On March 30th, 2011 Eleanor Geer Huddle and Richard Frederick Wheeler were granted the first Constitutional injunction in favor of nature in Ecuador, under Article 71 of the Ecuadorian Constitution (1). This decision came as the result of an appeal of a 2010 ruling by the Interim Judge of the Third Civil Court of Loja in which the case was dismissed for lack of legal standing. However, as of two years later the ruling still lacked full implementation. (4)
Ecuador was the first country in the world to recognize rights of nature in its national constitution, in revisions approved in 2008. (8) The Vilcabamba ruling is considered the world's first successful Rights of Nature lawsuit (9)
The case protested a three-year old road-widening project of the Vilcabamba-Quinara road, a process Wheeler and Huddle first noticed in early 2008, which resulted in large amounts of rock and excavated material being pushed into the Vilcabamba River in the Barrio Santorum sector (6). Huddle and Wheeler noted the lack of an environmental impact study and claimed that the project violated the rights of nature by ‘increasing river flow and provoking a risk of disasters from the growth of the river with the winter rains, causing large floods that affected the riverside populations who utilize the river’s resources’ (1). 5,000 meters of their own land, a valuable tract of agricultural land that they planned to turn into an eco-tourism retreat center, along with nearby land was severely flooded in 2010. (5) The plaintiffs did not note any particular cultural, spiritual or religious significance of the river to them in their case.
The Vilcabamba River flows through southern Ecuador, close to the Podocarpus and Yacuri National Parks. The ruling by the Provincial Court of Justice of Loja demanded that the Council present the environmental impact study regarding the road and the plan for remediation and rehabilitation of the affected area and riverside population. As of 2012 this had not been done. The implementation of the sentence was delegated to the Environmental Department and the Loja’s Ombudsman. (3)
This case has garnered criticism, as well, for potentially taking advantage of a Rights of Nature framework in order to protect property value of two respectively wealthy foreigners perhaps at the expense of construction of a road that may have benefited or been in the interest of local communities. (2) No locals testified in the case. (2) However, the Provincial Court of Justice of Loja ruled that, despite the allegation of the provincial government that the local population needed roads, there was no collision of constitutional rights in this case (rights of citizens versus rights of nature) as it did not rule that the Vilcabamba-Quinara road could not be widened, just that they must respect the rights of the Vilcabamba river while doing so. (5)(See less)