Eye on the Amazon

Ecuadorian Government Refuses To Appear at Hearing on Threat of Extractive Industry to Indigenous Peoples

Photo credit: Rubén Grandez / CIDH

"When oil companies come and affect our sacred trees, mountains, and rivers, it threatens our future generations." Miriam Cisneros, Sarayaku

Versión en español

Having failed to receive adequate responses from the Ecuadorian government about the threat of extractive industries to their cultures, indigenous communities from the Ecuadorian Amazon took their cases to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) earlier this month.

The IACHR is the body charged with promoting and protecting human rights in the Americas, a role that includes monitoring the human rights situations of its member states. To that end, it holds periodic hearings on specific issues and cases. These hearings are important spaces for civil society to call attention to human rights abuses and attempt to achieve commitments from their governments for a positive change. The latest round of hearings took place in early July in Lima, covering Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico, Argentina, and Ecuador.

Ecuadorian civil society leaders requested two hearings: one on the violence and harassment suffered by human rights defenders, and another on the threat to the culture of indigenous peoples stemming from natural resource extraction in the Amazon.

Ecuador absent yet again

As the first hearing began, the room filled with the civil society representatives, media, the IACHR commissioners, and the general public. Remaining empty, however, were the seats reserved for the Ecuadorian government representatives. When the clock chimed for the hearing to start, the presiding commissioner read a statement from the government, indicating that it refused to appear and giving the excuse that it had already appeared at similar hearings. The government also affirmed its "commitment" to human rights protection and reiterated its "willingness to dialogue."

To be clear, this no-show behavior is not new for the Ecuadorian government. Since 2013, the government has refused to appear at IACHR hearings and meetings. The government's statement that it is committed to human rights and dialogue is, therefore, perplexing.

Extractive industries in the Amazon

The second hearing, on the threat to the culture of indigenous peoples stemming from natural resource extraction in the Amazon, was requested by the Kichwa of Sarayaku, the Sápara, and the Shuar Arutam, along with Amazon Watch, the Center for Economic and Social Rights, the Human Rights Clinic of the Catholic University of Ecuador, TIAM Foundation, and Terra Mater.

As the community and organization representatives described in the hearing, in recent years the Ecuadorian government has promoted new extractive projects, most of them in the Amazon, which overlap with indigenous territories. These mining and oil drilling projects thus cause serious harm to some of the most well-preserved tropical forests of the country and of the entire Amazon rainforest, which is one of the most biodiverse regions of the world. Furthermore, the indigenous peoples there have a special relationship with nature, and depend on it for their daily subsistence activities such as hunting, fishing, and gathering. Extractive industry projects there will directly affect their daily lives, as well as the spiritual relationship they have with the forest, rivers, waterfalls, animals and other beings that inhabit the rainforest. These relationships define their cultural identity, the right to which is enshrined in the Ecuadorian constitution and international law.

As Amazon Watch Field Coordinator, I began the hearing by sharing the results of cartographic studies Amazon Watch carried out, which demonstrate that the oil blocks overlap with 91% of Sarayaku territory and 59% of Sápara territory. In the case of Shuar territory, the copper mine blocks overlap 50%.

The community representatives then presented on the specific effects on their territories, and a request was made to the IACHR to visit the territory to see for themselves the disastrous impacts of the extractive projects. Though the commissioners expressed an interest in doing so, an official invitation from the Ecuadorian government is needed before such a visit can take place.

The absence of government representatives at the hearing doesn’t bode well for such a visit, nor for an improvement in respect for human rights in the country. This, despite a change in government and a new president who has promised to be more open to dialogue. Hopefully, the new government will soon remember that, as a member of the Organization of American States, it’s not an option but an obligation to participate in the IACHR.

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