The Inter-American Court of Human Rights, a judicial institution of the Organization of American States that is headquartered in San José, Costa Rica, found the Ecuadorian state responsible “for not having carried out a free and informed prior consultation process in accordance with international standards, violating the rights to communal indigenous property and cultural identity of the [Kichwa] Sarayaku people, as well as for not granting effective protection and for putting in danger the life and integrity of their members in the presence of high powered explosives in the territory.”
Notified to the Ecuadorian government on July 25, the decision refers to the concession of two contiguous blocks for oil exploration and exploitation in the indigenous territory, located in the Amazonian province of Pastaza, granted in 1996 to Argentina’s Compañía General de Combustibles (CGC) — subsidiary of the US-based company Chevron — and US-based Burlington Resources. The concession was granted without having ensured its residents their right to free and informed prior consultation. The case was submitted to the Court in November 2010.
The ruling stated that Ecuador “did not conduct any form of consultation with the Sarayaku people with their institutions and representative bodies during any of the oil exploration phases.”
The tribunal concluded that some of the company’s doings, which governmental authorities claimed were forms of consultation, did not comply with international standards or procedures, which encourage sustained, effective, and reliable channels of dialogue with the indigenous peoples and participation through their representative institutions.
To be considered prior consultation, the consultation “has to be done in good faith and in an adequate, accessible, and informed manner,” the ruling pointed out. “Thus, the state’s failure to consult created a climate of unrest, division, and confrontation with the indigenous communities of the area, particularly with the Sarayaku people. Additionally, the environmental impact plan was prepared by a private entity subcontracted by the petroleum company, without state control, without the indigenous people’s participation, and with no consideration for the social, spiritual, and cultural impact that the planned activities could have on the Sarayaku people.”
In an Aug. 12 press release, the Kichwa First People of Sarayaku celebrated the ruling and called the Presidential Decree 1247, promulgated on July 19, “illegitimate.” The decree regulates the execution of free and informed prior consultation in bidding proceedings and allocation of hydrocarbon-rich areas and blocks. For Sarayaku people, this decree is a device that “aims to limit consultation with a simple socialization and information procedure.”
As far as reparations, the Court ordered the Ecuadorian state to pay Sarayaku people a sum of US$1.4 million, to remove the explosives present in the Sarayaku territory, to carry out an adequate and effective prior consultation process that complies with international standards if any other extractive activities or projects are intended to be done in the territory, and to perform a public act accepting responsibility for the events.
The legal secretary of the Presidency, Alexis Mera, announced that the government would abide by the Inter-American Court’s decision.
“The Court asked that we publicly apologize. We will do so in due time,” Mera told the press. “There are reparations that we will pay.”