In Ecuador, a Forest Has Legal Rights

In Ecuador, a Forest Has Legal Rights

This is a press release from the Center for Biological Diversity

Ecuador’s Highest Court Enforces Constitutional ‘Rights of Nature’ to Safeguard Los Cedros Protected Forest

QUITO, Ecuador— In an unprecedented case, the Constitutional Court of Ecuador has applied the constitutional provision on the “Rights of Nature” to safeguard the Los Cedros cloud forest from mining concessions. The court voted seven in favor, with two abstentions.

In the wake of the ruling, which was published Dec. 1, the Constitutional Court will develop a binding area of law in which the Rights of Nature, the right to a healthy environment, the right to water and environmental consultation must be respected.

The court decided that activities that threaten the rights of nature should not be carried out within the Los Cedros Protected Forest ecosystem. The ruling bans mining and all types of extractive activities in the protected area. Water and environmental permits to mining companies must also be denied.

Mining concessions have been granted to two thirds of the incredible Los Cedros reserve. The Ecuadorian state mining company ENAMI holds the rights. The new ruling means that mining concessions, environmental and water permits in the forest must be cancelled.

“This precedent-setting case is important not only for Ecuador but also for the international community,” said Alejandro Olivera, senior scientist and Mexico representative at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This progressive and innovative ruling recognizes that nature can and does have rights. It protects Los Cedros’ imperiled wildlife, like the endangered brown-headed spider monkeys and spectacled bears, from mining companies.”

In September 2020 Earth Law Center, Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature, and the Center for Biological Diversity filed an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief before the Ecuadorian Constitutional Court. The groups asked the court to protect Los Cedros and robustly enforce constitutional provisions that establish basic rights of nature, or “pachamama,” including the right to exist, the right to restoration and the rights of the rivers, especially the river Magdalena.

“This is a historic victory in favor of nature,” said Natalia Greene from the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature. “The Constitutional Court states that no activity that threatens the Rights of Nature can be developed within the ecosystem of Los Cedros Protected Forest, including mining and any other extractive activity. Mining is now banned from this amazing and unique protected forest. This sets a great juridical precedent to continue with other threatened Protected Forests. Today, the endangered frogs, the spectacled bears, the spider monkey, the birds and nature as a whole have won an unprecedented battle.”

“It is undoubtedly good news but the situation of the Los Cedros Protective Forest is not an isolated event in Ecuador,” said Constanza Prieto Figelist, Latin American legal lead at Earth Law Center. “This is a problem of the forests throughout the country. In recent years mining concessions that overlap with protective forests have been awarded.”

The brown-headed spider monkey, found in Los Cedros and threatened by the mining, has lost more than 80% of its original area of distribution in northwest Ecuador. In 2005 scientists estimated that there were fewer than 250 brown-headed spider monkeys globally, making the species among the top 25 most endangered primates in the world.

The case is of great significance, both for Ecuador and the world, because it establishes important and influential “Earth jurisprudence” that will help guide humanity to be a benefit rather than a destructive presence within the community of life. The proposed mining is unlawful, the groups say, because it violates the rights of the Los Cedros Protective Forest as an ecosystem as well as the rights of the many members of that living community.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Uncontacted tribe’s land invaded and destroyed for beef production

Uncontacted tribe’s land invaded and destroyed for beef production

This article originally appeared in Survival International.

Featured image: Piripkura men Baita and Tamandua, photographed during an encounter with a FUNAI unit. The two men, who are uncle and nephew, have had sporadic interactions with the local FUNAI team, but returned to live in the forest.
© Bruno Jorge

New overflight photos have revealed that the land of one of the world’s most vulnerable uncontacted tribes is being illegally invaded and destroyed for beef production.

The land invasion now underway is in flagrant violation of a 6-month Land Protection Order issued in September which bans all outsiders from the Piripkura Indigenous Territory.

Only two members of Brazil’s Piripkura tribe are known to live in the territory, though others are also believed to live there, having retreated to the depths of the forest. Many Piripkura have been killed in past massacres.

The overflight was conducted last month for the “Uncontacted or Destroyed” campaign and petition organized by COIAB (the Coordinating Body of Indigenous Organizations of the Brazilian Amazon) and OPI (the Observatory for the Human Rights of Uncontacted and Recently Contacted Indigenous Peoples), with the support of APIB (Articulação dos Povos Indígenas do Brasil), ISA (Instituto Socioambiental) and Survival International.

