The Indigenous Cofan people of Sinangoe in the Ecuadorean Amazon, have achieved a significant judicial victory after the provincial court of Sucumbios ordered a halt to all mining activities in their territories, and recognized their right to prior and informed consent to activities related to nature, water, and the environment in their territory.
In the judgment, handed down Monday, the court also ordered compensation be paid for environmental damages caused by mining. The Cofan de Sinangoe people began their legal battle in January after mining machinery was seen on the banks of the Aguarico river, near the Cayambe Coca national reserve. With the support of the Ombudsman’s Office, the community presented a request for “protection.”
On Jul. 27, first-tier Judge Gonzalo Pizarro ruled in favor of the community, declaring that the Ministry of Environment, the Agency of Mining Regulation and Control (ARCOM) and the Water Secretariat had violated their right to prior and informed consent. The court also ordered the immediate suspension of the 20 mining concessions granted and 32 still in process, which covered some 32,000 hectares of land.
State institutions launched an appealed, arguing that concessions were not in the Cofan people's territory and did not require prior consultation. However, the provincial court ruled to ratify the first ruling, thereby strengthening it and ordering the reversal of all concessions granted and in process of authorization.
Maria Espinosa, the lawyer of the Cofan de Sinangoe people, said it was a historic ruling.
“This story is very significant for the Cofan people because it confirms their right to the prior consultation was violated and recognizes that they are the ancestral owners of this territory,” she told Mongabay news.
“The Sinangoe are fighting for the well-being of everyone, not only for the A’i Cofan people, but for all the people of the province of Sucumbios and the A’i Cofa, Siona, Secoya, and Kichwa nationalities that are uniting to defend our rivers,” Mario Criollo, the president of the Cofan de Sinangoe community, said.
According to the international environmental organization Amazon Frontlines, "this precedent-setting decision will inspire Indigenous nations across the Amazon and land defenders worldwide for years to come."
Criollo also warned: "we will remain vigilant in our territory and will continue fighting until we have legal title over our entire ancestral homeland."