Plans to mine Ecuador forest violate rights of nature, court rules

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<span>Photograph: Rosanne Tackaberry/Alamy</span>
Photograph: Rosanne Tackaberry/Alamy

Ecuador’s highest court has ruled that plans to mine for copper and gold in a protected cloud forest are unconstitutional and violate the rights of nature.

In a landmark ruling, the constitutional court of Ecuador decided that mining permits issued in Los Cedros, a protected area in the north-west of the country, would harm the biodiversity of the forest, which is home to spectacled bears, endangered frogs, dozens of rare orchid species and the brown-headed spider monkey, one of the world’s rarest primates.

Enami EP, Ecuador’s national mining company, held rights for mining concessions that had been granted in two-thirds of the reserve. The decision means that mining concessions, environmental and water permits in the forest must be cancelled after the court upheld a lawsuit brought by communities near Los Cedros that was successful in a lower court.

The ruling by Ecuador’s highest court, published on Wednesday, upheld the rights of nature, which are enshrined in the country’s constitution, and said they applied across the whole country, not just to protected areas.

Los Cedros is in the Chocó region of South America that includes parts of Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. It is one of the most biodiverse parts of the planet, home to flora and fauna found nowhere else on Earth.

“This is a historic victory in favour of nature,” said Natalia Greene of the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature, an NGO that argued for the court to keep mining away from Los Cedros.

“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.”

Campaigners said the ruling set an important marker across Ecuador and the region, where several other mining and extraction projects are planned in ecologically important areas. Between 2007 and 2008, Ecuador enshrined the rights of nature in its rewritten constitution.

Dr Mika Peck, a senior lecturer in biology at the University of Sussex who is from Ecuador and first investigated the biological importance of Los Cedros in the mid-90s, compares the significance of the ruling to Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man, a key text in the American revolution.

“It is important for the world to reflect on the limits of nature and to seriously question the effectiveness of current conservation policies and actions,” he said. “Policy frameworks that place humans in context as a part of nature, integrated into a system that balances intrinsic rights between legitimate subjects of the law, rather than placing humans as above, or apart from, nature, will be a necessary part of addressing the serious environmental issues that our planet is facing. This ruling is as important to nature as Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man were to our own species.”

The Guardian has contacted Enami EP for comment.

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