Special Tribunal on Yasuni

Permanent Ethics Tribunal for the
Rights of Nature

The Ethics Tribunal for the Rights of Nature, chaired by Professor Boaventura de Sousa Santos, and adjudicated by Blanca Chancoso, Alberto Acosta and Ariruma Kowi, held a special session in Quito on April 11th, 2014, from 14h00 until 20h00.

By mandate of the Ethics Tribunal for the Rights of Nature, which was established in January of the same year, this special room knew the situation of the Yasuni National Park, particularly related to oil field ITT (Ishpingo, Tambocoha, Tiputini) or block 43. Their task was to analyze the arguments of the Presidency’s request to declare oil exploitation ​​of national interest and the national Assembly acceptance that allows the exploration and exploitation of oil in block 43 oil field, within the Yasuni National Park.


Following due process, on March 28th, 2014, the Tribunal’s secretary notified the President of the Republic of Ecuador, the President of the National Assembly and the Nation’s General Attorney, so they can appear and present the evidence and arguments they deem appropriate. However, no State representative appeared.

During the hearing, several arguments were heard from experts who have made scientific studies in the area and know in depth various aspects related to the Yasuni National Park. A geographical contextualization showed that life would be in danger if expanded oil drilling in the Yasuní continued. The biodiversity of Yasuní is unique and any extractive activity threatens the water, animals, plants and the spirit of the forest.

Experience shows that there is no technology to ensure that no serious environmental effects can occur. It was equally demonstrated that the 1×1000 argument is unsustainable, since serious studies show the impacts from deforestation, but also the effects of everything that oil activity represents: exploration work , starting with seismic and exploratory wells; infrastructure construction, including development of drilling fields, trails, roads, drilling platforms, housing infrastructure and operation of oil industry personnel; both secondary and main pipelines to get the oil out and to mobilize diluents; in addition to the effects that would be produced by the deafening noise of machinery, various equipment, vehicles and helicopters, and inevitable oil spills. And all that added to the breakdown of the social cohesion, exclusion, violence and death.

A key point is the need to protect the live of people in voluntary isolation, whose territoriality has a broader concept than only housing: the inviolability of their territories is the guarantee for its constant mobility, hence for their life. For that reason, it is surprising to see the changes in the maps produced by the government in August last year, “disappearing” the evidence of the isolated indigenous people in the area, with the sole purpose of justifying the exploitation of Yasuni ITT.

The Court, after seriously and severely analyzing the government’s arguments considers that these are unsustainable:

First, the government argues that there are no people in voluntary isolation in the area declared of national interest. The government ‘s own arguments exposed for six years, that bolstered the Yasuní ITT Initiative to protect the existence of indigenous people in voluntary isolation, dismantle  the recent official position.

Second, the government argues that the impact would be 1×1000 . As we noted above, serious studies show that the impact will be much higher not only due to the deforestation and construction of infrastructure, but because any oil activity will seriously affect and fracture the integral balance of the forest. As a reference of the oil impact is the environmental and social devastation of Chevron-Texaco in the Ecuadorian Amazon, severely affecting nature, as well as indigenous and settler communities.

Yasuni-Tribunal-witnessThird, the government says it will use high-end technology, that it will have an environmental management plan and that it will implement an ongoing audit. Several experts confirmed that high-end technology has limitations and it can always fail; that Yasuní, following the precautionary principle, considering it is a high risk area, it is preferable not to oil drill to prevent damage. At this point the failed use of the much talked high-end technology in the Gulf of Mexico, by the British Petroleum oil company was mentioned.

Fourth, the government claims that oil revenues from the Yasuni-ITT will solve the country’s poverty situation and will attain good living or sumak kawsay. Nothing is further away from the truth, it has been shown that with more than forty years of oil exploitation, poverty has not been eradicated and, indeed, it extends within the provinces where oil flows, the poorest ones in the country. Moreover, it has also been demonstrated that the issues of poverty and inequality will only be resolved when a serious change occurs regarding the excessive concentration of wealth. On the other hand, Amazonian women testified regarding the urgent need to live in harmony with Nature and that good living or sumak kawsay does not mean accumulation, since life cannot be valued in money neither can Yasuni be considered and additional natural resource.

Fifth, the government offers to solve the problems of underdevelopment by expanding the extractivist frontier. As demonstrated during the hearing of the case, the expansion of the extractive frontier deepens underdevelopment and poverty, and it is not, in any way, the path to build good living or sumak kawsay.

Finally, the Court heard several testimonies on the plight of the defenders of the rights of nature, both in their own forests or in cities, defenders whose task to fulfill the constitutional mandate is becoming increasingly difficult. Specifically, the Tribunal learned about the risks, threats and even physical and verbal abuse suffered by those who defend the rights of nature due to the pressures and successive governmental attacks; as in the recent case of the collective Yasunidos . The Tribunal considers vitally important the existence of individuals and communities that defend nature, as dictated by the Constitution, in Article 83 (5 and 6), when it states that it is a responsibility of the people to respect human rights, the rights nature and aim to guarantee these rights.

By all the evidence and testimonies presented, the Tribunal was able to confirm the continued and growing violation of the rights of nature embodied in Articles 71-74 of the 2008 Constitution, the rights of indigenous peoples and indigenous peoples voluntary isolation enshrined in Article 57 of the Constitution, and the rights of all Ecuadorians and all people living in Ecuador to a healthy and ecologically balanced environment recognized in Article 14 and 66 ( 27) in the Constitution Ecuador; rights that also are guaranteed in the Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth issued in Cochabamba, Bolivia. The Tribunal also acknowledged the violation of the rights of defenders Nature as well as other threathened rights suchas the right of association, freedom of expression, and constitutional right to resistance, laid down in Article 98.

Accordingly, the Tribunal orders the Ecuadorian Government to take the necessary measures to protect and fulfill the Rights of Nature, Human Rights, the Rights of Indigenous People, to guarantee ” the highest duty of the state (which) is actually (to) respect and uphold the rights guaranteed in the Constitution” (Art. 11.9). This requirement is extended to the implementation of the Rights of Nature in Intag, Quimsacocha, the mangroves, the Condor Highland and in every corner of this country endowed with so much natural heritage.

The Tribunal calls upon all national authorities, especially electoral and constitutional, to ensure the right to expression of the popular will expressed in the request for a referendum so that it will be the decision of the whole society to rule between life and oil exploitation in the Yasuni -ITT.

Finally, the Tribunal promotes the constitution of a special committee to constantly monitor the implementation of this judgment. The commission shall consist of Vandana Shiva, Boaventura de Sousa Santos, Julio César Trujillo, Eduardo Gudynas , Blanca Chancoso and Francois Houtart (to be confirmed).

The Tribunal concluded this special session stating that their actions will continue to assure the guarantee Rights of Nature in the world, that ultimately allow the mere “right to exist ” of human beings themselves.

Download printable PDF Bulletin Yasuni April 2014 Tribunal EN.