Puyo, Ecuador – On February 27th, 2019, hundreds of indigenous Waorani elders, youth and leaders arrived in the city of Puyo, Ecuador, having journeyed from their communities deep in the Amazon rainforest to launch a lawsuit together with the Waorani political organization of Pastaza CONCONAWEP and the Ombudsman’s Office.

The lawsuit, filed against the Ecuadorian Ministry of Energy and Non-Renewable Natural Resources, the Secretary of Hydrocarbons and the Ministry of Environment, alleges that the Waorani’s rights to free, prior and informed consultation, to self-determination, to collective territory, and the rights of nature, were violated due to an improper consultation process prior to an oil auction which would offer up the Waorani’s lands in the Pastaza region to the highest bidding oil company.

In 2018, Ecuador’s Minister of Hydrocarbons announced an auction of 16 new oil concessions covering nearly seven million acres of roadless, primary forest in the titled territories of the Shuar, Achuar, Kichwa, Waorani, Shiwiar, Andoa, and Sápara nations. The region is home to some of the highest levels of biodiversity on the planet. Under pressure from Ecuador’s Amazonian indigenous nationalities, the State announced in October 2018 that the oil auction of the Ronda Petrolera Suroriente (South-East Oil Round) would be reduced from the original 16 blocks to two. While this decision marked a victory for indigenous resistance involving the Waorani, the State later issued information stating that this did not exclude the Waorani’s territory from being tendered in a next round nor the possibility that their territory could be handed directly over to state company Petroamazonas EP without further consultation from the Waorani.

Waorani’s testimonies and the documented evidence presented in the lawsuit affirm that the prior consultation process carried out in 2012 by the Secretary of Hydrocarbons and the Ministry of Environment in the Waorani communities of Obepare, Daipare, Awenkaro, Teweno, Kenaweno, Toñanpare, Damointaro, Nemompare, Kiwaro, Tzapino, Tepapare, Gomataon, Akaro, Tarangaro, Kemono, and Titepare did not comply with international prior consultation standards, thus implicating a violation of the Waorani people’s rights to self-determination, identity, and territory.

In addition to these claims, the Waorani are demanding – as a precautionary measure – that the State refrain from permitting any new auctions or concessions related to extractive projects in the region, and particularly within Block 22, which affects most of Waorani territory, until complying with international norms regarding consultation.

“Our fight is not just a fight about oil. This is a fight about different ways of living. One that protects life and one that destroys life.”

− Nemonte Nenquimo, Waorani leader and President of CONCONAWEP (Coordinating Council of the Waorani Nationality of Ecuador-Pastaza)

The proposed auction of oil block 22, set inside Waorani territory, has become a flashpoint for a new strategy to stop a broader auction affecting numerous indigenous nations of the southern Ecuadorian Amazon, and strengthen indigenous-led efforts to combat climate change. According to governmental data, Ecuador’s proven oil reserves will be gone in under a decade — an amount equal to what the world consumes every two weeks. The cost of pumping the forest’s last drops of crude, meanwhile, will be a colossal environmental disaster measured in centuries, with devastating impacts on the rainforests and life, culture and wellbeing of those who call the Amazon their home.

In mid-2018, the Waorani launched a global digital campaign to warn potential oil investors that “Waorani territory is not for sale”, with a petition to the international oil industry, the publication of powerful drone imagery, and a cutting-edge interactive map of over 180,000 hectares of oil-free Waorani territory, including more than 9,300 GPS coordinates marking the rich cultural and biodiversity of their lands, as well as the identification of over 1,800 creeks and walking paths. The Waorani’s struggle has already garnered major media attention and 74,500 signatures to the ongoing petition.

Today’s lawsuit has the potential to set precedent for future legal strategies in defense of indigenous lands and against the violation of indigenous rights across the Amazon and around the world.

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