The rights of Ecuador's
indigenous peoples

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Ecuadorian law

Article 247 of Ecuador’s Constitution specifies governmental control of subsoil resources on indigenous lands. This includes oil. However, the Constitution also provides that indigenous peoples must “be consulted regarding plans and programs of exploration and exploitation of non-renewable resources found in their territories,” and that “all state decisions that may affect the environment must also take into account ahead of time the criteria of the community, which must be informed.” A national law governing environmental standards dictates that failure to consult with communities before granting contracts with possible environmental impact renders the contracts “null and void.”

International law

International law regarding indigenous rights also backs consultation of communities affected by development in Ecuador. In 1989, the International Labor Organization’s Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention resulted in a treaty known as ILO 169, which Ecuador ratified in 1998. It stipulates the right of indigenous communities to be included in decisions regarding the exploitation of natural resources on their land, stating that "the peoples concerned shall have the right to decide their own priorities for the process of development as it affects their lives." Furthermore, ILO 169 states that in instances where the state retains control over subsoil resources, the government must consult with affected populations to assess the impact of exploiting those resources.

A2001 legal ruling in Nicaragua supported, under international law, the right of indigenous peoples to veto decisions regarding exploitation of natural resources without their consent, according to The Advocacy Project. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights decreed that the Nicaraguan government violated the rights of the Awas Tingni people in granting logging concessions without their consent. The Advocacy Project states “this is the first binding decision that holds that indigenous peoples have communal property rights to land and natural resources based upon traditional patterns of use and occupation. Ecuador is a state party to the American Convention on Human Rights, on which this decision was based, and the Nicaraguan ruling could prove a critically important legal precedent for Ecuadorian activists and their allies.”

Additionally, the United Nations has been working to adopt a Declaration of Indigenous Rights since 1993. The draft of the declaration has been tied up for ten years, mainly by Canada, Australia, the U.S. and Britain.


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© 2003 Matt Levitch