Waorani people of Pastaza are an indigenous tribe from the Ecuadorian Amazon
Ecuador’s Waorani indigenous tribe has sealed a major victory after winning a lawsuit against big oil companies, saving millions of acres of Amazon rainforest as a result.
Following a court ruling, companies will now be blocked from entering ancestral Amazonian lands for oil exploration activities.
A criminal court in Puyo, central Ecuador, accepted a Waorani bid for court protection in Pastaza province after two weeks of deliberations.
The tribe’s victory will stop an oil bidding process after the government moved to open up around 180,000 hectares for exploration.
The lands are protected under Ecuador’s constitution that establishes the “inalienable, unseizable and indivisible” rights of indigenous people “to maintain possession of their ancestral lands and obtain their free adjudication.”
Crucially, however, the wealth in the subsoil is owned by the state.
The constitution also enshrines the need for prior consultation on any plans to exploit the underground resources, given the probable environmental and cultural impacts on tribal communities.
The state reached an agreement with the Waorani over oil exploration in 2012, but the tribe’s leaders say they were duped.
The judges ordered the government to conduct a new consultation, applying standards set by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, based in San Jose.
The ruling “has created a significant precedent for the Amazon,” said Lina Maria Espinosa, attorney for the plaintiffs, outside court.
“It has been demonstrated that there was no consultation and that the state violated the rights of this people, and therefore of other peoples.”
The Waorani, who number around 4,800, also inhabit other Amazonian provinces.
After a long legal battle with a number of organizations, the Waorani people successfully protected half a million acres of their ancestral territory in the Amazon rainforest from being mined for oil drilling by huge oil corporations.
The auctioning off of Waorani lands to the oil companies was suspended indefinitely by a three-judge panel of the Pastaza Provincial Court.
The panel simply trashed the consultation process the Ecuadorian government had undertaken with the tribe in 2012, which rendered the attempt at land purchase null and void.
This win for the indigenous tribe has now set an invaluable legal precedent for other indigenous nations across the Ecuadorian Amazon to save millions more acres of rainforest.
After accepting a Waorani bid for court protection to stop an oil bidding process, the court also halted the potential auctioning off of 16 oil blocks that cover over 7 million acres of indigenous territory.
While there is no evidence, some people believe that the Ecuadorian government may be accepting bribes in some roundabout way.
The land in question is meant to be protected under Ecuador’s constitution that establishes the inalienable, unseizable and indivisible rights of indigenous people to maintain possession of their ancestral lands and obtain their free adjudication.
Furthermore, the constitution also states that there is a need for prior consultation on any plans to exploit the underground resources, given the probable environmental and cultural impacts on tribal communities.
The government claim they did do this in 2012, however, the tribe alleges that the agreement they came to was based upon fraudulent practices in favor of the oil companies and the government was favoring their bottom line over the people the actually still live on this valuable land.
Due to this, the judges ordered the Ecuadorian government to conduct a new consultation, applying standards set by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights before anything else is agreed regarding the exploitation of the natural resources below the ground.
The Waorani people are one day away from saving half-a-million acres of forest from oil drilling. Watch the video and send a message to Ecuador’s government: protect indigenous rights & the Amazon. https://t.co/EMnWv8Bqng @AFrontlines #WeLoveTheEarth #WaoraniResistance pic.twitter.com/qlv5uY6Pg0
— Leonardo DiCaprio (@LeoDiCaprio) April 25, 2019
Nemonte Nenquimo, president of the Waorani Pastaza Organization and plaintiff in the lawsuit, remarked:
“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.”
This is a major win for indigenous tribes all over the Ecuadorian Amazon rainforest, and even perhaps the Amazon as a whole.
This has definitely set a new precedent regarding indigenous peoples’ rights over the land they live in and offers them a glimmer of hope in protecting their cultural heritage.