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June 14, 2024

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Update 2021/12/4
Rights of Nature


Rights of Nature victory in Ecuador

Protecting the Los Cedros Biological Reserve from mining

By Suzanne Forcese

“This is one of the most important and worthwhile cases of this century. We will have a precedent that will not just be important for Ecuador, but important for the entire world. It is crucial for climate change discussions, and crucial for the discussions we’re having on biodiversity protection.” - Monica Feria-Tinta, Barrister Bar of England & Wales specializing in Public International Law

On December 1, 2021, the Constitutional Court of Ecuador issued a landmark ruling in the Los Cedros case. Here is what WATERTODAY learned from Mari Margil, Executive Director, Center for Democratic and Environmental Rights (CDER), Washington.

Situated in North Western Ecuador, Los Cedros Reserve covers more than 4800 hectares of primary cloud forest safeguarding the headwaters of four watersheds.


In 2017, Ecuador’s national environmental agency authorized two corporations to conduct exploratory mining in Los Cedros, a zone designated as Protected Forest in 1995.

Los Cedros is a place of significant biodiversity and fragile ecosystems, including the humid forests of Choco, the tropical Andes Mountain Range, and a cloud forest. It is also a habitat for 178 species of flora and fauna threatened with extinction.

Concerned about the impacts of mining in Los Cedros, the nearby municipality of Santa Ana de Cotacachi went to court to dispute the government’s authorizations to the mining corporations. The municipality argued such authorization was in violation of the constitutional Rights of Nature and other rights 

In 2019, the case was selected by the Constitutional Court of Ecuador. This is the highest court of Ecuador with the power to select cases to review the application of constitutional rights and to define their legal content.

Verdicts issued in selected cases set standards of general application (erga omnes effect).

The Los Cedros case dealt with activity authorized by the government of Ecuador - authorized on-line without specific procedure to assess the impact of the mining on the Rights of Nature.

Lawyers, conservationists and more than 17 international scientists submitted Amicus Curiae, academic papers on the significance of the Los Cedros Biological Reserve in the case to protect the reserve.

Los Cedros Biological Reserve

The Reserve is a Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) which makes it critical to the global persistence of biodiversity and health of the planet.

Tucked within its boundaries are hundreds of species with high risk of extinction, including the white fronted Capuchin Photo Los Cedros Reserve

In one of the submitted research articles (New Mining Concessions Could Severely Decrease Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services in Ecuador, Bitty A. Roy et al) the Abstract states:

Ecuador has among the world’s highest biodiversity, despite being a tiny fraction of the world’s land area. The threat of extinction for some of this biodiversity has dramatically increased since April 2016 during which time the Ecuadorian government opened around 13% if the country to mining exploration with many of the concessions in previously protected forests.... Our results reveal the potential losses that mining could cause: 8 critical endangered species, including two primates (brown-headed spider monkey and white-fronted Capuchin), 13 endangered species, 153 vulnerable, 89 near threatened and a large number of less threatened.

Key Outcomes of the Court’s Ruling

  • The Court ruled that mining in the Los Cedros Protected Forest is a violation of the constitutional Rights of Nature, and is therefore prohibited in the forest
  • The Court ruled that the constitutional Rights of Nature were violated by the issuance of mining permits that would harm the biodiversity of the forest, including species at high risk of extinction and fragile ecosystems
  • To enforce the ruling, the court ruled that the governmental authorizations granted to mining corporations to operate in Los Cedros are revoked
  • The Court ruled that the government of Ecuador is obligated to apply Article 73 of the Ecuador Constitution, which requires precautionary and restrictive measures be taken to prevent the extinction of species
  • The Court also declared that the application of the constitutional Rights of Nature is not limited to the protected areas, such as Los Cedros, rather – as with any constitutional right – it applies in the entire territory of the country

Margil stated “We congratulate the community and everyone who worked so hard, for so long, to protect nature with Los Cedros. This is a very important ruling by the Court that will mean greater protection of at-risk species and fragile ecosystems across Ecuador.”


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