Sarayaku people successfully defend their land against oil extraction, Ecuador, 1996-2012

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Timing
Time Period:  
Time period notes: 
August 16, 1996-July 25, 2012
August
1996
to
July
2012
Location and Goals
Country: 
Ecuador
Location City/State/Province: 
Pastaza
Location Description: 
200,000 kilometres east of Capital City, Quito
Goals: 
The Sarayaku Community's Goals:

1. to force out CGC and its oli exploration out of Block 23

2. to have the State of Ecuador and CGC responsible for damages inflicted on the community and their land

 

On 6 August 1996, Argentinean General Fuel Company, also known as Compañía General de Combustibles (CGC), signed a contract with the Ministry of Energy and Mines in Ecuador without consultation of Kichwa natives of Sarayaku. The contract allowed CGC to exploit and explore 200,000 hectares of Block 23.

Block 23 is located in the Pastaza Province that includes 60% of the Kichwa Sarayaku Land. The Kichwa people of Sarayaku were given land rights in 1992 and promised that their land will be free from oil explorations. In 1997, however, the Ecuador service provider Walsh drafted a controversial evaluation of Block 23 called Environmental Impact Assessment which allowed CGC to conduct early stage assessment of the area.

A group called Organization of Indigenous People of Pastaza Province or OPIP comprised of mostly Kichwa natives, protested and conducted three rallies against the operation of CGC in Sarayaku land.

In 1999, after pretending to withdraw from exploiting Block 23 to ease tensions, the CGC continued their exploration. The company placed about 3,000 pounds of pentolite explosives 40 feet below ground and reached out to communities in Pastaza province that are members of OPIP. The CGC asked these communities to give consent to drilling oil in Block 23.

The most affected community of Sarayaku launched a campaign in May 2002 against CGC, saying the company tried to buy their consent in return for jobs and promises of financial help.

The community’s campaign led the OPIP to release a statement saying that no community is allowed to negotiate with CGC without the OPIP’s consent. Its policy was released in light of an earlier conflict between the OPIP and an indigenous community, Pacayacu, that signed an illegal agreement with CGC.

The rising of conflicts within the community caused Sarayaku people to declare a state of emergency. The Sarayaku community believed that its fight against CGC should not cost the Sarayaku their relationship with neighboring communities. By declaring a state of emergency, the Sarayaku hoped to garner as much publicity and support from outside their community as possible.

The company employed armed guards to protect its exploration and prevent Sarayaku people from disrupting company operations.

The Sarayaku community then filed a petition with the Pujo Provincial Ombudsman regarding CGC’s illegal operations in their land and on 20 November 2002, the Ombudsman authorized the “Declaration of Protection” that notes Sarayaku rights should be respected by both civil and military authorities. This resolution also prohibited CGC from continuing their operations.

In December of 2002, the Sarayaku community formed an alliance with Centro de Derechos Económicos y Sociales or Centre for Economic and Social Rights (CDES) that provides legal support for indigenous communities.

In that same month, some CGC workers were found trespassing Sarayaku territory to continue their oil operations. This illegal act by CGC workers violated the resolution passed by the Ombudsman.

In January 2003, clashes between Kichwa natives and CGC workers arose. On 11 January the company opened new sites and reportedly advanced into 29% of Sarayaku territory. A native protestor was shot by a company guard and got injured.

Two weeks later about 30 Sarayaku community members protested by breaking into CGC headquarters. Four of the group were arrested, abused and threatened by CGC workers.

Two days after that government armed forces attacked the Sarayaku community and threw tear gas, arrested and terrified local people.

The Sarayaku community filed another petition with the Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos or Inter American Commission on Human Rights (CIDH). The indigenous people were supported by CDES and Centre for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), making a case against the Ecuadorian government for failing to protect their indigenous land rights stated in the American Convention on Human Rights, for violating indigenous rights to life, integrity and individual freedom, and for signing a contract with CGC without the consent of Sarayaku people.

