Win for indigenous rights: Ecuador court halts mining project in Amazon

Environmental licence for Panantza-San Carlos Mining Project rejected; Project overlapped Shuar Arutam territory but community not consulted

By DTE Staff
Published: Wednesday 23 November 2022
Shuar Arutam people protested the Panantza-San Carlos mining project , saying the government did not consult them adequately. The project overlapped Shuar Arutam territory. Photo: Wikimedia Commons__

An indigenous community of Ecuador has had a historic win in their fight to save the Amazon, with a constitutional court recognising the community’s rights to choose which activities happen on their territories. 

The court ruled in favour of the Shuar Arutam people November 18, 2022, against the country’s Ministry of Environment for granting an environmental licence for the Panantza-San Carlos mining project without consulting the communities affected. The concession displaced the Nankints community.

It also instigated the militarisation and “state of emergency” declared over three months in the Morona Santiago province between December 2016 and February 2017, according to a press note by non-profit Amazon Watch, which works with indigenous peoples across the Amazon Basin. 

Read more: ‘Amazonian deforestation can trigger more droughts'

“We call on the Ecuadorian government to take decisive action to respect the autonomy and self-determination of indigenous peoples,” Nathaly Yépez, Amazon Watch legal advisor and a Shuar Arutam lead attorney, said in the statement.

The Panantza-San Carlos copper mining project is a large-scale project comprising a 38,548-hectare open pit mine in the southern Ecuadorian Amazon. 

The government of former President Lenin Moreno had called the mining project an example of mining sector expansion that would generate $40 billion in export revenue over the next decade, according to a report by news agency Reuters

The $3 billion (Rs 24,550 crore) project was bankrolled by Chinese mining company ExplorCobres SA and was emblematic of the turmoil impeding Ecuador’s push to become an Andean mining power to rival Peru and Chile, the report further said. 

In 2016, indigenous families were forcibly evicted from their homes in Nankints, resulting in a severe humanitarian crisis, according to the non-profit. 

The Shuar Arutam people protested the project, saying the government did not consult them adequately. The project was shut around four years ago. 

Around 70 per cent of the Shuar Arutam people’s territory is under concession for this project, which will affect 47 community centres and around 1,200 families, the Amazon Watch press note said. 

At least two hydrographic sub-basins that cross the part of the PSHA: the Zamora River and the Coangos River, tributaries of the Santiago River, would also be at risk of contamination due to this mining project. 

Read more: Major victory for indigenous groups in Ecuadorian Amazon

In its decision, the Ecuadorian Constitutional Court “resolves to declare the violation of the collective right to Free, Prior and Informed consultation of the Shuar indigenous people,” the press release stated.

It also recognised that “it violated their legally-guaranteed rights of indigenous peoples to have their voices heard by authorities in any projects that could affect them environmentally and culturally,”.

“It is evident that mining megaprojects in indigenous territories are going to produce an environmental and cultural impact on the affected peoples,” the court further said. It also concluded that the “socialisation” techniques employed by EXSA are not equivalent to prior consultation. 

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