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Ecuadorian court gives oil companies “free pass for industrial scale pollution in the Amazon”

A lower court in Ecuador’s Amazon has dismissed a case brought by Indigenous communities to suspend the flow of crude oil through Ecuador’s major pipelines to prevent another oil spill.

National and Amazon-region Indigenous federations and communities in Ecuador earlier this year filed legal actions demanding the pipelines were closed after an oil spill in the region.

In April, part of a river bed collapsed and caused a sinkhole that prompted old and eroding pipelines to rupture and spill into the Napo River. Geologists and hydrologists had previously warned that a phenomenon known as “regressive erosion” could lead to a spill. Their warnings were, and are still being, ignored which means that a second oil spill is imminent.

The spill has put at risk the safety and health of the Kichwa people; communities in Ecuador, Peru and Brazil that depend on the Coca and Napo rivers for drinking water. A number of endangered and vulnerable wildlife species in the area were also threatened by the spill.

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Maria Espinosa, lawyer for the case from Amazon Frontlines said: “The court’s decision is unacceptable. 27,000 Indigenous people are still in grave danger and facing the imminent risk of another oil spill. Throughout the trial, we have demonstrated how the Ecuadorian government and the oil companies violated the constitutional rights of Indigenous peoples and the rights of nature, and that extractivism is destroying people’s lives and the Amazon rainforest. To this day, there is still no guarantee of justice or reparations for those affected. We will appeal this ruling, and fight together until justice is delivered.”

Take Action

This ruling is yet another example of egregious dismissal of justice that denies indigenous peoples their rights to a healthy environment, clean water, food sovereignty and health.

You can help by joining the movement to stop extraction in the Amazon. Victories are being won. With greater public awareness of the issues that indigenous peoples are facing, the more victories there will be.

Explore the icons to see how else you can be part of the solution.

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On behalf of 27,000 Indigenous people from 105 different communities affected by the oil spill, the federations and communities asked for remediation, redress, and an end to oil company impunity.

“Rigged”

But the rejection of the case, according to Indigenous rights groups, proves that the “justice system is rigged in favour of the country’s economic interests and does not guarantee due process or constitutional rights to Indigenous peoples.”

Despite substantial evidence that the state and oil companies acted negligently and violated the rights of the Kichwa and of nature, which included extensive testimony from scientific experts and first-hand accounts from community members, the defence’s lawyers argued throughout the trial that the companies were not responsible.

According to indigenous rights group Amazon Frontlines, the “outcome gives oil companies OCP and Petroecuador a free pass for industrial scale pollution in the Amazon and raises concerns about the oil industry’s capture of the judicial branch.”

Moreover, the judge denied that the constitutional rights of Indigenous peoples and nature were violated and argued that there were other mechanisms in place to address claims for remediation and redress.

They claimed that the oil spill was an unpreventable “act of nature” and that the river would clean itself over time. They also claimed to have supplied adequate food and water to communities whose lands and drinking water were contaminated. However, community members who received the supplies over the past four months say the aid was not sufficient to survive on and came with strict conditions.

According to Amazon Frontlines, one report documents that just over 1,000 gallons of water was provided to 50 families for five months of consumption, which is the equivalent of just three litres per week per family. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), between 50 and 100 litres of water per person per day are needed to ensure that the most basic needs are met and few health concerns arise. Indigenous victims were told that they could not receive vital supplies unless they signed a document waiving their rights to participate in a lawsuit against the oil companies.

The verdict will be appealed. Other Indigenous organisations and international partners are set to ramp up their global campaign “Stop Amazon Extraction” calling for a moratorium on all extraction in the Amazon.

Veronica Grefa, Kichwa leader and President of Toyuca community said: “As a Kichwa indigenous woman, I will continue to fight for my people’s rights and lives. We demand justice. Our families are still suffering from the disastrous impacts of this spill, and we still don’t have clean water and food. Our communities are united to defend our rivers for future generations.”

Maria Espinosa, lawyer for the case from Amazon Frontlines said: “The court’s decision is unacceptable. 27,000 Indigenous people are still in grave danger and facing the imminent risk of another oil spill. Throughout the trial, we have demonstrated how the Ecuadorian government and the oil companies violated the constitutional rights of Indigenous peoples and the rights of nature, and that extractivism is destroying people’s lives and the Amazon rainforest. To this day, there is still no guarantee of justice or reparations for those affected. We will appeal this ruling, and fight together until justice is delivered.”

Take Action

This ruling is yet another example of egregious dismissal of justice that denies indigenous peoples their rights to a healthy environment, clean water, food sovereignty and health.

You can help by joining the movement to stop extraction in the Amazon. Victories are being won. With greater public awareness of the issues that indigenous peoples are facing, the more victories there will be.

Explore the icons to see how else you can be part of the solution.

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