Ecuador’s Waorani indigenous tribe won their first victory against big oil companies in a ruling which blocks the companies’ entry onto ancestral Amazonian lands for oil exploration activities.
After two weeks of deliberations, a criminal court in Puyo, Ecuador, accepted a Waorani bid for court protection in Pastaza province to prevent an oil bidding process after the government moved to open up about 180,000 hectares for exploration.
The lands are protected under Ecuador’s constitution which establishes the “inalienable, unseizable and indivisible” rights of indigenous people “to maintain possession of their ancestral lands and obtain their free adjudication.” Essentially, though, the wealth in the subsoil is owned by the state.
The constitution enshrines the need for prior consultation on any plans to exploit the underground resources as well, given the likely cultural and environmental impacts on tribal communities.
Though the state reached an agreement with the Waorani over oil exploration in 2012, the tribe’s leaders say that 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,” stated 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, that number about 4,800, also inhabit other Amazonian provinces.