Lawyers, conservationists and 17 scientists shared their findings on the significance of Los Cedros Reserve and other Protected Forests at the Constitutional Court in Ecuador on Monday 19 October, and argued that the Rights of Nature should be upheld.
“Evidence was presented to the court about the high degree of biodiversity within Bosques Protectores, and the damaging impact of even rudimentary exploratory mining operations on rivers, biodiversity, and endemic species,” says Elisa Levy, Research Coordinator of the Los Cedros scientific station.
“In addition to protecting biodiversity, the reserves also serve surrounding communities by providing sustainable jobs, which have gradually increased over time, and through ecosystem services such as abundant, clean water. Short-term national gains from mining will not compensate for permanent biodiversity losses, and long-term ecosystem service and economic losses at the local and regional levels,” says Bitty Roy, a biologist from the University of Oregon.
The hearing focused on the application of the Rights of Nature for Bosques Protectores (legally Protected Forests), which have been guaranteed in Articles 71–74 of Ecuador’s Constitution. The Court requested “national and international academic institutions that have carried out scientific research” on Los Cedros to present their findings.
For the entire day on Monday, Ecuador’s highest court heard a series of Zoom testimonies. Scientists included Ecuador’s best-known herpetologist, Juan Manuel Guayasamín, fresh-water ecologist Blanca Ríos-Tourma, and many international scientists, including Mika Peck, Bitty Roy, and Roo Vandegrift. The court also heard from Merlin Tuttle, the world’s foremost bat biologist. Other witnesses speaking on behalf of Los Cedros included ex-Minister of Mining and economist Alberto Acosta and Dr. Hugo Echeverría, a lawyer specializing in Rights of Nature and the Constitution.
Dan Thomas, a biologist from Whitman College who has been working with economists from Notre Dame and Duke, testified that the existing carbon stocks at Los Cedros are estimated to be worth at least $210 million.
CEDENMA spokesperson, Natalia Greene, told the court on Monday: "The Constitutional Court of Ecuador has an opportunity while the world is watching to employ the Rights of Nature as guaranteed in the Constitution, and make a decision that protects a highly threatened ecosystem from mining."
Esperanza Martínez of Acción Protección, Jose Cueva, the spokesperson for Los Cedros, and representatives from Birdlife International, Amazon Frontlines, and the Center for Biological Diversity made strong arguments about the value of Bosques Protectores and the impossibility of conducting any kind of exploration within them without risking the extinction of many species.
Mining companies tried to justify mining in Bosques Protectores by saying that the Rights of Nature did not apply to these Forests, as they were not specifically mentioned in the Constitution. However, these statements were countered by legal experts, who quoted Article 71 of the Constitution*, saying the Rights of Nature were universal rights, granted by the Constitution to all of Ecuador, and not just limited to National Parks (PANE).
Chamber of Mining officials were concerned that any restriction to mining operations might affect Ecuador’s “judicial security”, potentially risking the State being sued by mining companies, as in 2014 when a US court ruled the government had to pay Chevron millions in compensation for violating a bilateral investment treaty.
Those speaking in favour of mining in Protected Forests included Fernando L. Benalcázar, the Vice-Minister of Mining; Pablo Mendez, the legal representative of Canadian mining company Cornerstone Capital Resources; and Oscar Vela for Australian SolGold subsidiaries Vallerico Resources and Green Rock Resources.
Despite the court case being streamed over Zoom due to the pandemic, crowds of supporters remained outside the Constitutional Court in Quito for the entire proceedings, playing music and dancing while chanting “Justicia Los Cedros” (Justice for Los Cedros) and “Bosques Sin Minería” (Mining out of forests).
However, other supporters were prevented from attending, with at least one bus detained at Cotacachi by the Ecuadorian National Police. Social and environmental group OMASNE stated it was concerning that police were limiting the rights of citizens to protest, while allowing miners to pass unimpeded.
“Law enforcement blocks the passage and tries to stop the legitimate right to protest, an abuse of free expression and above all evidence that the powers of the State benefit the interests of transnational companies,” OMASNE said in a FaceBook post on Monday.
The livestream of the Court case had 15,000 views as of Monday evening Quito time, with strong engagement by Ecuadorians predominantly in favour of protecting the Reserve.
The Court will consider the testimonies along with other submitted evidence until the 23rd October, after which the Court is expected to make a decision deciding the future of Los Cedros. The Constitutional Court is the final hope for the Los Cedros Reserve to safeguard its future as a biological sanctuary. A positive ruling would not only protect Los Cedros’s forests from mining, but could provide a precedent to safeguard all 186 Protected Forests in Ecuador, totalling some 2.4 million hectares (6 million acres).
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Hashtags used in the case: #JusticiaLosCedros #SaveLosCedros
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Jose Cueva,Media spokesperson: email@example.com +593 99 9347230
Josef DeCoux, Los Cedros Reserve: firstname.lastname@example.org +593 99 277 8878
Elisa Levy, Research Coordinator at Los Cedros: email@example.com
Bitty Roy, Biologist at University of Oregon: firstname.lastname@example.org +1 541-343-389
* Article 71 of the Ecuadorian Constitution
“Nature, or Pachamama, where life is reproduced and exists, has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution.
“Every person, people, community or nationality, will be able to demand the recognitions of rights for nature before the public organisms. The application and interpretation of these rights will follow the related principles established in the Constitution.
“The State will motivate natural and juridical persons as well as collectives to protect nature; it will promote respect towards all the elements that form an ecosystem.”