The campaign has just released a dossier “Piripkura: an indigenous territory being destroyed for beef production.“ It’s revealed:

– Land clearances for cattle ranching have now reached an area where the uncontacted Piripkura are known to live.

– Roads, fencing and even an airstrip have been constructed, and hundreds of cattle brought in.

– The rate of deforestation in the territory has “exploded” – by more than 27,000% in the last two years.

OPI has also released a report on the invasion of the Piripkura lands. Their research has revealed that the Piripkura’s is now the most deforested uncontacted indigenous territory in Brazil. More than 12,000 hectares has already been destroyed.

The Uncontacted or Destroyed campaign highlights several uncontacted territories currently shielded by Land Protection Orders which are due to expire soon.

The only contacted Piripkura, a woman known as Rita, recently told Survival in a unique video appeal that outsiders operating illegally inside her people’s territory could soon kill her relatives, and described how nine of her relatives were massacred in one attack.

Sarah Shenker, head of Survival’s Uncontacted Tribes campaign, said today: “There could be no greater proof of the total impunity – indeed, active support – that land invaders enjoy under President Bolsonaro than this: commercial ranching operations in a vitally important indigenous territory that’s supposed to be protected by law. The invaders are fast approaching the uncontacted Piripkura. They’re resisting with all their might, and so must we. Only a major public outcry can prevent the genocide of the Piripkura and other uncontacted tribes. And an added bonus? A far cheaper and more effective way to protect Amazon rainforest than the fatal ‘solutions’ pushed by governments at COP.”

Elias Bigio of OPAN said today: “That area we flew over has been newly-cleared for beef production. They’ve already logged it, now they’re turning it into pasture for cattle.”

OPI said: “The Indigenous Territory and the Piripkura are extremely threatened. It’s the same thing that’s happened in other uncontacted tribes’ territories – the destruction is the ‘Bolsonaro Effect’, as it’s accelerated since 2019.”

Our Health Depends on Indigenous Botanical Knowledge and Plants That Are Rapidly Being Destroyed

Our Health Depends on Indigenous Botanical Knowledge and Plants That Are Rapidly Being Destroyed

This article originally appeared in Common Dreams.

The decline is one of the effects of the industrial modernization that is supposed to have brought increasing comfort, health, and advanced knowledge into our lives.


Southwest Harbor, Maine (Special to Informed Comment) – While mainstream media celebrate the remarkable development in record time of vaccines spectacularly effective against the Covid virus, knowledge that might contribute to other medical breakthroughs is being steadily undermined. This decline is not the result of some dramatic lawsuit or corporate takeover. It is one of the effects of the industrial modernization that is supposed to have brought increasing comfort, health and advanced knowledge into our lives. Economic growth has produced not only a climate emergency but a less publicized decline in the many efficacious forms of traditional knowledge and the biodiversity they sustain and are sustained by. In an email exchange I had with ethnobotanist Kirsten Tripplett, Ph.D., she pointed out:

  • “the generally accepted understanding is that 12-25% of “Western” medicine is derived or based on plant molecules/chemical backbones…It depends who’s talking and what their agenda is. And that is JUST in Western medicine. There are other, much older and empirically-based medicinal systems out there that are incredibly effective, but most U.S. citizens are unaware or only dimly, of them. Not only is the loss of language directly linked to knowledge loss and potential medical/economic loss, but think of all of the practical and useful things that get lost, too.”

When Brazil President Bolsanaro encouraged more forestry development in the Amazon, global climate advocates worried about the lungs of the planet and the contribution to global warming. They might equally have been concerned with the indigenous knowledge going up in smoke.

Sibélia Zanon writing at nature site Mongabay reports:

“A study at the University of Zurich in Switzerland shows that a large proportion of existing medicinal plant knowledge is linked to threatened Indigenous languages. In a regional study on the Amazon, New Guinea and North America, researchers concluded that 75% of medicinal plant uses are known in only one language.” She reports that 91% of medicinal knowledge exists in a single language, so the loss of linguistic diversity diminished the former as well.

Nor are medicines all that is lost. She adds,

“Every time a language disappears, a speaking voice also disappears, a way to make sense of reality disappears, a way to interact with nature disappears, a way to describe and name animals and plants disappears,” says Jordi Bascompte, researcher in the Department of Evolutional Biology and Environmental Studies at the University of Zurich.”

