Historical judgment by Ecuador's Constitutional Court rules in favor of Reserva Los Cedros and the Rights of Nature
The Constitutional Court of Ecuador issued a historic ruling with positive repercussions for protected forests, water, healthy environment, nature and communities in Ecuador. The sentence nullifies the environmental registry and water permits from Río Magdalena 01 and 02 mining concessions in the Los Cedros Protected Forest, in the Cotacachi canton, Imbabura.
“This sentence is transcendental for Ecuador, specifically for the effective recognition of the rights of the nature, for the first time development of the precautionary principle in the country, and to make effective the Right of all Ecuadorians to be consulted when these people will be the first to be affected by a project of these characteristics," says Fred Larreátegui, Attorney for the defense of the case.
The Rights of Nature have as full normative force as any other another right in the Constitution. They are not simply ideals or statements, but are full legal mandates. The protection of the Rights of Nature requires the application of the constitutional principles of precaution and prevention. The scientific uncertainty about the negative consequences of an activity in the ecosystems and natural processes prevent the execution of this activity. The right to a healthy environment and the right to water are closely related and they must be understood under a biocentric approach. This protection includes the application of the precautionary principle.
Environmental consultation is not socialization. It is a consultation where the community, in the broadest and most democratic sense possible, is the protagonist of the decision process that it can affect the environment and the consultant is the State. The duty to consult is not delegable. The environmental consultation must incorporate the elements of the consultation with indigenous peoples, where applicable. That implies that it is prior, free and informed. It implies that it is done in good faith and with the aim of reaching agreements with the consulted community. Therefore, not just any mechanism for participation, hearings, workshops, meetings, qualifies as a “consultation process”. The lack of environmental consultation results in the unenforceability and nullity of the unannounced decisions.
The ruling frees the Los Cedros Protected Forest from activities that threaten the rights of nature. It leaves mining companies without permits to operate the mining concessions on it. Mining companies must remove infrastructure and reforest affected areas.
“The sentence prioritizes nature, which is closely linked to the survival and well-being of human beings. We are a country with a wonderful, but highly threatened biodiversity - that biodiversity, those forests, provide various ecosystem services, such as water, clean air, regulation climate, in addition to various tourist attractions that promote activities truly sustainable. It is absurd and a contradiction in every way to speak of sustainable mining. This ruling sets a great precedent to protect the last remaining forests in the most biodiverse country, per square kilometer, of the world," says Elisa Levy, a spokesperson for OMASNE.
The court also ruled that the State (central government and relevant autonomous governments) must build a participatory plan for the care of Los Cedros; and the Ministry of the Environment must adapt the regulation of records and environmental licenses as provided by the Constitutional Court in this case.
This ruling marks a great precedent that contributes to the effective defense of other communities, territories and ecosystems threatened or affected by extractivism. It ratifies the leading role of communities in environmental protection, the need to effectively consult and submit to the highest public scrutiny the activity proposal. It ratifies the substantive obligation of the State to protect constitutional rights.
“The sentence is an advance in the protection of the rights of nature and environmental consultation, generating standards significantly aligned with the vision of the constitution and of living well," says Gustavo Redín, a spokesperson for CEDENMA.
Just as the State cannot socialize a decision already taken and passing that off as a “query” cannot authorize an activity that violates rights of nature and rights to water and a healthy environment or whose effects on these rights cannot be known. Everything, in application of clear mandates is constitutional.
OMASNE Press Statement