Quito, Ecuador – On October 18th, 2021, hundreds of Indigenous elders, youth, and leaders arrived in the capital city of Quito, having journeyed from their communities deep in the Amazon rainforest, to file the first in a series of lawsuits against Ecuador’s President, Guillermo Lasso, a right-wing former banker. The lawsuits filed at Ecuador’s highest court aim to derail his plans for a major expansion of new oil and mining extraction that threatens millions of acres of pristine rainforest and the physical and cultural survival of Indigenous nations.
The first lawsuit, filed by Indigenous organizations today, alleges that Indigenous peoples’ internationally recognized right to free, prior, and informed consultation and consent was violated by Executive Decree 95, which seeks to double the country’s oil production to one million barrels per day by deregulating the operational processes in the oil and gas industry. In the following weeks, Indigenous organizations and communities will also be filing a second lawsuit against Executive Decree 151, which aims to relax environmental controls to fast-track the entrance of foreign mining companies in the Amazon, despite Indigenous peoples’ firm decision to keep their territories mining-free. As the potentially affected Indigenous Peoples were not consulted nor gave their consent to either Decree as required by national and international law, plaintiffs demand the Constitutional Court declare them both unconstitutional and void.
The decrees are part of the new Presidential administration’s public policy strategy to address the South American nation’s crippled economy and its colossal foreign debt by doubling down on extractivism and the exploitation of nature. Executive Decrees 95 and 151, signed in Lasso’s first hundred days in office on July 7th and August 5th respectively, aim to radically transform the government’s policies on oil and mining to favor industry and attract foreign investment. Both decrees formalize the mechanisms for government institutions such as the Ministry of Energy and Non-Renewable Resources and the Ministry of Environment, Water, and Ecological Transition to swiftly grant environmental licenses to oil and mining industries, while evading international laws and obligations, and the country’s constitutional framework that was designed to guarantee rights and sovereignty of Indigenous nations.
Indigenous peoples and human rights organizations denounce that the President’s decision demonstrates grave setbacks in the guarantee of human and collective rights and the rights of nature, and reinforces a long history of human rights abuses and socio-environmental conflicts in the Amazon linked to the oil, gas, and mining sectors. The proposed expansion of the extractive frontier targets new remote swathes of the rainforest, home to some of the highest levels of biodiversity on the planet and the territories of the Shuar, Achuar, Kichwa, Waorani, Shiwiar, Andoa, Sápara, and A’i Kofan nations, who have mounted a fierce resistance against oil and mining interests in recent years.
Amid the global climate crisis, Indigenous peoples’ lawsuits and on-the-ground organizing strategies aim to protect the last bastions of standing wild forest that are critical for climate stability. Lasso’s decision to favor industry interests over the protection of the Amazon rainforest threatens the commitments made by the Ecuadorian government in the Paris Agreement and is incompatible with recommendations from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the International Energy Agency (IEA) to end all new fossil fuel exploration and production and decrease deforestation drivers and sources of contamination, such as mining.
Meanwhile, the financial industry is coming to grips with threats to human rights, biodiversity, and the climate posed by new oil extraction in the Amazon, and its reputational risks. Top European banks including BNP Paribas Group, Credit Suisse, and ING–collectively responsible for over 50% of financing provided in the last decade–have committed to the immediate exclusion of new Ecuadorian Amazon oil from their trading activities because of the country’s poor environmental and Indigenous rights record, along with the double standard of promoting corporate sustainability commitments while trading Amazon oil that contributes to climate change.
Indigenous peoples expect these lawsuits to reaffirm and expand on a groundbreaking legal precedent set in July of 2020 that recognizes their collective right to free, prior, and informed consultation and, in some cases consent, before the legislative or executive branch enact new laws or regulations that affect them. The right to decide over extractive projects that affect their territories has become one of the most powerful legal tools available today for Indigenous peoples to protect their rainforest territories and cultural survival in the face of the accelerating exploitation of Indigenous lands and, as a result, the advance of our climate crisis, biodiversity loss, and species extinction. Ecuadorian courts have played a huge role historically in the region around this right, including the A’i Kofan and Waorani’s legal triumphs in 2018 and 2019 respectively, which successfully protected millions of acres of rainforest from the destructive impacts of oil and mining.
The filing of the lawsuits against Lasso’s decrees come just weeks after Ecuador’s parliament approved an investigation into the President’s potential financial crimes, as uncovered by the Pandora Papers earlier this month, and as the Indigenous movement prepares for the first-ever Constitutional Court hearing in Indigenous territory as part of the A’i Kofan of Sinangoe’s historic case around Indigenous Peoples’ right to decide.
The lawsuit against Executive Decree 95 was filed by Ecuador’s national Indigenous organization CONAIE (Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador), the Amazon-wide Indigenous federation CONFENIAE (Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon), and the Waorani political organization of Pastaza CONCONAWEP (Coordinating Council of the Waorani Nationality of Ecuador-Pastaza). The lawsuit against executive decree 151 will be filed later this month by CONAIE, CONFENIAE, the A’i Kofan community of Sinangoe, and the Shuar Arutam People (PSHA).