As indigenous peoples rely on the spoken word for intergenerational knowledge transfer, the disappearance of these languages will take with them a universe of information. The possible losses include fundamental neurological facts about the human brain. Jairus Grove, author of Savage Ecology, cites work by neurologists showing that each language contains a different cognitive map of the human brain. Sometimes the differences are very significant and open up important research potential. Grove cites work by linguist David Harrison on the Uririna people of Peru showing that some, though very few, languages place the object of the sentence at the beginning. Were it not for the continued existence of this people, neuroscientists would not even suspect or know that the human brain could be wired in such a way to make O-V-S sentences possible.

Grove points out that most Indo European languages have an active subject, verb, passive object form, but there are minority cultures that do not express that format. In a world beset by the dangerous exploitation of the natural world these minority cultures may teach us more about how to survive and thrive in this world. In this context Tripplett points out that agency is not confined to the human world. The unwillingness to recognize and accept this fact could have increasingly dire consequences.

Dr. Kirsten Tripplett writes, “It’s a long leap conceptually to make, but if one accepts a premise that “language” isn’t just spoken, and that knowledge is transmitted through actions and lifeways, then loss of biological species and their exploitation to serve human interests, is a critical loss, too, for the same reasons as those cited above . . .”

Grove has similar worries: “Irreversible catastrophic changes are certain but extinction is unlikely. What we stand to lose as a species in this current apocalypse of homogenization is unimaginable, not because of the loss of life but because of the loss of difference. Who and what will be left on Earth to inspire and ally with us in our creative advance is uncertain. If the future is dominated by those who seek to establish the survival of the human species at all costs through technological mastery then whatever “we” manages to persist will likely live on or near a mean and lonely planet.” (Savage Ecology, p. 209)

Why this loss of cultural diversity? There is first the reductionist tendency to treat cultural diversity and biodiversity as separate issues rather than as continuously interacting. Zanon further quotes Jordi Bascompte: “We can’t ignore this network now and think only about the plants or only about the culture . . . We humans are very good at homogenizing culture and nature so that nature seems to be more or less the same everywhere.”

This homogenization process includes reduction of human labor to cogs in a corporate machine, to cookie cutter development to the planned obsolescence and corporate-dominated consumer culture. Most important is a neoliberal financial system fostering increasing wealth gaps within and among nations. In this context it is especially important to preserve alternative ways of being in the world and their origins and history. Despite efforts to homogenize many indigenous cultures some retain their vitality. But their survival will depend on bottom-up activism and rules, laws, and practices negotiated across race, ethnicity, religion, and class.

As Subhankar Banerjee argues, saving elephants in different states presents complex problems. More broadly biodiversity conservation is contextual. What works for one place and in a particular culture may not work for another place and in another culture. This is not, however, cultural relativism. Biodiversity advocates value most those cultures that seek space for difference and for a politics that celebrates that end.

Banerjee again: “What makes biodiversity conservation so beautiful is that it is a pluriverse—so many ideas, so many practices, so many forms of human-nonhuman kinship that exist around the world, which in a different context, a quarter-century ago, Indian historian Ramachandra Guha and Spanish ecological-economist Juan Martinez-Alier called Varieties of Environmentalism.”

To help indigenous peoples worldwide preserve, revitalize and promote their languages, UNESCO has launched its Decade of Action for Indigenous Languages from 2022 to 203. This is a principle worthy of much more attention than it receives. For that situation to change more than proclamations of rights will be necessary, including political movements celebrating and willing to fight for economic justice and biological and cultural diversity.

Indigenous Environmental Defenders Shut Down Peruvian Crude Oil Pipeline

Indigenous Environmental Defenders Shut Down Peruvian Crude Oil Pipeline

This article originally appeared in Common Dreams.


“Not a single drop of oil is going to come out of the Amazon until the government takes care of us,” said campaigners.

Demanding stronger social and environmental support in northern Peru’s Loreto region, about 200 Indigenous protesters on Wednesday announced a strike two days after they began occupying a station of the North Peruvian Oil Pipeline controlled by state-owned oil company Petroperu.

The strike will continue until President Pedro Castillo, who took office in July and has pledged a redistribution of wealth from mining projects to help local communities, fulfills the Indigenous people’s demands, said the Indigenous Association for Development and Conservation of Bajo Yurimaguas (AIDCBY).

“Not a single drop of oil is going to come out of the Amazon until the government takes care of us,” said AIDCBY.

