The Kichwa people of Sarayaku, a remote community in Ecuador’s Amazonian province of Pastaza, have brought suit against the Quito government before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Costa Rica. The case charges that Ecuador signed a contract with Argentina’s General Combustible Company (CGC) to explore and drill and drill for oil in an area known as Block 23, covering part of Sarayaku’s ancestral territory, in 1996. The indigenous community was not consulted, even though it was granted legal title to its lands in 1992. In 2002 and early 2003, the Ecuadoran armed forces occupied the lands in question as workers began seismic testing, at which time Sarayaku leaders were threatened and harassed for defending their territory, the suit charges.
Attorneys for the Sarayaku say the seismic testing left behind an estimated 1,400 kilos of abandoned explosives in an area covering 16,000 hectares, to which access has now been denied. The area was part of the Sarayaku ancestral territory and used for traditional activities such as hunting, fishing and fruit collecting. In 2009 the Washington-based Inter-American Commission on Human Rights made recommendations to Ecuador and issued protective measures to ensure the integrity of the indigenous community of Sarayaku. The suit charges that Ecuador has ignored all measures.
An opening hearing in the case on July 6 included declarations from community members, indigenous leaders and James Anaya, UN Rapporteur for Indigenous Peoples. The community is represented in the case by the Association of the Kichwa People of Sarayaku (Tayjasaruta), attorney Mario Melo of the Pachamama Foundation, and the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL). (CEJIL, July 8; Indian Country Today, July 6)