A coalition of organizations and law professors submitted an amicus brief to the Constitutional Court of Ecuador calling for recognition of the rights of the Dulcepamba River. Legal experts believe the decision will provide specific standards and limits for applying the Rights of Nature, which is recognized in Ecuador's 2008 Constitution.
"The Constitutional Court has the opportunity to issue a landmark ruling that affirms Ecuador's strong commitment to both the Rights of Nature and human rights," said Constanza Preito Figelist, the Ocean Rights Lead at Earth Law Center. "Ecuador can be an example for countries worldwide on how our legal system can harmonize with nature."
The case has been building up since 2002, when the company Hidrotambo, S.A. built a hydroelectric dam on the Dulcepamba River, adjacent to the village of San Pablo de Amalí and located in a vastly biodiverse region on the western slope of the Andes Mountains. The majority of people in San Pablo de Amalí and nearby towns immediately opposed the dam and protested the company's failure to secure local consent. But the dam was built anyway. The dam has caused severe negative impacts on local communities and the Dulcepamba River itself. For communities, the dam destroyed agricultural lands through flooding and changes to river flow, threatened their water access, and diminished food sources, such as fish. For ecosystems, the dam devastated native species and ecosystem health in this biologically rich region on the western slope of the Andes Mountains.
"This case demonstrates that degrading our ecosystems harms human communities, as well," said Shannon Nelson, a Student Fellow at the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center. "We must put community and ecosystem health above unnecessary dam projects." The submitted amicus brief argues that the hydroelectric project violates the Rights of Nature, along with related human rights. The amicus brief also seeks recognition of certain fundamental rights of the Dulcepamba, including its right to flow and to restoration.
The Constitutional Court's ruling will set a precedent and become binding jurisprudence in Ecuador, forcing lower courts to follow its lead. Many environmental and human rights advocates believe this is a test case for the Rights of Nature in the face of disturbing ecological declines worldwide. In selecting this case, the Constitutional Court itself recognized the gravity, novelty, relevance, and limited existence of judicial precedent in the case. "We hope that Ecuador's Constitutional Court orders the government to take strong and specific actions to protect, maintain, and restore the Dulcepamba River, as required by Ecuador's Constitution," said Carla Cardenas, a Law and Policy Associate with Earth Law Center and an Ecuadorian lawyer. "With biodiversity collapsing, courts worldwide must act boldly to protect nature, upon which all human life depends."
The proponents of the amicus brief include the organizations Earth Law Center, the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, International Rivers, and CEDENMA, as well as law professors Oliver A. Houck (Tulane Law School), Zygmunt Plater (Boston College School of Law), and Patrícia Galvão Ferreira (Windsor Law).