Spiritual leader Sabino Gualinga (90) and young leader Patricia Gualinga from Sarayaku Photo: Conaie.

Servindi, July 7, 2011.- The Kichwa indigenous people of Sarayaku culminate today the presentation of their oral arguments and testimonial evidence at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) against the State of Ecuador for the violation of their rights due to oil activity in Block 23.

In the hearing that began yesterday in San José, Costa Rica, the spiritual leader Sabino Gualinga indicated that the presence of the General Fuel Company (CGC) in their territories has brought serious consequences to the community.

A delegation of leaders, traditional sages, men and women from the community, as well as representatives of the Ecuadorian government and experts such as the UN rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, James Anaya, and the anthropologist Rodrigo Villagra.

The lawsuit filed by the Sarayaku community seeks to protect the cultural identity and way of life of these communities.

Background

In 1996, the government granted Block 23 as an oil concession to the Argentine Compañía General de Combustibles (CGC), which affects 60% of the Kichwa territory of Sarayaku, in the Amazonian province of Pastaza, made up of 1,200 indigenous people.

For the concession, the Ecuadorian State omitted any process of information, consultation or request for consent from the people of Sarayaku.

During the last quarter of 2002 and the first quarter of 2003, the CGC repeatedly entered Sarayaku territory, without authorization and against the will of the legitimate owner, to carry out highly destructive seismic investigations.

Given this, Sarayaku declared an emergency for seven months and mobilized its inhabitants, men, women, youth and even children to protect their territory in the so-called Campos de Paz y Vida.

With the protection of the Army, the CGC placed 1,433 kg of explosives in 476 points within the Sarayaku and Achuar territories, as part of its exploration work that was never completed due to community opposition.

The planting of explosives, placed without the knowledge or consent of those affected in an area of 20 square km, has caused serious risks to the life, integrity, health, food, education, culture and spirituality of the members of Sarayaku.

At the beginning of 2003, the community turned to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights requesting its urgent intervention to safeguard their rights violated during the seismic campaign of the CGC company.

In May of that year, the Commission issued precautionary measures in favor of the life and integrity of the members of the community and their special relationship with their territory. The Ecuadorian State systematically ignored these measures.

Faced with the failure to comply with the precautionary measures, the Inter-American Commission asked the Inter-American Court to order provisional measures in favor of Sarayaku, the same ones that were granted in July 2004.

Said measures were aimed at protecting the life and integrity of the members of Sarayaku, investigating the acts of violence committed against them and guaranteeing the right to free transit, violated by the arbitrary blockade of the Bobonaza River by allies of the oil company, so that Sarayaku desist from the legal actions undertaken and enter into negotiations.

Given the new failure of the Ecuadorian State, in June 2005 the IACHR ratified the measures and expanded them by incorporating the provision that the explosives left by the CGC in Sarayaku territory be urgently removed.

Only in the first half of 2007 did the Ecuadorian State, through the Ministry of Energy and Mines, accept the IACHR's provision, with the beginning of the steps to remove the explosives.

As of December 2009, with the support of the National Police Intervention and Rescue Group, only fourteen kilograms of explosives had been removed. The process is currently suspended.

On May 8, 2009, in open confrontation with the provisions of international organizations, the Minister of Mines and Petroleum unexpectedly authorized the resumption of oil operations in Blocks 23 and 24, which caused the rejection of the Sarayaku community and the Shuar and Achuar nationalities.

On January 26, 2010, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights issued its resolution regarding the case, which has been forwarded to the IACHR.

"We ask the Court to protect us so that we can live in peace, that we be consulted if they want to carry out development projects and that if we say 'no,' that they respect our decision," Gualinga said.

 

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