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Court order stops mining in territory claimed by indigenous community in Sucumbíos Province

A court in Ecuador’s Sucumbíos Province has ordered that the mining concessions already in operation on territory claimed by the Cofán indigenous people, and those currently in the process of being granted, be cancelled. The order affects some 324 square kilometers (125 square miles).

Indigenous Cofans walk a river affected by mining.

The ruling, also requires that reparations be made for any impacts caused by recent mining.

For the community, the court’s decision is a victory that represents a milestone for the rights of all indigenous communities in Ecuador. according to a Cofán spokesman.

For the Ecuador’s government, the ruling poses a challenge to efforts to sell mining concessions in areas known for large deposits of silver and gold.

In January 2018, the Cofán indigenous people of Sinangoe in Ecuador Amazon region, discovered several machines mining the Aguarico riverbed near Cayambe Coca National Park. This was a surprise since they had not been consulted about projects in their territory. According to the spokesman, they decided to protest what they considered to be a violation of their rights to prior consultation of mining projects as mandated by Ecuador’s constitution.

After nearly a year of legal struggle to halt the mining and the water pollution that resulterd, the court ruled in their favor.

When members of the Cofán community learned of the verdict, late last year, they were overjoyed. “Sinangoe is fighting for the well-being of everyone, not only for the A’i Cofán community, but for everyone in Sucumbíos province, for the A’i Cofán, Siona, Secoya, Kichwa, and for other nationalities that are uniting to defend their rivers,” said Mario Criollo, the president of the Cofán community of Sinangoe. “This victory is a great achievement for our children and for future generations. We will continue to watch over our land and fight to have our property titles.”

Not only was the violation of their right to prior consultation recognized, the court also reaffirmed Cofán rights to water, a healthy environment, and the right of nature. “These themes were included in the community’s initial complaint, but they were not recognized in the court’s first decision,” said María Espinosa, coordinator of the Amazon Frontlines legal program and a lawyer for the Cofán de Sinangoe.

“We are pleasantly surprised that this judge has done such an extensive analysis of rights. [This decision] extends its analysis to indicate that other communities and groups are equally affected,” Espinosa said.

This victory, in Criollo’s words, sets an important standard for the Cofán community and for all the indigenous communities in Ecuador defending their territories from mining.

Aattorneys at the Ecuador mining ministry say they have not yet decided if they will appeal the judge’s ruling.
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Credit: Mongabay, https://news.mongabay.com