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Road widening at Vilcabamba River and recognition of rights of nature, Ecuador

A 2011 ruling by a provincial court in Ecuador recognizing the Vilcabamba River's rights were violated by road construction became the first legal ruling in favour of Rights of Nature in the world.


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)

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Road widening at Vilcabamba River and recognition of rights of nature, Ecuador
State or province:Provincia de Loja
Location of conflict:Barrio de Santorum sector
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Infrastructure and Built Environment
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Water access rights and entitlements
Tourism facilities (ski resorts, hotels, marinas)
Transport infrastructure networks (roads, railways, hydroways, canals and pipelines)
Building materials extraction (quarries, sand, gravel)
Specific commodities:Land
Sand, gravel
Tourism services
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Note that the size of the project (0.5 hectares) refers to the area of land damaged by flooding as referenced in the official court sentence (6), as the exact area of the road construction project has not been found.

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Project area:0.5
Level of Investment for the conflictive project43,000
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:2-56,545
Start of the conflict:01/01/2008
Relevant government actors:Provincial Government of Loja
Ecuadorian Government
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature (
Fundación Pachamama (dissolved)
Ecuadorian Coordinator for the Defense of Nature and the Environment (CEDENMA ) (
Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF)
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:International ejos
Forms of mobilization:Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Objections to the EIA
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil erosion
Potential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Noise pollution, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Health ImpactsPotential: Other Health impacts
Other Health impactspossible health impacts related to loss of agricultural land or resources for downstream families
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Other socio-economic impacts, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Displacement, Loss of livelihood
Other socio-economic impactsloss of valuable land for eco-tourism project
possible loss of livelihood or displacement for downstream families affected by flooding
Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
New legislation
Under negotiation
Application of existing regulations
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Project temporarily suspended
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:While the road construction was stopped, the damage to the river has never been fully repaired. Furthermore, the concept of 'environmental justice' is complicated here, as the plaintiffs were two white, wealthy foreigners who were already altering the natural environment through construction of an ecotourism center, while the road construction may have benefited rural, lower-income families.
Sources & Materials
Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

7. RoN in ecuadorian constitution articles 71-74
[click to view]

6. full text of sentence
[click to view]

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

2. Homogenizing Community, Homogenizing Nature: An Analysis of Conflicting Rights in the Rights of Nature Debate (academic article by Laurel Fish, Stanford University)
[click to view]

8. Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund page on Rights of Nature
[click to view]

3. Global Alliance for Rights of Nature update on case 1 year after ruling
[click to view]

1. Global Alliance for Rights of Nature article on case
[click to view]

5. Global Alliance for Rights of Nature article on case in spanish (articulo sobre el caso en español)
[click to view]

10. 2001 Loja census
[click to view]

9. Eleanor Huddle's account of the case
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

4. CBC article/David Suzuki documentary about case
[click to view]

Meta information
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:3219
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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