In a victory for indigenous communities in Ecuador, the country’s highest court ruled Friday that they should have a much stronger say in oil, mining and other extractive projects affecting their lands.
The ruling is a blow to the ambitions of President Guillermo Laso, who has planned to double oil production and expand mining in the coming years. It is also one of several recent court decisions favoring the rights of the indigenous in extractive projects decisions on their ancestral lands.
Wider Guaramag, a member of the A’i Kofán community in Sinangoe, in the north of the country, who filed the lawsuit with legal representation from Amazon Frontlines, a nonprofit group, said the ruling was a major victory for all native Ecuadorians.
According to the ruling, if an indigenous community rejects a project, the government can still move forward in “exceptional cases”. But it also states that “under no circumstance can a project be carried out which generates excessive sacrifices for the collective rights of communities and nature.”
Brian Parker, an attorney at Amazon Frontline who worked on the case, said the ruling represented a “major shift in power” in the country. He said the government was able to do what it wanted. “Now they need to get approval.”
A growing body of research shows that nature is healthier in more than a quarter of the world’s land that is managed or owned by indigenous peoples. Two major oil spills have polluted the Ecuadorean Amazon since 2020, most recently just last week.
Mr. Guaramag said that indigenous communities in the area oppose oil extraction.
The A’i Kofán community in Sinangoe is home to hundreds of people who live along the Aguarico River in northern Ecuador, where the foothills of the Andes meet the Amazon. The origins of their current condition go back to gold mining, which has devastated areas of the Amazon in recent years with soaring global prices. When illegal prospectors began searching for gold on their lands, they organized community patrols and held some of it. Then, in early 2018, they found heavy equipment on the river bank across from their land. When they learned the government allowed it, they sued and won in a lower court. The gold mining concessions were abolished.
But their case did not stop there. Ecuador’s highest court has chosen to take its opinion, and its ruling applies to all fourteen indigenous groups recognized in the country. Their territory includes 70 percent of the Ecuadorean Amazon, which is rich in oil and minerals, according to Amazon Frontlines.
Defenders said the issue will resonate globally.
“It is by far one of the strongest provisions supporting the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples to date,” said Oscar Soria, campaign manager for human rights organization Avaaz. “This will have huge repercussions.”
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