Puyo, Ecuador – This month, hundreds of Waorani people mobilized in the Amazonian city of Puyo to defend their historic court ruling protecting their 500,000-acre homeland from oil drilling in the face of an appeal by the Ecuadorian government.
Nemonte Nenquimo, Waorani leader and President of CONCONAWEP (Coordinating Council of the Waorani Nationality of Ecuador-Pastaza) said before entering the courthouse, “This is our home, it’s our territory that’s at stake. Today the judges have to ratify the court sentence. They have to respect our rights. If they fail, it can only mean that the government is manipulating the judicial system. We are standing strong and united to defend our historic victory.”
As appeals proceeding opened on July 1st at 8:30 AM local time, the court room was shocked to learn that the only government ministry to appeal the precedent-setting indigenous rights verdict was Ecuador’s Ministry of Environment, the very institution charged with environmental protection from the impacts of activities such as oil operations. In a showing of either extreme incompetence, or implicit acceptance of the lower courts ruling, the Ministry of Energy and Non-Renewable Resources’ revealed that they had failed to appeal the landmark environmental decision.
Since the historic verdict on April 26th, the Ministry of Energy has waged a public campaign to discredit the lower courts ruling, and signal to the Waorani, the Ecuadorian judiciary, and international oil interests that the government complied with all of their legal obligations, and would remain firm in advancing oil interests across the southern Amazon.
“The ministry of environment should be on our side in protecting our lands from oil drilling, yet they’re leading the charge in the fight against us,” said Oswando Nenquimo, spokesperson for the Waorani. “And we don’t even know what to make of the Ministry of Energy’s position, as they threaten our interests in the press, yet fall silent in the courtroom.”
The April 26th court ruling by the three-judge panel of the Pastaza Provincial Court immediately voided the consultation process with the Waorani undertaken by the Ecuadorian government in 2012, indefinitely suspending the auctioning of their lands to oil companies. The verdict also disrupts the contemplated auctioning of 16 oil blocks that cover over 7 million acres of indigenous territory by providing an invaluable legal precedent for other indigenous nations across the Ecuadorian Amazon.
“Independent of the government’s antics today, the Appeals Court must ratify this verdict which clearly demonstrates that the government violated the Waorani people’s rights to prior consultation and self-determination in their bid to lease the Waorani people’s lands for oil drilling,” said Amazon Frontlines attorney Lina Maria Espinosa. “Today, the Waorani are demanding that the responsible parties issue public apologies for having violated the Waorani people’s rights and for putting their lives and territory at risk.”
The Waorani also partially appealed the verdict, as Amazon Frontlines attorney Lina Maria Espinosa said, “The Appeals Court must ratify this verdict that clearly demonstrates that the rights of 16 Waorani communities were violated. The Waorani also demand that the Minister of Energy and Non-Renewable Resources and Minister of the Environment deliver public apologies for having violated the rights of the Waorani people, and for putting their lives and territory at risk.”
The Waorani people’s victory has emerged as flashpoint in the South American country, highlighting the stark gap between the Ecuadorian government’s thirst for oil revenues to relieve international debt and indigenous peoples’ internationally recognized rights to free, prior and informed consent, self-determination, collective territory and the rights of nature.
Today in court, numerous Amazonian indigenous nations including the Achuar, Shiwiar, Kichwa, and Sapara joined the Waorani and testified before the judges about similar rights violations in their respective territories during the government’s fraudulent 2012 prior consultation process. The Waorani victory, if upheld, would set an important precedent towards nullifying the prior consultation process undertaken by the government with seven indigenous nations and subsequently halting the auctioning off of more than 7 million acres in the Ecuadorian Amazon.
The court ruling by the Provincial Court will likely be read at a public hearing within the following weeks during the month of July. That ruling would be final. The Waorani have pledged to ensure the ruling is upheld in domestic and, if necessary, international courts.
The Waorani’s global digital campaign to warn the Ecuadorian government that “Waorani territory is not for sale” has built a global movement of solidarity with the struggle, garnering more than 165,102 signatures. As part of the campaign, hundreds of people have already joined the Waorani by taking selfies using #WaoraniResistance, and international celebrities including Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo have voiced their support with the Waorani’s legendary struggle. More than 69 environmental and human rights organizations published an open letter calling on the judiciary to adhere to well-established national and international law in the Waorani case.
View the campaign and read the Waorani’s letter here: http://bitly.com/waoaction
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