Ecuador’s highest court declares Decree 751 unconstitutional, would have allowed oil drilling in protected area for isolated peoples

In a reprieve for indigenous peoples living in isolation inside Ecuador’s Yasuní National Park, the country’s highest court declared Executive Order 751 unconstitutional, permanently banning drilling in the buffer zone. In a 6-1 vote, the court rejected Executive Order 751 issued by former President Lenin Moreno in 2019. The executive order authorized drilling in the buffer zone that surrounds a protected area of ​​”prohibited zone” (Zona Intangible Tagaeri-Taromenane – ZITT) inside the Yasuní National Park created for the Tagaeri-Taromenane nomads, two indigenous peoples living in isolation.

Today’s decision is a setback for the oil industry, which has already built a road to the edge of the buffer zone. The ruling emphasizes that the consent of Ecuador’s last isolated indigenous peoples cannot be obtained without violating their right to live in voluntary isolation, and therefore drilling cannot take place here.

Amazon Watch’s Director of Climate and Energy, Kevin Koenig, issued the following statement regarding the Court’s decision:

“Today’s decision by the Constitutional Court of Ecuador is a major victory for indigenous peoples and an important step in protecting some of the most ecologically fragile and culturally sensitive places in the Amazon. It is also a reminder to oil companies and investors that expanding oil extraction in the Ecuadorian Amazon is risky and fraught with potential legal liability.

“Any drilling in Yasuní National Park is an existential threat to peoples living in isolation, who have deforestation and destruction on their doorstep. But today’s decision could very well protect the Tagaeri and the Taromenane ethnocide.

“Today’s decision, however, does not preclude drilling in other areas of Yasuní National Park – a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve and widely regarded as one of the most biodiverse places around. Eight oil concessions straddle the park and plans are underway to drill more than 600 wells in the Ishpingo, Tambococha Tiputini fields, known as Block 43.”

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The decision comes amid a major oil spill that has blackened rainforest and rivers with crude. President Guillermo Lasso has pledged to double oil production, much of which would come from wells inside Yasuni. Prior to today’s decision, wells were planned inside the buffer zone that surrounds the protected area, and a new road connecting the wells is 300 meters away.

The decree stems from a 2018 referendum in which voters expressed support for the expansion of the protected area. But in a betrayal of voters, Moreno redrew the boundaries, which increased its size but gave the go-ahead for drilling. Much of today’s decision was based on procedural issues rather than the threat the drilling poses to Tagaeri-Taromenane. But Ecuador’s constitution provides specific protections for the two peoples, which were taken into account in today’s decision. Article 57 states:

“The territories of peoples living in voluntary isolation are irreducible and immaterial ancestral property and any form of extractive activity is prohibited there. The State must adopt measures to guarantee their lives, uphold the right to self-determination and the will to remain in isolation, and ensure respect for their rights. The violation of these rights will constitute a crime of ethnocide, which will be qualified as such by law.

Recent research by Stand.earth and Amazon Watch revealed that California is the number one destination for crude from Ecuador.

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