The Constitutional Court of Colombia has nullified the declaration of a state of emergency issued by Gustavo Petro’s government in La Guajira. The decree’s purpose was to facilitate the mobilization of economic resources to address the climate emergency and extreme drought in the region, which is the most environmentally challenged area in the country.
The reason cited by the highest court is that the decree is unconstitutional. The judiciary had been studying the legality of the measure for months, as it was decreed by the government in July.
A Decree to Address the Humanitarian Crisis
The decree was issued by the national government to address the humanitarian crisis in the La Guajira peninsula region. It is an especially vulnerable area due to its location and recurring droughts, which have led to child deaths from malnutrition. The decree declared a state of economic, social, and ecological emergency due to a lack of access to vital basic services.
Although it initially received judicial approval, the full bench of the Constitutional Court has now determined that it does not conform to the Constitution and has declared it null and void.
The measure aimed to grant the president the authority to promulgate decrees and allocate sufficient economic resources without the need to go through the legislative process. However, the court clarified that there were procedural flaws in its promulgation by the president, which is why it has been declared null and unconstitutional.
Deferred Effects for One Year
However, the Constitutional Court has agreed to grant deferred effects for a period of one year from the date of issuance. This means that it can remain in effect until July 2, 2024, after which it will definitively expire. During this time, the high court will study the rest of the decrees and measures established by the government to address the water shortage in the region.
The court issued its ruling in response to a request made by the Office of the Attorney General, the institution in Colombia responsible for overseeing the proper conduct of political powers. According to this institution, the decree was unnecessary because the humanitarian crisis in La Guajira has been ongoing since 2017. The Attorney General’s Office believes that the government has other means at its disposal and deems the decree unnecessary and not in compliance with the law.
Next Steps Going Forward
Although, in practical terms, the government can continue to exercise the special powers granted by the decree until July 2024, the high court “urges the national government and the Congress of the Republic to, in the exercise of their constitutional and legal, ordinary powers, adopt the necessary measures to overcome the serious structural humanitarian crisis that exists in the department of La Guajira, as established in Judgment T-302 of 2017.”
Likewise, the court hopes that these decisions “will guarantee the effectiveness of the fundamental rights of the people living in that region of the country. It also calls for the strengthening of institutions provided for in the legal system with responsibilities related to climate change and for the allocation of the necessary resources demanded by the circumstances.”