Ecuador: Constitutional Court calls for rights of nature

Pristimantis frog © Morley Read

Dec 14, 2021

In 2008 Ecuador enshrined the rights of nature in its constitution – but the government has so far simply ignored this and issued new oil drilling and mining licenses for rainforest land. Now the constitutional court of the South American country has set a spectacular precedent: The protected forest Los Cedros has been declared free of mining.

In Ecuador and elsewhere, oil drilling and mining lead to the destruction and pollution of nature as well as to serious conflicts for local people. Complaints against such projects are often dismissed or largely ignored by the authorities. Ecuador's constitution, which came into force in 2008, stipulates that the rights of nature must be protected.

The Ecuadorian Constitutional Court has now examined whether the rights of nature are being respected. For this purpose, the judges have opened various court cases and called on the public to file cases. These include the planned copper mine in the Los Cedros protected forest northwest of the capital Quito. Residents, with the support of the municipality of Cotacachi, had successfully sued against the project in local courts. However, the Ministries of Mines and Environment did not accept the court rulings and appealed the decision twice.

The Constitutional Court has now put an end to the uncertainty. In a tweet on December 1 it announced, "This court, in its ruling 1149-19-JP/21, declares the rights of the Los Cedros Protected Forest to have been violated and develops the rights of nature, water, to a healthy environment and consultation of the population." The mountain rainforest area, which covers more than 6,000 hectares, is home to vast biodiversity, including endangered species such as spectacled bears, brown-headed monkeys and numerous amphibians. Many of the species are found only there.

"The Los Cedros ecosystem has the right to the existence of animal and plant species and to the maintenance of their cycles, their structure, their functions and their evolutionary process," the court said in its ruling. This means that all permits issued in connection with the mining project must be canceled. The Ministry of Environment must take measures to preserve the protected forest and prepare a management and maintenance plan.

Rainforest Rescue has been supporting residents and local environmental groups such as DECOIN and OMASNE in their fight against planned copper mining projects in the Intag area for many years. Regarding the Los Cedros case, we launched the petition "Ecuador: Put the constitutional rights of nature before mining!", which was signed by more than 116,000 supporters. A big thanks to everyone who signed!

Our Ecuadorian colleagues from OMASNE, whose work we support with donations, wrote to thank us for helping them keep the miners out of Los Cedros. The ruling sets an important precedent at local, national and international levels. It's a great success with which to close out the year!

We are eagerly awaiting the verdicts on the other cases examined by the Constitutional Court and will report on them.

On the same topic, please also sign our petition against copper mining for electric vehicles in the Amazon rainforest of the indigenous Shuar people in southeastern Ecuador.

Further information:

- Official communiqué of the Constitutional Court of Ecuador (in Spanish)

- Full text of the ruling (in Spanish, 119 pages)