"Our spears are no longer enough to protect our territory." Legal triumph of the Waorani people on oil exploitation in the Amazon

After years of struggle and resistance, the Waorani communities created a territorial mapping on the biodiversity of the region that comprises its territory, led by the community and organization in the field, the Waorani Peoples of Pastaza , who have joined together to defend their ancestral territory: the last areas free from oil extraction and road construction. Now, they have raised a bold and successful strategic escalation of their struggle. Through testimonies gathered within their communities, with dozens of indigenous elders and leaders, the Waorani demonstrated before the courts that the Ecuadorian government violated the right of the Waorani people to prior consultation, highlighting the deceptive tactics of the state—a reflection of the systematic historical deception that indigenous peoples have faced for centuries.

The representation of justice and the legality of the Ecuadorian state, the judiciary, listened to the peoples, allowed them to present their evidence, and exerted justice. The legal triumph of the Waorani people against the bidding process of the oil Block 22, located within Waorani territory, creates a legal and historical precedent that allows the indigenous peoples of Ecuador to raise a new strategy to slow down a widespread bidding process, affecting numerous indigenous nationalities of the southern Ecuadorian Amazon, and stop oil exploration before it takes hold of the land. The court ruling makes it possible to strengthen indigenous-led efforts to combat climate change. The plan is to resist and grow the alliance of peoples, nationalities and communities, to cope with the appeals of the state, and to support other communities in similar struggles.

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We transcribe below a translation of a press release from the Coordinating Council of Waorani Nationality of Ecuador-Pastaza (CONCONAWEP) and Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon (CONFENIAE) on this historical victory, to make sure we listen directly to their voices on this case:

Waorani People of Pastaza Win Historic Protection Action

The Pastaza Guarantee Court declared that the rights to prior, free and informed consultation and self-determination of 12 Wao communities were violated, establishing a fundamental legal precedent in favor of these rights and the territories of indigenous peoples threatened by the extractivism.

Puyo, Ecuador, April 26, 2019. -Today life won. All indigenous peoples and nationalities won. The constitution and judicial independence won. Today’s historical ruling confirms that when justice listens to the truth from our peoples ‘ mouths, it can understand that every time our territories are at stake, so are our lives, our Amazon, and the planet.

Waorani victory. Photo: Resistencia Waorani.

The Tribunal based in the Pastaza region, headed by the judge rapporteur, Dra. Esperanza Araujo Escobar, ruled in our favor in the Action of Protection we presented against the Ministry of Energy and Non-Renewable Resources, the Ministry of the Environment and attorney general’s office, and recognized the infringement of our rights to prior consultation, free and informed, and to self-determination. This historic decision protects our territory from oil exploitation, projected by the Ecuadorian state in 2011, when it declared that on our territory overlaps the so-called Block 22. This historic sentence protects life, protects our rivers, our homes, and in a significant way, tells the state and the world that it cannot make decisions for us, that only we have the right to decide our present and our future.

Waorani diversity. Foto: Resistencia Waorani

That right to decide, is linked to the right to prior consultation, free and informed. No project can take place in our house, without those who live here, previously have all the information, the time and the appropriate space to know, understand and decide. What happened in 2012, when the government called for a referendum, created only confusion, deceit and division. This has been recognized by the court in this historical ruling, that in 2012 the state did not consult us.

At 09:H20 in the presence of the plaintiffs and the lawyers with the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources and attorney general’s office, the reading of the sentence took place. During her statement, lasting more than 5 hours, the judge rapporteur made a detailed analysis of the evidence provided by the parties, and what allowed her to verify, in a forceful way, and the court pointed out that what the state called prior consultation in 2012, was a mere socialization procedure, which in no way could be considered free, prior, or informed; nor was it culturally adequate and in good faith, which led her to conclude an infringement of the rights mentioned; decreeing, therefore, that the claimant communities must be consulted again with unrestricted respect to international standards on consent and prior consultation, and that the officials of both ministries should be trained on the rights of Indigenous Peoples.

