Kichwa activists in Ecuador have a new tool for showing the oil-related theft of their territory: an interactive digital story map with details of how the land has been stolen — sold mostly to oil companies— and is still dangerous because of leftover explosives.
The new map was featured in the Kichwa community's petition for redress against the Ecuadorean government last month.
On December 2, the environmental advocacy organization Amazon Watch announced that the map was used to demonstrate how the Ecuadorean government had not complied with an international court order regarding the selling of land belonging to the Kichwa people of Sarayaku to a Chinese oil company.
The digital story map was developed by the Center for International Justice and Law (CEJIL) and the Amazon Conservation Team (ACT) with support from the Geographer Carlos Mazabanda of Terra Mater, the Sarayaku community and Amazon Watch.
"The story-map clearly shows how Ecuador has sold off concessions without respecting our rights, as we have regularly denounced," said Félix Santi, president of the Sarayaku people at the hearing held before the IACHR.
The Sarayaku plaintiffs asserted that the Ecuadorean government did not consult them before selling three oil blocks that extend across 91 percent of Sarayaku territory and that this action violated the 2012 judgment against the government.
The Sarayaku attorneys utilized the interactive digital story map when showing the court where the blocks were located in relation to Sarayaku territory. Their legal team included Viviana Krsticevic, Executive Director of the Center for International Justice and Law (CEJIL) and Ecuadorean attorney Mario Melo.
"To date, Ecuador has not harmonized its legislation regarding prior consultation to ensure its compliance with international standards, which poses a threat not only to the Sarayaku but also to all the indigenous communities in Ecuador," Krsticevic said.
The Sarayaku community also showed on the digital map where pentolite, an explosive used for seismic testing and buried throughout Sarayaku territory for 14 years, was still present and had not been removed by the government as ordered in the 2012 decision.
According to CEJIL Spokesperson Alexandra McAnarney Lopez-Castro, the Ecuadorean government representatives at the IACHR hearing did not admit any wrong doing in regards to the selling of the oil blocks or the removal of the pentolite. Amazon Watch's Communication Manager Moira Birss noted that the government also asserted that they had consulted some indigenous residents in other parts of the country and that action constituted "consultation."
The IACHR will present its findings in February but meanwhile the digital story map is being heralded as an important asset for protecting indigenous communities.
"The story-map helps illustrate the impacts of petroleum extraction and mining on indigenous communities throughout the Amazon basin," said Kevin Koenig of Amazon Watch, "The need to pay off its debt with China has led the Ecuadorian government to foster a new petroleum boom in the Amazon, which will have a tremendous cost on human rights, biodiversity, and the climate."