Always better if you ask first: Sarayaku and the indigenous peoples rights in Ecuador.

Sarayaku-folket lever mye av fiske. De har opplevd store ødeleggelser etter at det ble startet oljeleting på deres territorie. Foto: Fundación Pachamama

The oil company CGC from Argentina and the army in Ecuador, have performed seismic surveys to find oil at the land of the Sarayaku people since 2002. They are looking for oil without asking the people that owns the land. PWYP Norway´s TRACE-participant Juan G. Auz has written a blog post about the situation for the Sarayaku people in Ecuador.   

This blog post was published at MRbloggen (Norwegian blog for Human Rights) January 26, 2015. 

Juan G. Auz is an Ecuadorian lawyer experienced in Human Rights and Environmental Law. He is the former Executive Director of Fundación Pachamama and Co-Founder of Terra Mater Consultancy. He is a participant of Publish What You Pay Norway´s TRACE-programme for 2014/2015 that focus on transparency and accountability in the extractive industries. Read more about TRACE

Juan G. Auz. Foto: Privat

Res Nullius is a Latin expression that basically means that the ownership of land or object belongs to the first taker. Whereas this idea is most applied in the context when animals are being killed or captured, its recurrent utilization as a juridical concept, justified the occupation and appropriation of the sacred land that originally pertained to several indigenous nations in the American continent. 

Ecuador was not the exception of the violent implementation of this racist concept, considering that since Spanish colonization, land and natural resources such as gold, rubber, timber and oil, have been the cornerstone of historical disputes between indigenous peoples and settlers.

Ecuador is a country completely dependent of oil extraction, but unfortunately, large reserves are only found underneath the home of several ancient cultures protected by a binding national and international legal framework, specifically created to safeguard indigenous peoples rights. These territories of the Amazon basin are the scenarios of an ongoing conflict, considering that these areas are rich in biodiversity, watersheds, and complex ecosystems. 

One of these ancient cultures is the Sarayaku people, who pertain to the Kichwa nationality of the Amazon Basin of Ecuador. Sarayaku consists of almost 1200 inhabitants and subsists on fishing, farming, hunting and gathering. This means that they perform these activities within their territory in accordance to their customs and traditions, and respecting their environment, taking into consideration that without a proper care of it, most of their traditional activities could be jeopardize and eventually disappear, implying the eradication of culture itself and the obliteration of the spirits of the forests, concordant to their cosmology. 

In 1996, CGC, an Argentinian oil company, concurred with the Ecuadorian government to impose an oil concession over the Sarayaku territory without a due process of prior, informed and free consultation, avoiding its responsibility to comply with international treaties of human rights, specifically the obligation of consultation included in the article 6 of the 169 ILO Convention.

Since 2002, workers of this company, alongside with the Ecuadorian military, began to enter the territory of the Sarayaku people without informing the communities about the implications of the oil operations, therefore without any type of consent. These series of entries sought to bury pentolite explosives underneath sacred zones to perform seismic surveys to find oil, activities that could have caused irreversible damages to their lands.

Sarayaku, in order to cease this menace, commenced to build a strategy that incorporated political, legal and communications tactics.

Regarding the legal tactics, they filed before the Interamerican Court of Human Rights a petition. The Court ruled in favor of Sarayaku in June of 2012, after a 10 year process within the Interamerican System, declaring that the State of Ecuador is responsible for the violation of the rights to consultation to indigenous communal property and to cultural identity, also for severely threatening the rights to life and to personal integrity and the right to judicial guarantees and to judicial protection. 

Protester mot nedleggelsen av organiasjonen «Fundación Pachamama». Foto: Estuardo Vera fra lokalavisen «El Universo».

Until this day, Ecuador have acquiesced with almost all resolutions established by the Court, except with the fundamental adoption of a legislative or administrative measure to give full effect to the right to prior consultation of the indigenous peoples that is harmonized with international standards.

In relation to that, the national Government has closed a dialogue with the indigenous peoples organizations and civil society, especially to elaborate a participatory law project that could embody the tenets of international standards regarding prior consultation. In its place, the government has been the primary antagonist of a participatory process to build public policy. For example in December 2013, the president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, ordered the shut down of "Fundación Pachamama", a recognized organization that have had worked with indigenous organizations for over 15 years. Antoher example is from December 2014. Correa decided to evict the headquarters of CONAIE, the most important national organization of indigenous peoples in Ecuador.

As never before in history of the country, the national legal framework has been so progressive and beneficial towards the rights of indigenous peoples. However the only real obstacle now is how to permeate the will of the executive power in order to gain access to a participatory democracy and to configure a wide application of the ruling of the Interamerican Court of Human Rights.