The group, as well as the Awajun Native Federation of the Apaga River (FENARA) and the Peoples Affected by Oil Activity (PAAP), are demanding the establishment of a trust fund to finance the cleanup of areas affected by oil spills as well as education and healthcare services in the region.

Official statistics show that at least 37 spills from the pipeline were recorded between 1996 and 2016.

According to the environmental protection group EarthRights International, local communities have been affected by major declines in crop yields and contaminated drinking water and have reported “a number of health problems stemming from the contamination, including nausea, migraines, vomiting, stomach pain, skin rashes, and even miscarriages among pregnant women; tests have confirmed contaminants in blood and urine.”

The demonstrators called on Castillo and Energy Minister Ivan Merino to travel to Station 5, the pipeline station the groups have taken over. According to Telesur English, FENARA on Wednesday said the government should not “provoke with a police deployment” but instead allow for “the implementation of an intercultural dialogue.”

Last year, three Amazonian Indigenous people were killed and 17 demonstrators were injured after Peruvian security forces responded to protests over a pipeline run by Canadian firm PetroTal.

Petroperu’s pipeline transports crude oil from northern Peru’s Amazon regions to a refinery on the country’s Pacific coast. The company was forced to halt the pumping of oil this week as the groups took over Station 5.

Ismael Pérez Petsa, a leader of the Lower Puinahua Indigenous Development and Conservation Association, told Radio La Voz de la Selva Wednesday that the outcome of the protest is now in the Castillo administration’s hands.

“Now we’ll see the real face of the executive who campaigned about supporting Indigenous peoples,” Pérez Petsa said. “The ball is with them and today it’s [a] government political decision.”

Photo by Dimitry Anikin on Unsplash

Ayoreo appeal to Inter-American Commission to save their forest from destruction

Ayoreo appeal to Inter-American Commission to save their forest from destruction

This article originally appeared in Survival International.

Featured image: The Ayoreo have previously blocked the trans-Chaco Highway to draw attention to government inaction over the destruction of their forest. © GAT/ Survival

The survival of the last uncontacted tribe in South America outside the Amazon is at stake.

Indigenous people living in a South American forest with one of the world’s highest rates of deforestation have appealed to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to save it from total destruction. Their uncontacted relatives are fleeing from one corner of the remaining forest to another, seeking refuge from ever-present bulldozers.

The Ayoreo-Totobiegosode of Paraguay’s Chaco forest have been trying since 1993 – when they submitted a formal land claim – to protect their forest in the face of a rapidly expanding agricultural frontier.

In 2013, given a total lack of political will in Paraguay to uphold the law and stop the destruction of their lands, they requested that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights intervene.

In 2016, at the government’s request, they agreed to enter formal negotiations with the government for their land titles, but for 5 years, and despite 42 meetings, the destruction of their forest has continued unabated. Satellite photos reveal that the Ayoreo now live in an island of forest surrounded by monocultures and beef production.

The Ayoreo have now announced they are pulling out of the negotiations, and have written again to the Inter-American Commission, asking it to order the Paraguayan authorities to finally return their land to them, and expel the agribusiness corporations that have taken it over.

Although most Ayoreo-Totobiegosode were forcibly contacted by American evangelical missionaries some years ago, an unknown number remain uncontacted in the last island of their forest, which is now being cut down around them.

Earlier this year one uncontacted group made contact with a settled community of their relatives, to express their fear at the destruction of their forest refuge, before returning to the forest.

The Ayoreo-Totobiegosode leader Porai Picanerai, who was forcibly contacted by the American New Tribes Mission in 1986, said: “My uncontacted relatives are suffering and in danger because they barely have any space now to live in. There are many outsiders occupying our land and burning the forest for beef production.”

Porai also said: “After having participated in most of the 42 meetings, I can confirm that the government doesn’t keep its word, that it lies and doesn’t want to protect my people or return the lands that we’ve always lived in and cared for. We’ll only get the government to act by going to outside bodies like the Commission.”

Survival Researcher Teresa Mayo said today: “The Ayoreo-Totobiegosode have called a halt to the negotiation process as the government was just dragging it out while allowing the rampant destruction of the Ayoreo’s forest to continue. The state knows that it simply has to do nothing to effectively condemn the uncontacted Ayoreo to death – and if a government sees the solution to its “problem” as the extermination of a people, we’re talking about genocide.”