Galapagos Sharks. Photo: Nicolas VeraGalapagos Sharks. Photo: Nicolas VeraOn December 23th, a local judge shocked Galapagos conservationists with a decision to annul all judicial proceedings in the Fer Mary case. This case is the result of this year’s most important patrolling operation of the Galapagos National Park. The operation led to the detection and interception of the industrial fishing vessel Fer Mary, which was found inside the Galapagos Marine Reserve with 357 dead sharks.  Read the story here:  Lady Justice has Abandoned the Galapagos.

In spite of solid legal reasons presented to the court by the parties of the case and also by the Conservation Sector of Galapagos, to which Sea Shepherd is part, in a legal brief filed in defense of the sharks, the judge argued non-competence to address environmental penal cases. Not only is it deplorable that a penal judge declares himself as non-competent to address penal cases, but also that he concludes so after five months of intense litigation led by the Environmental Prosecutor’s office of Galapagos and the Galapagos National Park, both official parties of the case.

The judicial decision also orders the lift of a ban on the vessel’s transfer, which was placed to secure judicial evidence. As for the suspects, released out of detention since August, the decision now even lifts their obligation to present themselves in the court house of their home town.

The case now must re-start in another court located some 982km away, with all suspects completely outside the loop of the judicial system.

This is the second time this year that local justice fails when it comes to environmental issues. We saw the same pattern in the Reina del Cisne case, which involved another vessel found inside the Galapagos Marine Reserve with 82 dead sharks in its hull.  Read the story here: Galapagos Judge Orders Release of All Suspects in Reina Del Cisne Case.

Fortunately, the Environmental Prosecutor’s office and the Galapagos National Park are already working on appeals and other legal procedures, including the confiscation of the vessel by the Galapagos National Park. For more information visit: www.galapagospark.org

The decision sets a disturbing precedent: prosecution of new cases on environmental crimes occurring in the Galapagos Marine Reserve would have to take place at the nearest court of justice, some 982km away. This is a major problem, not only for logistics, but also for procedural rules that give short deadlines on detention and prosecution of suspects, often found in the middle of the ocean, hours and even days away from the nearest court. With this precedent, it will be very difficult to meet procedural deadlines.

We are well aware of the negative impact of this decision, not only for the Galapagos but also for our legal work and the work of authorities and other organizations caring about marine law enforcement. We are, in fact, greatly worried about this terrible precedent. Galapagos is a line in the sand, and we must continue working, even against all odds, towards the transformation of the current judicial reality.

Sea Shepherd calls on all conservation activists working locally in Galapagos to join forces in an effort to take this problem all the way to the Supreme Court of Ecuador to ask the highest judicial body of the country to issue a binding resolution for local judges to fulfill their duties on cases about environmental crimes occurring in the Galapagos Marine Reserve, as it occurs in other jurisdictions of the country.

Sea Shepherd also calls on all activists to join us in further advocating for the designation of specialized judges to deliver environmental justice in Galapagos.

Current judicial reality does not meet minimum standards needed to deliver justice in a marine reserve that is a world natural heritage site and a biosphere reserve. It is time to change this reality.

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Dead Sharks from a Shark Finning Bust. Photo: Tim WattersDead Sharks.  Photo: Tim WattersEl pasado 23 de diciembre, un juez penal de Galápagos sorprendió a los conservacionistas con la decisión de anular todo lo actuado en el caso denominado Fer Mary. Este caso es el resultado del patrullaje más importante realizado este año en la Reserva Marina por la Dirección del Parque Nacional Galápagos, que derivó en la detección y posterior intercepción de la embarcación de pesca industrial Fer Mary dentro de dicha Reserva Marina con 357 tiburones muertos.

A pesar de sólidos razonamientos jurídicos planteados por las partes procesales y también por el Sector de Conservación de Galápagos –del que Sea Shepherd forma parte- en un alegato jurídico presentado ante el juzgado en defensa de los tiburones, el juez argumentó falta de competencia para sustanciar temas penales ambientales. No solo es deplorable que un juez penal alegue falta de competencia para sustanciar un caso de materia penal, sino sobretodo que un juez haya determinado su falta de competencia a cinco meses de haber iniciado un intenso litigio liderado por la Fiscalía Ambiental de Galápagos y el Parque Nacional Galápagos en defensa de las especies protegidas que habitan en la Reserva Marina.

La resolución también levanta la prohibición de vender la embarcación, medida interpuesta para garantizar evidencia y prueba judicial. En cuanto a los procesados, quienes están en libertad desde el mes de agosto, ahora ni siquiera tendrán que presentarse ante el juez de su localidad, ya que esta medida también fue levantada.

El caso deberá reiniciarse ahora en una corte de justicia ubicada a 982 kilómetros de distancia, con los procesados totalmente fuera de la esfera judicial.

Esta es la segunda vez en el año que la justicia local falla en administrar justicia en temas ambientales. Ya aplicó este argumento en el caso denominado Reina del Cisne, otra embarcación de pesca industrial encontrada dentro de la Reserva Marina de Galápagos con 82 tiburones muertos en su bodega.

Por fortuna las partes procesales ya están trabajando en las apelaciones y otras medidas, incluido el decomiso administrativo de la embarcación, por parte del Parque Nacional Galápagos. Para mayor información, visite: www.galapagospark.org

La resolución judicial sienta un antecedente que es perturbador: en nuevos casos el procesamiento de delitos ambientales cometidos en la Reserva Marina de Galápagos tendrían que tramitarse en una corte de justicia ubicada a 982 kilómetros de distancia. Esto representa problemas complejos, no solo de carácter logístico, sino fundamentalmente de plazos constitucionales y legales para el procesamiento a sospechosos que, a menudo, son detenidos en medio del mar a horas y hasta días de distancia de la corte más cercana. Con este antecedente judicial, será muy difícil cumplir con los plazos procesales.

Nosotros estamos conscientes del impacto negativo de esta resolución judicial para Galápagos, pero también para nuestro trabajo y el de autoridades y otros actores interesados en la aplicación de la ley y el debido proceso. De hecho, estamos muy preocupados por este terrible antecedente judicial. Pero Galápagos es en una línea en la arena, y seguiremos trabajando, incluso en contra de todo pronóstico, por la transformación de la actual realidad judicial ambiental.

En este contexto, Sea Shepherd hace un llamado a todos los actores que trabajan localmente por la conservación de Galápagos para sumar esfuerzos y llevar este problema a la Corte Nacional de Justicia para solicitar a la instancia judicial máxima del país que emita una resolución generalmente obligatoria, insistiendo en la competencia de los jueces penales de Galápagos en materia penal ambiental, tal como ocurre en otras jurisdicciones del país.

Sea Shepherd también hace un llamado a todos para abogar por la designación de jueces especializados para administrar justicia en Galápagos.

La situación judicial actual no alcanza estándares mínimos de administración de justicia en una reserva marina que es también patrimonio natural de la humanidad y reserva de biósfera. Es tiempo de cambiar esta realidad.

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