Indigenous Amazon community wins legal battle to stop gold mining in its ancestral territory

Oct 30, 2018

The headwaters of the Aguarico River lie in the heart of Kofan ancestral territory in Ecuador’s Amazon basin.

By Nicolas Mainville

On October 22, the Kofan people of Sinangoe in the Ecuadorian Amazon won a landmark legal battle to protect the headwaters of the Aguarico River, one of Ecuador’s largest and most important rivers, and nullify 52 mining concessions that had been granted by the government in violation of the Kofan’s right to consent, freeing up more than 32, 000 hectares of primary rainforest from the devastating environmental and cultural impact of gold mining.

According to Kofan leaders, the precedent-setting decision will inspire indigenous nations across the Amazon and land defenders worldwide for years to come.

A group of Kofan school children on the banks of the Aguarico River.

In a historic ruling, the Provincial Court accepted evidence of environmental impacts provided by the community of Sinangoe and the provincial ombudsman, charged the government with not having consulted the Kofan, denounced the mining operations for having violated indigenous rights to water, food and a healthy environment, and cancelled all mining activity in more than 52 concessions at the foothills of the Andes. The ruling, which cites the precautionary principle and uses Ecuador’s constitutional rights of nature, also forces authorities to set in place restoration measures in an area that had been already heavily impacted by the mining operations.

After only four months of mining operations, the environmental damages witnessed and documented for the court case provided a strong set of evidence on how granting mining concessions in such a fragile and rich environment is totally incompatible with the Kofan way of life and the conservation efforts needed in this biodiversity hotspot. The area now freed from mining activity is one of the most biodiverse areas on Earth. It is home not only to the Kofan people who depend on its fresh water for survival, but also to more than 3,725 species of plants, 650 species of birds and 50 species of mammals.

According to environmentalists, mining operations threaten profound and irreversible environmental and cultural damage in this ecological hotspot as well as the health of the people of Sinangoe and thousands of people in dozens of indigenous communities downstream. Further exposing this highly diverse primary forest to uncontrolled deforestation would also accelerate the global climate crisis.

After months of ongoing land patrols, the use of camera traps, drones and satellite imagery, as well as indigenous-driven media campaigns to raise awareness of destructive mining practices, the Kofan people, with the support from Amazon Frontlines and our indigenous partners from the Ceibo Alliance, have succeeded in demonstrating the importance of indigenous-led environmental monitoring and sustained innovative legal strategies to protect their land and rights, court proceeding showed. Sinangoe now has the important task of ensuring the ruling is respected and the measures dictated by the Courts are enforced on the ground.

Credit: Inter-Continental Cry,

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