Court forces Ecuador government to protect Indigenous Waorani during COVID-19


Espisona said the community filed a motion to the judge on the morning of June 19, requesting she modify this response to include the immediate cessation of extractive activities. 

Mongabay contacted the president’s office and the Secretariat of Human Rights for comment, but did not receive any response by time of publication. The Ministry of Health was also unable to accommodate an interview request by time of publication. Nemonte Nenquimo said officials from the ministries involved in the lawsuit met online with Waorani leaders on the evening of June 19, in their first attempts to coordinate next steps with communities.     

This is the third lawsuit filed by Indigenous communities in Ecuador against the government during the COVID-19 pandemic, which began in the South American country in mid-March. On April 7, Ecuador’s national Indigenous confederation CONAIE filed a motion with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights against the Ecuadoran government for violating citizens’ rights to life and health. The president’s office had called a state of emergency and tried to suspend jurisdictional guarantees at the beginning of the pandemic. When these guarantees were reinstated April 30, the IACHR denied CONAIE’s original motion. The indigenous community is now evaluating what legal steps to take next, according to the confederation’s attorney Lenin Zarzosa.

On April 29, the Kichwa federation FECUNAIE, CONFENAIE and other supporters filed a lawsuit against the government and private and state oil companies for a massive oil spill that occurred April 7, when a pipeline burst and spilled some 15,000 barrels of crude down the Coca and Napo rivers, contaminating the water supply for up to 2,000 Indigenous families who live along the rivers. Espinosa, who is also the main lawyer for the plaintiffs in this case, said it has been suspended for unknown reasons for an undetermined period of time.

Andres Tapia, communications director for CONFENIAE, told Mongabay that all nationalities in the rainforest are experiencing “the same situation of abandonment by the state.”

Waorani leaders distribute food supplies as part of the humanitarian aid that the Waorani organizations have self-managed with the support of the campaign and Indigenous Emergency Action Fund, organized by Amazon Frontlines together with the indigenous organizations CONAIE, CONFENIAE and Alianza Ceibo, Shellpare, Pastaza, Ecuadorian Amazon. Photo courtesy Mitch Anderson/Amazon Frontlines.

Like the Waorani, most communities have had to coordinate with local universities to get PCR COVID-19 tests in their territory themselves, while CONFENIAE has been delivering food kits to communities in need. He said he was unsure if any other communities plan to sue the government, as the Waorani have done, but these kinds of measures “have not been ruled out.”

The biggest concern now, Tapia added, is local governments loosening restrictions and opening the economy again, which will increase the circulation of people in the region.

Back in Shell, with fever and intense body aches, Nemonte Nenquimo herself is showing signs of COVID-19. Most of her family and neighbors have been diagnosed with the virus, and have been using medicinal plants to make strong teas and vapor baths as a treatment, which seem to be helping with respiration difficulties and reduce body aches, Nemonte said.  She said she’ll be watching the government closely to make sure it complies with the recent ruling.

“We know how they work. Sometimes they come, talk, meet with local representatives and then don’t take action in communities,” she said. “We’ll be there watching, evaluating, communicating. They have to comply.”

Banner image: Waorani leaders get ready to hold a virtual press conference on May 21, 2020, to report on the COVID-19 emergency in the territory and the legal actions being taken by Shell, Pastaza, Ecuadorian Amazon. Photo courtesy Mitch Anderson/Amazon Frontlines.

Article published by Genevieve Belmaker

This story first appeared on Mongabay

South Africa Today – Environment

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