Landmark Rights of Nature Case To Be Heard in Ecuador’s Constitutional Court Could Affect Canadian Mining Companies

Reserva Los Cedros, MiningWatch Canada

The outcome of this significant case will set a precedent for all future Rights of Nature cases, and could dramatically limit the ability of mining companies to operate in Ecuador, specifically the current activities of Canadian mining company, Cornerstone Resources. 

On October 19th, the Court will be examining evidence concerning whether or not mining should be allowable within Los Cedros, which is a type of protected forest known as a bosque protector. The upcoming hearing is predicted to focus on the application of the Rights of Nature, which were guaranteed in Articles 71–74 of Ecuador’s constitution. 

Meanwhile mining company Cornerstone Resources continues to explore within the Reserve, without the appropriate permits, despite overwhelming opposition in the region, and in direct contravention of Protective Measures granted by the Provincial Court of Imbabura in June 2019.

Los Cedros Reserve in north-western Ecuador is one of the most biologically diverse habitats in the world, with more than 4,800 hectares (nearly 12,000 acres) of primary cloud forest safeguarding the headwaters of four important watersheds. It also protects incredible diversity, including over 200 species facing a high risk of extinction, five of which are regarded as critically endangered by the Ecuadorian government and the IUCN. 

One of these species is the critically endangered brown-headed spider monkey. Only 250 of these rare monkeys remain, around a quarter of which live at Los Cedros. Los Cedros is a Key Biodiversity Area, which makes it critical to the global persistence of biodiversity and the health of the planet.In May, the Constitutional Court of Ecuador specifically cited the biodiversity at Los Cedros and the presence of “the last populations of the spider monkey in a critical state of conservation, and the Andean (spectacled) bear [which is] in danger of extinction” as reasons for hearing the case.

Natalia Greene, the vice president of CEDENMA and a member of the executive committee for Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature, and a member of Los Cedros’s legal team, says, “All of Nature rights in Article 71-73 are quite important to understand the case of Los Cedros. It's an amazing place, threatened by mining. By reading these articles, you can understand that, if nature has rights — especially nature with such a big biodiversity, with so many species that are unique and that are on the verge of extinction — then Article 71 and 73 need to be applied in Los Cedros since it is facing such a big threat.”

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).

Cornerstone isn’t only knowingly jeopardizing the socio-political fabric and magnificent ecological diversity at Los Cedros, but they are also exploring in nearby Protected Forest Cerro Golondrinas as well as in other ecologically sensitive areas in the country, like the highland paramos in Azuay and Loja. Canadian companies are not only apathetic to the real threats their activities cause to biodiversity loss, but they are aggressively contravening any local measures taken to protect those resources." said Kirsten Francescone, Latin America Coordinator for MiningWatch Canada. 

Edgar Merlo, who heads the legal team for Los Cedros, said, “The [Constitutional] Court’s ruling in this case would be a first in Ecuador: on the Rights of Nature, the right to prior consultation of communities, and the right to legal certainty, since concessions were granted without respecting the declaration of protective forests. The final judgment by the Constitutional Court in this case could change the legal focus in Ecuador, South America, and the entire world on the Rights of Nature and the rights of local communities, so that mining concessions are not granted in Protected Forests.”

The rapid expansion of mining in Ecuador since 2017 has seen a 300% increase in new concessions for mining exploration, totaling over 2.9 million hectares (6.17 million acres) of land. Communities believe the Ecuadorian government has acted illegally for selling these concessions without their knowledge or consent, and acting without respect for the national networks of Protected Forests and Indigenous Territories. 

Our legal case has been based on the argument that mining in Protected Forests is a violation of the legal status of declared Protected Areas, the Rights of Nature, and the right of communities to prior consultation, even before considering potential environmental damages,” said José DeCoux, manager and founder of Los Cedros reserve.

Canadian mining company Cornerstone Capital Resources was given a permit to explore for gold at Los Cedros Reserve in a joint-venture arrangement with the Ecuadorian state mining company, ENAMI. It was the first company to sign this kind of agreement with the Ecuadorian government back in 2017, gaining access to swaths of ecologically sensitive areas for unbridled exploration. BHP also has a concession that overlaps part of the Reserve.

Ecuador was the first nation to include the Rights of Nature in its constitution. It could now become the first nation to protect large swathes of biodiversity, based upon this constitutional innovation. This would set an invaluable precedent worldwide,” says Jonathon Porritt, one of the UK’s leading environmentalists.

A positive ruling would also impact the ability of mining companies to operate in Ecuador. All phases of mining are scientifically proven to decrease biodiversity through the collective impacts of road construction, deforestation, and associated river sedimentation and pollution.

 “It is impossible to understate how important the habitat that Los Cedros protects is, and the science shows that very clearlyIt houses incredible diversity that we haven’t even begun to fully understand, plays a vital role in the water cycle, is an important carbon capture, and so much more. There’s so little intact primary forest left. Los Cedros is the last refuge for countless organisms,” said Professor Bitty A. Roy from the University of Oregon’s Institute for Ecology and Evolution. 

There has already been significant international outrage at the threat to the reserve, with 19,000 signatories to a petition set up by the US Center of Biological Diversity in August. It was also signed by over 1200 scientists, including Jane Goodall, EO Wilson, Peter Raven, and Rosemary and Peter Grant.  

Given the climate emergency, the need to keep reserves like Los Cedros intact takes on added urgency. Beyond the extraordinary biodiversity of these forests, they are vital to sequester carbon and water.

For more information please contact:

  • José Cueva, Media spokesperson, [email protected], +593 99 9347230
  • Josef DeCoux. Los Cedros Reserve, [email protected], +593 99 277 8878
  • Kirsten Francescone, Latin America Coordinator, MiningWatch Canada, +1 (437) 345-9881 
  • Bitty Roy, Biologist, University of Oregon, [email protected], +1 (541) 343-3896