The Atrato river in Colombia has a pioneering global status as a bearer of its own legal rights, so that its vital role in supporting the livelihoods and cultures of the communities that live along it can be protected. Nottingham University academic, Dr Nick Mount, is on the team working to uphold these rights – an experience he will be sharing at a public lecture, along with members of the Atrato River Guardians who have left their remote home to travel to the UK for the first time.
Dr Mount has travelled many times to the jungles of the Choco region in Colombia where he is working with ethnic communities, to develop the expertise that they need to protect the Atrato river from the illegal goldmining, armed conflict and violence that is destroying it. These communities rely on the river for food, transport and livelihoods and have deep cultural connections to a river that is their life. In 2016, they took their river’s case to the Colombian Constitutional Court, arguing that their biocultural rights were being infringed by the destruction of the river at the hands off illegal gold miners.
The public lecture, ‘Bang to Rights: where conflict, violence and river rights meet’, will be an opportunity for the public to learn first-hand about the benefits, challenges and risks of upholding rights on the frontline, between environmental protection and illegal extractive industries.
Dr Nick Mount, whose work focuses on approaches to the understanding, analysis and management river systems, said: “The destruction of the Atrato is ultimately driven by the demand for gold from people living in developed nations, who consume gold or products that contain it such as mobile phones, but ask little about the cost of its production.
The success of Colombia’s Atrato river communities, in gaining rights for their river and protections for their own livelihoods and cultural practices, represents a globally significant milestone in environmental rights. However, it has also resulted in community members being required to take on the difficult and dangerous role of the river’s legal guardians – a role that will be described by two of the court-appointed legal guardians who will be speaking at the public lecture.
Dr Mount added: “It has been a real challenge to arrange for the two River Guardians to come to the UK. They live in a remote region with limited access to digital communications. They have never travelled outside of Colombia and we have had to work with Colombian and UK agencies to arrange for the passports and visas required for their trip. But they are determined to be here and raise awareness and support to protect the Atrato river which gives them life.”
The lecture will be on Friday 11 October at 7pm, in A48, Sir Clive Granger Building, University Park campus, NG7 2RD.
Professor Nick Mount and the Colombia Atrato River Guardians will be joined by Professor Todd Landman, the Pro-Vice Chancellor for the Faculty of Social Sciences.
A free full-day workshop, from 9am to 4pm, is open to anyone interested in environmental rights.