This sentencing is undoubtedly a fundamental precedent that recognizes and develops the fundamental scope of rights to prior consultation, and its close relationship with the rights to life, territory, identity, and self-rule. This ruling makes evident and without a doubt, that the state during the three-day hearing failed to demonstrate that in 2012 carried out a process of culturally appropriate consultation, and on the contrary, the proof provided by the State itself, allowed the court, among others arguments, to show that the communities were not duly convened and informed, and that the scarce information provided by the State, because of its complexity, was not duly explained to the communities, to such an extent that many of the attendees never understood that they were participating in a supposed consultation process.

“The government wanted to sell our territory to the oil companies, without our consent. Our rain forest is our life. Only we decide what happens in our territory. We will never sell our forest to corporations, “said Nemor Nenquimo, General Coordinator of the Coordinating Council of Waorani Nationality of Ecuador-Pastaza (CONCONAWEP) and plaintiff. She added, “Today, the court acknowledged that state’s interests are of no greater importance than our rights, our forests, our lives.”

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We are very happy with this good court decision, but our fight does not end here just, we continue. Today the Pastaza Guarantee Tribunal lived up to its obligations and responsibilities towards the rights of our people, but we know that the Ecuadorian government wants the oil that is under our homes, our forests and our trails. We know that the Ecuadorian State thinks that the oil companies’ money and government businesses are worth more than life and the Constitution.

But we, the owners of our territory, have chosen life for thousands of years, and we have defended the rain forest that gives us life every day. We have made a decision with our communities, our pikenani (elders), men, women and youth , and that decision will not change today nor ever: MONITO OME GORONTE ENAMAI (OUR RAIN FOREST IS NOT FOR SALE).

Lina María Espinosa, human rights defender and lawyer of the Waorani, said: “This is, without a doubt, a historical day for the advancement of Rights and constitutional development in Ecuador, is without a doubt a sentence protected by the law and that sets a critically important precedent in favour of the recognition and protection of rights to consent, prior consultation and self-determination. It is a new call to the Ecuadorian State, in a particular, to the executive, so that it fulfils its obligation to regulate and guarantee prior consultation as a substantive process that makes viable prioritizing the life of indigenous peoples and the defense and protection of their rights. It is a demonstration that state’s plans for development cannot be implemented over the life and integrity of the peoples, and sets a precedent for understanding that other people and nationalities allegedly consulted in 2012, were also victims of a violation of their rights, as recognized by the court.”

That fight doesn’t end today, and we’re not alone. We fight with other peoples and nationalities of the Amazon, the Sierra, and from other countries on our side. This decision is nothing but firewood for our fire. Almost 100.000 people have already taken action to support us and demand that the state does not try to exploit oil in our territory. 14.000 people sent emails to the President of the Republic, the Ministry of Energy and Non-renewable resources, the Ministry of the Environment, and the Council of the Judiciary to request that our rights be respected. More than 50 national and international organizations signed an open letter for the judiciary to respect our rights to pre-consultation and self-determination.

“Our resistance will continue. The state is going to appeal because they want the oil under our houses. More and more people will continue to join our struggle. Our forests are too important for our planet and our climate. Our struggle and language is a wealth that cannot be lost,” said Oswando Nenquimo, spokesperson for the Waorani of Pastaza.

Waorani victory. Photo: Resistencia Waorani

The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon CONFENIAE, who together with CONAIE and COICA supported the action of protection presented from the outset, said via their spokespeople: “Today all the peoples and nationalities of Ecuador triumphed, next to the warriors of the Pueblo Waorani, and the state will have to think twice before trying to enter our territories and pretend, moreover, to extract natural resources. Today organizing shows that the struggle is the only way forward and here we are all together, these women and men of the rain forest, our Pikenanis teachers, to make the interests of a whole people prevail, against transnational corporations. ”

As Nemo Nenquimo stated in the final arguments of the court hearing: “We will fight until the end, not only here in this court. This is my last word, with all my heart and all my soul.”