Juan Carlos Puentes Soto v. Empresa de Servicios Publicos del Municiio de La Argentina, Huila
Fourth Section of the Constitutional Court (“Sala Cuarta de Revision de La Corte Constitucional”)
17 March 2014
Article 24 – States Parties shall recognize the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health and to facilities for the treatment of illness and rehabilitation of health.
Other International Provisions:
General Comment No. 15 of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of the United Nations
Domestic Water Quantity, Service Level and Health Report of the World Health Organization
The 1st United Nations World Water Development Report
Constitution (Articles 86; 241,9º; 366; 44)
Law 2591 of 1991 (Articles 31 to 36)
Law 142 of 1994 (Article 128)
Juan Carlos Puentes Soto filed a writ of protection of fundamental rights against the public utility company of the municipality of La Argentina (EMPUARG) to protect his fundamental rights to water and to live in decent conditions, which he considered to have been violated by the company when it suspended the service of the aqueduct in the building in which he lived with his wife and four minor children. A protection action (“accion de tutela”) is a legal action established by Article 86 of the Colombian Constitution and can be taken by individuals to demand protection of their constitutional rights. Juan Carlos Puentes Soto claimed that he and his family had a fundamental right to drinking water as affirmed in General Comment 15 of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which states that the human right to water is fundamental to life and health. He also claimed that the public utility company had infringed Article 366 of the Constitution, which states that “a basic objective of [the State’s] activity will be to address the unfulfilled public health, educational and drinking water needs of those affected”.
Issue and resolution:
Fundamental right to water. The Court ruled that a writ of protection of fundamental rights could provide protection for the fundamental right to water. A complainant will need to demonstrate that the water (or other natural resource) is needed for human consumption, that the lack of water will have a negative impact on living conditions and health (especially of sick people, the physically or mentally disabled, elders or children and pregnant women), and that they have tried to resolve the situation with the company before filing the action.
The Colombian constitutional jurisprudence indicated that public utility companies were obliged to guarantee a basic supply of service if the complainant could demonstrate that the conditions above are fulfilled.
The Court found that the suspension of the service of the aqueduct was the result of negligent conduct rather than a deliberate decision. However, the Court found that the lack of water had and would seriously affect the development of the children living in the building. The Court ordered the public utility company to supply at least 50 litres of water per child per day.
Excerpts citing CRC and other relevant human rights instruments:
The judgment cited excerpts of the CRC, stating in particular that “the Convention on the Rights of the Child consecrates that the States Parties must ensure safe drinking water to the children to combat disease and malnutrition”.
CRIN believes this judgment is compatible with the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Article 24 of the CRC requires States to recognise the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health, including by taking measures to provide clean drinking water.
Sentencia T-163/14, Colombian Fourth Section of the Constitutional Court, March 17, 2014
Link to Full Judgment:
This case summary is provided by the Child Rights International Network for educational and informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice.