Wednesday, 3 October 2012

The Sarayaku Community Case in Ecuador: Community Involvement in Resource Exploitation

In April 2012, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued a judgment in the case of the Sarayaku Community v. Ecuador. In this case, the State of Ecuador was charged with violating the rights of members of the Sarayaku people for allowing indiscriminate oil exploitation in their territory, at the expense of their ancestral lands, including spaces of memory, mourning and ritual.

This was the first time the Inter-American Court sent a delegation to an indigenous community for fact-finding and to conduct hearings. A video (in Spanish) produced by Olger Ignacio Gonzalez (here), a lawyer at the Court’s Secretariat, documents the work of the delegation and the testimonies given to the Court. During those hearings, Ecuador acknowledged their responsibility for violating the rights of the Sarayaku community, including their right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent.

The video is particularly powerful in showing how the Sarayaku live, and how they were affected by the oil exploitation on their lands. But it is also a stark reminder of what many have referred to as “strategic essentialism” (which has been the object of discussion in this blog in the past). One can see how the Sarayaku members giving testimony struggle to package and frame their grievances in terms understandable to their audience, and easily translatable into human rights claims. However salutary the effort of the Inter-American Court (and Ecuador’s acknowledgment of responsibility), it is also somewhat worrisome that, in an era where pluralism is flagged as the word of the day, and constitutions across South America claim to be multi- and / or intercultural, that this problem in translation is still so acute.

Post written by Lucas Lixinski.

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