Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada has expressed grave concern for the safety of the staff of Accion Ecologica (Environmental Action), a well-known Ecuadorian environmental NGO whose offices in the capital, Quito, were reportedly burgled on 22 May 2005.
Accion Ecologica is known internationally for its work to conserve Ecuadorian forests and for its struggle to protect the environmental rights of local communities. Amnesty International reports that the burglary appears to be a threat in response to the organization’s work on behalf of indigenous peoples in the Amazon opposed to the actions of international oil companies in the region. The burglars searched the office filing cabinet and took three computer hard disks, which contained information about the activities of indigenous communities and leaders campaigning against oil-drilling in their territory and its impact on the environment. The burglars ignored valuable equipment.
In addition to the burglary at Accion Ecologica, Amnesty International has received several reports of death threats and intimidation against activists who have been critical of the Ecuadorian government’s oil extraction policies and instead support indigenous peoples’ proposals for alternative development. The disputes often centre on potential oil reserves that lie beneath pristine tracts of virgin Amazon rainforest in legally designated indigenous tribal territories. There are reportedly fears that the conflict could become militarized [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/4308537.stm].
Much of the opposition stems from Ecuador’s experience with Texaco oil development between 1972 and 1992. ChevronTexaco, accused of causing significant environmental damage in the region, is currently facing a multi-billion-dollar lawsuit over alleged contamination that has caused widespread health problems.
Isabel Stramwasser, on behalf of LRWC, sent a letter of concern on 2 July 2005 to Dr. Alfredo Palacio, President of the Republic of Ecuador, outlining the organization’s concern for the safety of Accion Ecologica members and other human rights defenders involved in the dispute. LRWC urges an investigation into the burglary of the Accion Ecologica offices and reminds the government of Ecuador of their responsibility to collaborate with indigenous groups in the formulation of development policy. Copies of the letter have been sent to Ecuador’s Minister of the Interior, the Acting Attorney General and Accion Ecologica.