The highest court in Ecuador ruled last week that Indigenous communities in the country should have a stronger say over extractive projects like oil drilling and mining that affect their ancestral lands.
The Constitutional Court’s decision is a blow to Ecuador’s president, Guillermo Lasso, who had previously planned to expand mining operations and oil production, the New York Times reported. According to the ruling, Indigenous communities in the country can refuse an extractive project in their territories, and the government can only advance those projects under “exceptional cases,” but not if the project obviously hurts the people and wildlife in the protected territories.
Part of the court’s decision also included striking down parts of a 2019 decree under previous President Lenín Moreno, which allowed oil drilling in an area of the Amazon that is protected for isolated Indigenous groups.
“It’s by far one of the most powerful rulings that supports free, prior and informed consent to Indigenous peoples to date,” Oscar Soria, a campaign director at Avaaz, told the New York Times. “This will have enormous implications.”
This decision comes less than a month after a ruptured pipeline spilled oil into a river in the Ecuadorian Amazon. The pipe was damaged by landslides that occurred in the country in late January after torrential rains. Members of the Waorani tribe in Ecuador told NBC News that about 60,000 people depend on the Coca River for water and other resources.
Indigenous communities in Ecuador have led anti-government protests and have spoken up about extractive fossil fuel projects for years. Tribal leaders in the country have been responsible for helping shift more than three governments in Ecuador since the late 1990s. And in recent years, tribal groups have successfully sued the country’s government over drilling projects and other environmental rights.