Ecuador: Waorani Community Sues Fossil Fuel Company for Contributing to Climate Change

El Coca, Paris, Quito – Today, on Human Rights Day, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its member organisation in Ecuador, Acción Ecológica, along with the Union of People Affected by Chevron-Texaco (UDAPT) and members of the Waorani indigenous people, have filed a lawsuit in Ecuador, demanding protection of human rights and nature from the impact of oil activities that contribute to climate change and bring about irreversible damage to ecological balance, and to the health and quality of life of indigenous peoples.

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The complaint presented today before the Orellana Provincial Court of Justice denounces oil company PetroOriental SA, a subsidiary of Chinese transnational companies China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) and China Petrochemical Corporation (SINOPEC), for gas flaring and venting in oil block 14 during petroleum extraction, and the subsequent atmospheric pollution and its direct effects on climate change, which constitutes an ongoing, persistent violation of human rights and nature. 

Oil activities contributing to global warming affect all of humanity and, in this case, people whose livelihood depends on natural cycles for their survival: the Waorani people. These indigenous people live intricately bound with their environment, the river, the forest. 

The constitutional action requests that flares be shut down, and that the burning and venting of gas cease. The plaintiffs call on the company to assume its portion of responsibility and repair the damage caused locally by the global phenomenon of climate change. Protecting cycles of nature, and preventing and alleviating the effects of climate change are necessary to guarantee the constitutional rights of the inhabitants of affected communities and prevent future violations that could recur under similar circumstances. 

“Ecuador, as a signatory to the UN Convention on Climate Change, took on responsibilities with regard to the climate crisis, for its citizenry and the international community. If our claim is upheld and a ruling made in favour of the plaintiffs, it will be a significant step in the fulfillment of the Ecuadorian government’s commitments vis-à-vis Amazonian peoples, humanity as a whole, and the planet,” declared Maria Isabel Cubides, a researcher with FIDH’s business and human rights desk. 

Violations of constitutional rights of indigenous peoples arise from the effects of climate change, to which flaring causes significant emission of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, soot, nitrous oxide, ozone and water vapour. This illustrates the interdependence of human rights and protection of the natural world.

Testimonies from community elders illustrate these impacts. Pego Enomenga, an elder of the Miwaguno community, recounted:

“Before, the river didn’t swell so high. It would fluctuate, but it didn’t overflow. Now, the water covers the crops, there’s so much water. Before, it didn’t cause any damage, but now the fields are covered with water. The houses seem to be swept away by the river.”

Pego Enomenga, an elder of the Miwaguno community

The effects of climate change identified in the region range from irregular and unpredictable flooding and changes in vegetable growth cycles, to loss of effectiveness of ancestral knowledge, droughts, disturbance of the flora and fauna of the region and the consequent alteration of natural life cycles, among other phenomena.

The lawsuit filed today is the first such request on climate change in Ecuador, and could serve as an example to others around the world about what can be done to attain justice for people suffering in the face of climate crises.

“The organisations filing the complaint, along with the Pikenani – elders of the Waorani community and plaintiffs in this case – solicit the Ecuadorian government to admit the protective action brought before the court, declare the existence of a violation of human rights and nature, and consequently order the suspension of the acts that give rise to this infringement: the gas flaring and venting in block 14, and to establish effective reparation for all victims,” concluded Ivonne Yánez, of Acción Ecológica.

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