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Cultural Survival Condemns the Vile Murder of A’i Cofán Land Defender Eduardo Mendúa

As an Indigenous-led organization that advocates for the rights of Indigenous Peoples, Cultural Survival condemns the vile murder of Eduardo Mendúa (A’i Cofán), land and environmental defender and Head of International Relations of the Confederación de Nacionalidades Indígenas del Ecuador (CONAIE). Mendúa was killed on February 26, 2023, in his residence in the Province of Sucumbíos in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

We hold the government of President Guillermo Lasso and the company Petroecuador responsible for Eduardo Mendúa’s murder and we demand due diligence bringing the perpetrators to justice and taking good faith action to prevent further violence against Indigenous defenders. This murder did not take place in a vacuum. The oil company Petroecuador is prospecting to dig 30 oil wells in the A’i Cofán de Dureno community’s territory, disregarding the State’s obligation to obtain the community’s Free, Prior and Informed Consent. Our community partners, as well as the Ecuadorian Human Rights Alliance’s statement, affirm that this right to consultation and consent has been violated. Ecuador is violating its obligations to Indigenous Peoples under International Labour Organization Convention 169 and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. A suspect has been arrested as of February 27. Eduardo was aware that a price had been put on his head, a fact to which at least five people have testified since his murder, and the State failed to take any action to protect him.  Eduardo’s brother was killed less than a year ago with no perpetrator brought to justice, and community members opposed to oil extraction have been asking for protection ever since, to no avail. The community now fears the development of further violence due to the conflict the company has generated.

Mendúa’s assassination is yet another example of the systematic violence that Indigenous Peoples face and the increasing need to protect, preserve, and advocate for the lives and rights of Indigenous leaders and land defenders who live in fear of being attacked or killed while defending their inherent rights and territories.

When Eduardo was alive, in an interview with Cultural Survival in late January 2023, he emphasized the community’s great need for international solidarity at this time of struggle: “We invite all the organizations that can join us because our struggle is not only to conserve the forest. The climate crisis is affecting us and it is evident what is happening worldwide. To conserve the forest is to conserve for the common good of all people.”

Cultural Survival expresses our profound sorrow to Eduardo Mendúa’s family, the A’i Cofán de Dureno community, and the forest in his territory that will no longer have him to defend them. We demand that the government of Ecuador comply with its international obligations to protect the rights of Indigenous Peoples to self-determination, freedom of expression, and to Free, Prior and Informed Consent, and and that it bring the perpetrators of  Mendúa’s and other Indigenous land defenders’ murders to justice.