Amazonian Indigenous Peoples Demand Justice One Year After Ecuador Oil Spill

Representatives of 109 Indigenous communities marched to the prosecutor's office in the Amazonian province of Orellana

Alianza por los Derechos Humanos - Ecuador

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Coca, Ecuador – This morning, hundreds of Indigenous Kichwa people from the Ecuadorian Amazon marched through the city of Coca to mark one year since the country’s largest oil spill in recent history. On April 7, 2020, 672,000 gallons of crude oil and fuel spilled from the country’s two major pipelines, the OCP and SOTE operated by the OCP Consortium and Petroecuador respectively, contaminating the Coca and Napo rivers, and their source of water and food. There has not been full remediation nor redress for local communities.

A year after the spill, some 27,000 indigenous peoples from 117 communities are still living with the health effects of contamination, and the impact of pollution on their territories and crops, as well as the ongoing risks of regressive erosion of the river and the threat of possible new spills.

In the march through the city, an estimated 700 people stopped in front of the Orellana prosecutor’s office to denounce the impunity of the oil companies responsible for the spill, and lack of action from the Ministry of Resources and Energy and the Ministry of Environment and Water.

The march also stopped outside of the Orellana courthouse, where leaders of the affected communities called attention to the lack of remedy from the Ecuadorian judicial system, and that they will continue to demand justice and comprehensive remediation.

"The district judge and appellate panel who heard our lawsuit did not recognize the violations of our rights. That is why, as affected communities, we are here, demanding justice and fighting for our rights to be respected," said Verónica Grefa, president of the Kichwa community of Toyuca.

In addition, the president of Toyuca stressed that in some areas, the riverbanks are literally crumbling from erosion. "Just like a year ago, our communities continue to be left in the dark and abandoned by the government."

The Indigenous communities, with the support of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon (CONFENIAE) and the Alliance of Human Rights Organizations in Ecuador, filed an emergency legal action with precautionary measures on April 29, 2020, against the state-run Petroecuador and OCP Consortium – the two pipeline operators – as well as state agencies responsible for the violations of the communities’ right to life, water, food, and the violations of the right to a healthy environment, territorial integrity, and the rights of nature. But the case was rejected at the lower level and by the appellate court, leading to allegations of collusion between the country’s most powerful industry and the judiciary.

At the same time, legal persecution has begun against an Indigenous leader and members of the legal support team who brought the case. "One year after an avoidable oil spill, Judge Jaime Oña, who presided over the lower court case, has initiated a questionable criminal process, without merit, based on an alleged charge of "information crime" and slander, against an Indigenous leader and members of the legal team," explained Verónica Potes, a lawyer for the legal team of the Alliance of Human Rights Organizations in Ecuador. Coincidentally, all were summoned today to be deposed in the criminal proceeding, but prosecutor Oscar Franco Chasiguasig failed to appear.

Carlos Jipa, president of the Federation of United Communities of the Kichwa Nationality of the Ecuadorian Amazon (F.C.U.N.A.E.) said, "Prosecutors, do not try to criminalize us. We are only asking for justice and a life with dignity. Today, the 500 people who are here want to tell the truth about what is happening in our territories. The Indigenous nationalities of Orellana are tired of so much abuse, we will continue this fight until the last consequences. If the State does not guarantee our rights and the judiciary favors those who violate them, we have no other option than resistance!"

Marlon Vargas, president of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon (CONFENIAE) said, "Fifty years ago they told us that oil exploitation was going to end poverty and we are still in misery. These communities deserve respect. More than 27,000 thousand people live along the banks of the Napo and Orellana rivers, and we will not give up the fight for justice."

Luisa Villacís, a lawyer for Carlos Jipa, the Kichwa leader charged with slander said, "The effort of Judge Jaime Oña to criminally charge him for slander is an effort to silence and intimidate human and Indigenous rights defenders."

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