Quito and Washington D.C, July 25, 2012 – Ecuador and all other signatories of the American Convention must establish processes of free, prior and informed consultation before initiating any projects that could affect either the territories of indigenous peoples and communities or other rights essential for their survival. This was confirmed in the sentence released today by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, regarding the Kichwa People of Sarayaku v. Ecuador case. The victims were represented by the Association of the Kichwa People of Sarayaku (Tayjasaruta), Ecuadorian lawyer Mario Melo and the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL).
In the words of CEJIL’s Executive Director Viviana Krsticevic, “the sentence issued by the Inter-American Court on the Sarayaku case represents a real milestone in the defense of the rights of indigenous communities on the continent, as it establishes much clearer rules regarding the right to prior consultation in relation to development projects with consequences for the survival of these peoples”. The Ecuadorian legal representative Mario Melo asserted: “this sentence requires the Ecuadorian State to regulate the right to prior consultation established in the Ecuadorian Constitution of 2008, in accordance with the highly detailed standards set out in International Human Rights Law”.
The Inter-American Court determines that Ecuador did not respect the right of the Kichwa people of Sarayaku to free, prior and informed consultation when it granted a large part of the community’s territory in a concession to the Argentine oil company CGC in 1996. Furthermore, the relevant social and environmental studies were not carried out. These actions constitute a violation of the rights to consultation, property and cultural identity stipulated within the American Convention on Human Rights, to the detriment of the Sarayaku people.
Towards the end of 2002 and during the early stages of 2003, members of the Ecuadorian Armed Forces and company workers forced entry in to the territory in order to undertake seismic testing activities in search of oil, without consent. The company subsequently forged trails in the territory, introduced highly dangerous explosives and deforested large areas, destroying sacred trees and plants of significant cultural value for the Sarayaku community. As such, both the physical existence and the conditions for a dignified life of members of the Sarayaku people were placed at significant risk. Considering this, the sentence establishes that Ecuador violated the right of the members of the community to personal integrity.
The ruling also orders the Ecuadorian State to address the risks posed by the Argentinean oil company’s abandonment of 1,400 kilos of explosives in an area covering 16,000 hectares. Access continues to be prohibited to the area, which forms part of the Sarayaku ancestral territory and was used for traditional activities such as hunting, fishing and fruit collecting. Similarly, the sentence establishes that Ecuador must adopt measures of a legislative, administrative or other relevant nature to make effective the right of indigenous peoples and communities to prior consultation.
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