PUYO, Ecuador — An indigenous community in Ecuador has filed a lawsuit against the government for failing to consult with it before putting its territory up for sale to the oil industry.
The Waorani community announced the lawsuit Feb. 27 with a historic march through the city of Puyo, capital of the Amazon province of Pastaza. More than 250 Waorani leaders, elders and other indigenous supporters walked through the city for over two hours to the provincial Judicial Counsel, where they submitted documents in support of their case.
“We are demanding that the Ecuadoran state respect our territory and self-determination. This fight didn’t grow overnight, it’s been the fight of the Waorani for years,” said Nemonte Nenquimo, a Waorani protester and representative of the Coordinating Council of the Waorani Nationality Ecuador Pastaza (CONCONAWEP).
The indigenous community has long been opposed to an oil auction planned for the southeast Amazon. The government has divided the region into 13 blocks; one of them, Block 22, overlaps almost entirely with Waorani territory. Any oil exploitation here could have dire impacts on the 16 communities that live in the region.
Last year, the government of President Lenín Moreno significantly reduced the oil auction down to two blocks, removing Block 22, but has since said the region is not exempt from future drilling plans. Any sale of their territory violates the Waorani’s human rights, and jeopardizes their cultural and physical survival, they say.
Under both national and international law, the government must seek the free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) of communities that could be affected by extraction projects on or near their territory.
The Waorani lawsuit, co-filed with the Ecuadoran Human Rights Ombudsman, specifically refers to the consultation process held in 2012 between the Waorani communities and the Ministry of Hydrocarbons. According to members of the community, this process was nothing more than a series of presentations by the government about how the oil money would benefit the community, and nothing about the negative repercussions.
The ministry, which has since been renamed the Ministry of Energy and Non-Renewable Resources, did not respond to Mongabay’s request for comment by the time of publication.
María Espinosa, the human rights lawyer representing the Waorani community, says the goal of the lawsuit is not just to sue the government for failing to carry out the consultation process, but also to ensure that it suspends any process of soliciting oil investment for Block 22.
It could also set a precedent to change the FPIC laws in the country to actually adhere to international standards, and respect the autonomy and organization of communities.