The legal allies of the Sarayaku demanded that the Ecuadorian state compensate victims for damages and assure them that future oil operations that can destroy their land and disrupt their lives will never occur.

In May 5, 2003, CIDH ordered the Ecuadorian government immediately to take preventive measures to protect Kichwa Sarayaku and investigate human rights violations caused by the exploration of Block 23.

The Sarayaku community also started constructing “Camps for Peace and Life” that they built in the middle of the jungle, where CGC and armed forces had invaded their territory and put their way of living and lives at risk.

CGC officials and the President of the Association of Ecuadorian Oil Companies, Rène Ortiz, called the community terrorists and criminals.

In December of 2003, the “March for Peace and Life” conducted by Confederacion de Nacionalidades Indigena del Ecuador or the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) rallied in the capital city of Pujo, Pastaza. Ecuadorian national police forced Sarayaku demonstrators to disperse.

From May 2003 to early 2006, the CIDH tried to implement court injunctions and urge expanded measures including removal of explosives, facilities and machinery from the Sarayaku community.

The Ecuadorian government failed to comply.

Protests continued. The Sarayaku community’s president, Marlon Santi, visited Argentina to publicize the issues of Block 23 and human rights violations on the Sarayaku community. CIDH held hearings between the Sarayaku community and the State of Ecuador on how the operation on Block 23 affected the lives of many Sarayaku natives.

CGC left Block 23 and apologized to the Sarayaku community. Nevertheless, in July 2006, an armed military group attacked the Sarayaku community and arrested five community members who they claimed were members of a terrorist group.

In December, 2007, the Ministry of Mines and Oil began removing the explosives placed from 2002 but by 2009 they removed less than 10% of the total pounds of explosives placed. Then on 8 May 2009, the Ministry once again permitted oil operation in Block 23 without the consent of the Sarayaku community.

Although the government allowed the CGC to resume its activities, its decision backfired and intensified accusations against the CGC and the Ecuadorian government. By 18 December 2009, the CIDH ordered Sarayaku representatives and witnesses and the Ecuadorian government officials to appear in court hearing on February 3, 2010 and provide information regarding Ecuadorian government’s compliance on with their implemented measures.

The Sarayaku community accused CGC and the Ecuadorian government of causing environmental damages and violating indigenous right laid out by International treaties, the International Labour Organization Convention No. 169, and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

In January 2010, CIDH released its resolution about the Sarayaku Block 23 case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights for a final ruling. On 6 July 2011, Sarayaku community members travelled to San Jose, Costa Rica, to testify against CGC and the Ecuadorian State.

In April of 2012, representatives of Inter-American Court of Human Rights visited the Sarayaku community and sat down to hear the concerns of Sarayaku natives in Sarayaku language.

Ecuador’s Judicial Secretary of State, Alexis Mera, then proposed to the Sarayaku community a deal to repair damages and pay compensation. The Sarayaku community declined, preferring to wait for the Inter-American Court’s final ruling.

On 25 July 2012, the Court found that the Ecuadorian State failed to consult with the Sarayaku community prior to signing a contract with CGC, in accordance to international regulations. Further, the government was found responsible for human rights violations and failure to protect the people of Sarayaku whose lives were at risk during CGC operations.

The Sarayaku community’s campaign against CGC and the State of Ecuador is considered a milestone: a victory for the human rights movements for indigenous people of Ecuador, after 17 years.

Research Notes
Sources: 
- Pachamama <http://www.pachamama.org>

- Centro di Documentazione sui Conflitti Ambientali<http://www.cdca.it/spip.php?article1663&lang=en>

- Amazon Watch <http://amazonwatch.org/work/sarayaku>

- Sarayaku Organization <http://sarayaku.org>

Additional Notes: 
To read more about the decision of Inter-American Court of Human Rights visit: http://www.asil.org/insights121128.cfm
Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Gabriel Gabriel, April 12, 2013