Colombia. Three legal scholars—Gloria Amparo Rodriguez (Professor of Law at Universidad del Rosario, Bogotá, and adjunct judge of the Constitutional Court of Colombia), Ivan Vargas (Lawyer, National University of Colombia, Ph.D. candidate in Natural Resource Sciences at McGill University, Montreal), and Jonas Ebbesson (Chair of the Compliance Committee of the UNECE Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (Aarhus Convention)—were invited to discuss issues related to climate legislation, environment justice, and ecological, systems-based, and other-than-human jurisprudence in post-conflict Colombia.

This event was also co-sponsored by the Environmental Peacebuilding Association, the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI)Duke Center for Latin American & Caribbean Studies (CLACS)Duke Kunshan University (DKU) and DKU’s International Master’s of Environmental Policy (iMEP).

Watch the full webinar: 

The Rule of Law and the Rights of Nature in Postconflict Colombia

Excerpts from the webinar:


Gloria Amparo Rodriguez

“[Territories] that’s where they have their life, where they have culture, that have economic activity and they have their own way of development, because we cannot talk about just one way of development… to be able todevelop territory is the key element. And I remember in that sense somebody told me ‘an indigenous person without land is like a bird without nest a bird without a nest.’ What does a right to territory imply? Without territory everything fades, loses strength. There is nowhere to express culture. An indigenous person told me this we cannot live without a territory when we have been displaced from our regions – the right to territory implies that communities can have access to those places.”

Ivan Vargas

(On working with an ethnobotanical research group) “David’s work was framed as a way to contribute to the protection of the root of the Cofán territory and shamanic medicine…However, David’s understanding of protecting the territory was based upon our initial assumption that protecting the territory was a human endeavor… on the contrary, for a local indigenous trainee, any protecting should count, with the territory itself, not as the backdrop of human action but as an active shipping force. In a way the territory and the humans seem to be in continuity or coconstitutive relation with one another….At the end of the meeting it was clear that conducting the project was not simply a matter of studying the classification of plants but about learning with the plants and certainly was not only a matter of protecting territories and shamanic legacies but also about learning an entirely different way of engaging with plants.”


Ivan Vargas

“But if we think of territory as sentient, as indigenous people think about the territory, our relationship would be one between people. I mean we are not yet at that point… We need to be able to integrate that knowledge into legal language. I think the kind of of transition that we are facing in our country has to put in the center both the the voice of victims but also the voice of the territory as a victim of violence and that necessitates a different idea of what a territory is and how it it is different”.


Gloria Amparo Rodriguez

“But we could say that we are about to change the law. Because this is social construction and it means that it will change little by little. We are thinking about new tools to guarantee rights, especially rights to territory, those rights that are related to natural resources, those rights that are related to very complex situations…. We see from these rulings that are being passed – there is inefficiency in territorial guarantee of rights and environmental guarantee of rights so new elements are being built by judges. Those elements are not in our constitution they are just jurisprudence so that’s why it’s so important to keep them in mind, the rights of nature, they allow overcoming the anthropocentric view that we have of nature and keep in mind that we are an element, an additional element, to nature and we need to have that harmonic relationship.”

Ivan Vargas

“These actors are soils, hydro meteorological dynamics, volcanoes, and ecosystems – one of the big challenges then is to learn how to consult with those ecosystems to avoid forcing them to claim their rights by force.’ And this is, I think, a very important task for today’s judges. While choosing investigation also urged us to rethink rights, responsibilities, agreements, and other legal tools. What kind of law, then, is this law beyond the human? In fact, these similar claims on the agenda, capacities of non-humans, by indigenous practitioners, policy makers and, sustainability researchers alike seem to share something in common in my view, like a normative kind of language.”

Jonas Ebbesson

“Both the Aarhus Convention and the Escazú Agreement draw on established human rights notions. They develop human rights thinking to environmental matters by also opening up for environmental organizations to be active to participate in decision making, to request information, and also to request legal review of cases. This is a very learning exercise – we have had to see the value…. [The Convention] is a way of jointly improving the protection of the environment or promoting the protection and the rights on public participation and access to justice and also the protection of members of the public who defend human rights and who defend the environment in these different cases.”


Ivan Vargas

“If the territory could in fact protect itself, we needed to learn whether it was actually feasible for us to conduct research with the set of epistemological, ontological, and value operations informing our thinking and action in the world on a daily basis. In his response to the interpolation, David highlighted the minimal needs of conservation of divine as a way to protect the legacy of the Cofán people and also insisted on how important it was to involve all the human members of the community in the design of this participatory endeavor – to be sure studying the conservation status of ritual plans would for him to contribute to the protection of the territory and culture of the community as a whole.”

Jonas Ebbesson

“The second pillar (of the Aarhus Convention) is about public participation and the convention sets minimum requirements on how members of the public can engage in decision-making with respect to specific activities with, respect to plans – city plans spatial plans – of different sorts…. One of the key concepts is that members of the public must be engaged at an early stage. When early and effective participation can take place – that means when there is no decision made yet – so that the members of the public can present the views and the comments. These views and comments must be taken into account on legal and practical matters.”

Gloria Amparo Rodriguez

“It is important to keep in mind that the state needs to recognize and support those cultural identities, communities’ interests so that they can have an active participation in decisions that need to be adopted….[Rulings on the rights of nature] are rulings that keep in mind participation of communities that have been affected by these types of conflicts…”