Waorani women were called without proper notice to present arguments against the Ecuadorean state in violation of their rights to free prior and informed consultation regarding an oil bloc auction in the heart of their territory, located in the country’s eastern Amazon region. Left without an interpreter, they shut down the court by singing Waorani songs in the courtroom.
No Justice in Ecuador: A 25-Year Battle Against Chevron-Texaco
In February, in a press statement released by ally, Amazon Frontlines, the Waorani, organized under the CONCONAWEP (Coordinating Council of the Waorani Nationality of Ecuador-Pastaza) say they filed the legal action because their “rights to free, prior and informed consultation… were violated” when the government announced it would potentially sell seven million acres of Indigenous territories to oil companies without holding the constitutionally required public debates on the matter.
They say their case “aims to keep their ancestral lands free from natural resource extraction and to set a precedent for other indigenous nations to do the same.”
They were summoned to a public hearing to present their case, but were not given the proper notice they requested from the court, at least 20 days notice in order to gather their elders who are the only ones allowed by their laws to make important decisions, and some of whom must travel long distances.
Instead, the court gave them just two days notice to prepare their defense.
In addition, the court is mandated by Ecuadorean law to provide interpeters -- not all members of the Waorani speak Spanish -- but the interpeter did not show up, which meant that not all members could understand court instructions.
Despite the various objections to the process, and the absence of the Waorani elders, the court continued to try to select one of the women to arbitrate with.
In response, the group sang traditional songs in the court, drowning out the court voices and stopping all business.
“They rose and sang without stopping until the judge suspended the hearing, the song spoke of the unjust treatment of a western justice that does not understand and does not respect the Waorani world, spoke against the discriminatory treatment that the court is giving us, spoke of the lack of guarantees,” a press statement from the Waoranis said.
The Waoranis had requested that the public hearing be held in their ancestral territories to ensure that all witnesses could be called. This was was denied to them. Instead, they had to travel to the court in the provincial capital, and could not properly present their case.
They say oil extraction from their territory will “be a colossal environmental disaster... with devastating impacts on the rainforests and life, culture, and wellbeing of those who call the Amazon their home.”