As they are written, local and international laws should provide strong protections of the rights of indigenous peoples and their territories. Unfortunately, in practice, these laws are routinely bent, reinterpreted, and simply ignored by various government and industry actors. Ancestral lands are stolen, rivers contaminated, and forests cleared because even though the laws prohibit these actions, indigenous Amazonia Nations have lacked the know-how and legal support to exercise their rights and challenge such illegal actions in the courts.

Through our Indigenous Rights Defenders program, we are providing legal accompaniment to Siona, Secoya, Kofan and Waorani communities fighting to protect their lands and ways of life. Working on the ground and inside the communities, we listen first and follow their lead at every step and for every decision. We also work with communities to think beyond the courts in order to develop integrated territorial defense strategies that include strengthening community organizing and self-governance, as well as local and international advocacy plans.

Together with Indigenous Rights Defenders and our partners at the Ceibo Alliance, we are currently supporting advanced and complex legal processes to:

Denounce and halt socially and environmentally harmful industry practices and projects.

Rich in oil, timber and precious metals, the ancestral rainforest territories in the Amazon have become a free-for-all of extractive operations with little to no government regulation. We stand by indigenous communities when they decide to take action against river contamination, forest destruction, or projects initiated without their prior informed consent, providing the tools and legal accompaniment they need to confront, remediate or halt company practices that damage indigenous communities’ territories, health, or ways of life.

Recover and title hundreds of thousands of acres of ancestral forest territories.

Systematically robbed of their lands for centuries, the Siona, Secoya, Waorani, and Kofan Nations currently have precarious or non-existent legal rights over large portions of their ancestral territories. We are working with these Nations in Ecuador, Colombia and Peru to secure full legal titles — not just partial rights to inhabit or manage — of hundreds of thousands of acres of indigenous rainforest territories.

Demand restitution from grave and systematic human rights violations that threaten their cultural and physical survival.

All of the above mentioned threats make these communities especially vulnerable to detrimental human rights violations, most often committed by state governments when they either facilitate or turn a blind eye to the crimes of companies working within or around indigenous territories. We are documenting and denouncing these systematic human rights violations and demanding restitution for the indigenous families and communities whose cultural and physical survival is at risk.

Support Indigenous Nations to autonomously control and govern their territories.

Without having written them down or having voted on their approval in the legislature, indigenous Amazonian peoples have created and followed sophisticated laws tailored to protect their ways of life and maintain communal harmony. Local and international laws clearly hold that indigenous justice systems carry the same weight and legitimacy as the laws imposed by modern states, and we are working to strengthen communities’ application of those ancestral laws in order to exercise self-determination, self-government and territorial control within their territories.

By working alongside other ClearWater and Ceibo Alliance initiatives such as the Territorial Mapping, Environmental Quality Monitoring and Indigenous Storytelling programs, the Indigenous Rights Defenders program aims to foster and support action in the defense of the Siona, Secoya, Kofan and Waorani communities and their territories.