Secoya, Occidental Sign Code of Conduct

By Jim Oldham

[Reproduced from the December 1999 issue of After the Fact, the newsletter of the Institute for Science and Interdisciplinary Studies (ISIS). (c) 2002 ISIS, all rights reserved.]

On the 29th of October, the Secoya Indigenous Organization of Ecuador (OISE) celebrated an important success in the struggle to defend their rights and their territory as oil development encroaches on both. On that day, in Quito, Ecuador, leaders of OISE and top officers of Occidental Exploration and Production Company (OEPC, subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum Corporation, AKA OXY) signed a code of conduct that establishes "principles, procedures, requirements, responsibilities, and obligations with which OISE and OEPC must comply" during their "dialogue related to oil activities of OEPC in territory of the Secoya Nation…" It is a document dedicated to ensuring recognition of the Secoya’s constitutional rights and establishing for them a more equal relationship with the powerful multinational oil company.

Much of Secoya territory lies within Block 15, an oil exploration concession OEPC has contracted with the Ecuadorian government to develop. Since 1995, OEPC has been intermittently active in Secoya territory, doing seismic and topographic studies in various parts of the territory. To gain Secoya permission to carry out these activities they have had a series of negotiated agreements with OISE, but these negotiations and agreements have been marked by misunderstandings, contradictions, and lack of Secoya access to information or to independent advisors.

This history culminated a year ago in OISE’s discovery and denunciation of a secret agreement between OEPC and residents of one Secoya village allowing exploratory drilling in Secoya territory. The rejection of this agreement by the majority of the Secoya, and the renunciation of the agreement by the minority who had signed, under pressure and without access to advisors or information, led to annulment of the agreement. Since then, OISE has worked, with support from the Institute for Science and Interdisciplinary Studies, the Center for Economic and Social Rights, and other allies, to establish a set of rules to govern their dialogue with OEPC.

OEPC’s initial reaction was to argue that a code of conduct was unnecessary but OISE’s position that without a code their could be no dialogue—no discussion of any proposed oil activities in Secoya territory—forced them to modify this stance. After four months of difficult negotiations over the wording of the code, it was finally signed—in Spanish and Pai Coca, the language of the Secoya nation—at a ceremony in Quito attended by 90 Secoya, several Ecuadorian Government Ministers and sub-secretaries, international observers, and most of OEPC’s Quito-based employees.

The Secoya fought for, and signed, the Code of Conduct with OEPC in order to ensure:

1) an honest and transparent dialogue.

2) recognition and application of the Secoya Nation’s right to information, participation, consultation, and self-determination regarding activities in their territory.

3) recognition of the Secoya Indigenous Organization of Ecuador—the democratically elected governing organization of the Secoya Nation—as the only Secoya representative in the dialogue with OEPC.

4) access to information about the possible environmental, social, and cultural impacts of oil activities proposed for Secoya territory.

5) their right to choose, freely and without restrictions, the consultants and advisors that they need to understand and respond to the proposals of OEPC.

6) their right to make decisions according to Secoya norms and traditions, without pressures of time or any other sort.

7) the principle that OEPC is responsible to provide all necessary financing for full, informed OISE participation in the dialogue, yet there can be no implied or intended influence on or commitment by OISE as a result of this financing.

The winning of the code has been a long and difficult process and it represents only the beginning of a new phase in the dialogue between OISE and OEPC. The oil company remains adamant that they are obliged by their contract with the Ecuadorian government to drill three exploratory wells in Secoya territory by the end of the year 2000. They hope to negotiate an agreement permitting this work with OISE by March 31, 2000, at the latest.

Given this pressure, it will be at least as difficult for OISE to defend the rights defined in the code as it was to win their recognition. We hope that public knowledge, in the US and Ecuador, of the Code, along with interest in the continuing dialogue process, will help ensure the protection of Secoya rights as they consider decisions that could permanently change their lives, their land, and their culture.

Full copies of the Code in English translation as well as Spanish and Pai Coca are available from ISIS. Please email Jim Oldham at or write us at ISIS—Prescott House, 893 West Street, Amherst, MA 01002.