Aerial Fumigations in Colombia’s Drug War

A small farmers association in Colombia is suing for damages due to aerial herbicide spraying – known as “fumigation.” Under the rubric of Plan Colombia and with the support of the United States, Colombia has used aerial fumigations since 2000 to eradicate crops of illicit use, in particular coca plants, which are a component of cocaine.

After fumigations take place, local communities report skin, respiratory and gastrointestinal issues. Effects are most severe in children, pregnant women, and the elderly. Sprayed glyphosate, marketed in the United States as Roundup, among other chemicals used in fumigations, has widespread health impacts. Thousands of citizens have been forced to vacate their homes as a result of fumigation chemicals lingering in the air.

In addition to impacts on human health, environmental damages are also rampant. Spraying has led to massive crop loss. Residual spray has led to chemical seepage into groundwater and aquifers. The destruction of non-targeted plants has damaged some of the most biologically diverse regions, jeopardizing their very existence.

The Lawyers’ Collective José Alvear Restrepo (CAJAR in Spanish) represent the small farmers association and call for an end to Colombia’s drug practices of fumigation per its obligations under both domestic and international law to protect human rights and the environment.

In October 2014, CIEL submitted an amicus brief to support CAJAR’s legal arguments. The amicus asserted that the government could not attempt to justify its failed drug policy on international agreements concerning narcotics, since these instruments had to be applied in ways consistent with the State’s legal responsibilities to protect human rights and the environment. The amicus also shows how fumigations have serious impacts on the right to a healthy environment, the right to a healthy and dignified life, the right to property and land, and the right to food.

Updated February 2017