Amazonian tribe win lawsuit to block Big Oil's bid to destroy half a million acres of rainforest

Amazonian tribe win lawsuit to block Big Oil's bid to destroy half a million acres of rainforest

In a landmark ruling, an indigenous tribe from the Ecuadorian Amazon have protected their land from numerous oil companies seeking to use it for oil drilling.

The Waorani people of Pastaza protected half a million acres of their territory in the rainforest, bringing their case before a panel of judges at the Pastaza Provincial Court - and won.

The court has now indefinitely suspended the planned auctioning of their lands to oil companies, a process which started in 2012 after a consultation process by the Ecuadorian government voted in the corporations' favour.

Actor and activist Leonardo DiCaprio even tweeted about their plight last month:

The case was already noteworthy due to the rarity of indigenous groups having their bid for court protection accepted, yet also saw the court halt the sale of 16 oil blocks that cover 7 million acres of indigenous land.

The president of the Waorani Pastaza Organization, Nemonte Nenquimo, who also acted as plaintiff in the lawsuit, said of the decision:

"The government tried to sell our lands to the oil companies without our permission. Our rainforest is our life. We decide what happens in our lands. We will never sell our rainforest to the oil companies. Today, the courts recognized that the Waorani people, and all indigenous peoples have rights over our territories that must be respected. The government’s interests in oil is not more valuable than our rights, our forests, our lives."

The state initially claimed there was an agreement made with the tribe in 2012, but alleged that the agreement was based on fraudulent practices, favouring the profits of oil companies over the inhabitants of the land.

The judges later ordered the Ecuadorian government to conduct a new consultation, applying standards set by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Waorani people landmark victory equador Credit: Getty

Oswando Nenquimo, a spokesperson for the Waorani people of Pastaza, also commented on the landmark ruling, and what it could mean for indigenous rights all around the world:

“Today we have protected our forest from oil drilling; we have protected our water from contamination; we have protected our children from sickness. This is a legal precedent for indigenous rights. But the fight is far from over.

"The government will appeal because they still want the oil beneath our land. Indigenous Nations across the Amazon and the world must band together to protect our homes."

These lands are now protected under the country's constitution, ensuring the "inalienable, unseizable and indivisible" rights of indigenous peoples "to maintain possession of their ancestral lands and obtain their free adjudication".

Waorani people landmark victory equador Credit: Getty

It also means that any plans to exploit underground resources will have to be consulted on, given the clear impact it would have on these communities.

Mitch Anderson, executive director of Amazon Frontlines, an international group of specialists seeking to support the rights of indigenous peoples, said:

"Today, the court has recognized a pattern of deceit, bad-faith and manipulative tactics in the Ecuadorian Government’s attempt to earmark the Waorani people’s lands for oil extraction.

Waorani indigenous people sing at the Teata sacred waterfall, near the village of Nemompare, on the banks of the Curaray river, in Pastaza province, Ecuador on April 14, 2019. - The Waorani people of the Ecuadorean Amazonia are fighting before court to keep oil companies out of their territory. (Photo by RODRIGO BUENDIA / AFP) (Photo credit should read RODRIGO BUENDIA/AFP/Getty Images) Credit: Getty

"This is a huge step forward in the battle to ensure indigenous people’s rights over their lands are respected. Guaranteeing indigenous peoples’ rights to decide over their future and to say ‘No’ to destructive extractive projects is key to protecting the Amazon rainforest and halting climate change."

Hopefully, we see more rulings in the favour of indigenous people in the future, and this case becomes an example for others to look to.