Last month, the Ecuadorian indigenous community of Waorani won a landmark lawsuit against three government bodies for putting their territory up for sale in an international oil auction.
The ruling indicates that the government took advantage of the Waorani people and used legal loopholes to sell land that belonged to the tribe. The unprecedented ruling immediately suspends any possibility of selling the community’s land for oil exploration. This case gives other communities in Ecuador’s southern Amazon rainforest hope that they can also prevent their land from being sold to oil companies.
Nemonte Nenquimo, one of the Waorani plaintiffs and representative of the Coordinating Council of the Waorani Nationality Ecuador Pastaza, said that the government has not respected human life as much as they have respected money and oil.
“The government tried to sell our lands to the oil companies without our permission. Our rainforest is our life. We decide what happens in our lands. We will never sell our rainforest to the oil companies. Today, the courts recognized that the Waorani people, and all indigenous peoples have rights over our territories that must be respected. The government’s interests in oil is not more valuable than our rights, our forests, our lives,” she said.
Nemonte Nenquimo and other representatives of the Waorani people marched in Puyo, Ecuador, on the day they won a lawsuit against the government, over plans to lease oil rights on their land / Photo Credit: Rodrigo Buendia / AFP / Getty
Oswando Nenquimo, a spokesperson for the Waorani of Pastaza, added that, “Today we have protected our forest from oil drilling; we have protected our water from contamination; we have protected our children from sickness. This is a legal precedent for indigenous rights. But the fight is far from over. The government will appeal because they still want the oil beneath our land. Indigenous Nations across the Amazon and the world must band together to protect our homes.”
The ruling stems from a March lawsuit, in which the Waorani community sued the Ministry of Energy and Non-Renewable Natural Resources, the Secretary of Hydrocarbons and the Ministry of Environment, for using what was described as a “faulty consultation process” to steal the community’s land and place it on auction. These faulty consultations reportedly happened in 2012.
International law states that indigenous communities must be consulted by the local governments before any natural resources are extracted from their land, but Ecuador broke these laws and attempted to strong-arm their way into a deal.
In the trial, it took just three days for judges to come to their conclusion. In the ruling, the judges pointed to a number of different ways that the consultation process violated international law. One of the most obvious examples of these violations was the fact that there were no clear translations into the local Waorani language.
“This is undoubtedly a historic day for the advancement of rights and constitutional development in Ecuador. It is the demonstration that state development plans cannot be executed over the life and integrity of the people,” said Lina Maria Espinosa, the community’s lawyer with the local non-government organization Amazon Frontlines.
Waorani women celebrating their victory in court against corrupt government agencies and oil companies. This ruling could set an important precedent for other tribes in the region / Photo Credit: Dolores Ochoa / AP
Mitch Anderson, executive director of Amazon Frontlines, said that this ruling could be used to help other tribes protect their land.
“This is a major precedent for indigenous rights across the Amazon. Today, the court has recognized a pattern of deceit, bad-faith and manipulative tactics in the Ecuadorian Government’s attempt to earmark the Waorani people’s lands for oil extraction. This is a huge step forward in the battle to ensure indigenous people’s rights over their lands are respected. Guaranteeing indigenous peoples’ rights to decide over their future and to say ‘No’ to destructive extractive projects is key to protecting the Amazon rainforest and halting climate change,” Anderson said.
This is actually the second time an indigenous community has been able to win a major lawsuit against the Ecuadorian government in recent years. Just last year the indigenous Kofan community in the northern Amazon won a similar lawsuit against the same three government agencies named in the recent case.
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