Civil society fights back against threatened closure of environmental CSO


On 19th December, Ecuador's Interior Ministry requested the Ministry of the Environment to initiate the administrative dissolution of the environmental organisation Acción Ecológica. The dissolution is linked to Acción Ecológica's efforts to raise awareness about the environmental impacts of a proposed mine on the lands of the Shuar indigenous people. The Shuar community had not been consulted nor had they given consent for mining operations to go ahead. They were evicted in August to make way for the copper mine operated by the Chinese company Explorcobres S.A. The mine would be the second largest in the world.

Acción Ecológica was founded in 1986 and is renowned in Ecuador and internationally for its defence of the collective rights of peoples and the rights of nature. Funded by the UK-based humanitarian coalition Oxfam, the organisation has long denounced extractivist activities, particularly in the oil and mining sectors. The government of Ecuador had already attempted to shut it down for similar reasons in 2009, but the Judiciary then ruled in favour of the organisation.

According to the latest official accusation, the organisation has perpetrated 'violent acts, deviated from the aims and objectives for which it was formed, and interfered with public policy, threatening the internal security of the State and challenging the public peace.' The Ministry of the Interior also stated that 'through publications on the social networks', Acción Ecológica 'has shown support for violent actions [perpetrated on 21st November and 14th December] by the Shuar community, by making statements about the serious environmental and ecosystemic impacts that would result from the extractivist activity promoted by government agencies.'

Acción Ecológica's spokesperson, Esperanza Martínez, however asserts that the organisation is non-violent and has in fact consistently fulfilled its main declared aim, notably that of 'promoting the rights of nature with the aim of ensuring the preservation of a healthy environment.' In their view, it is the closure of a CSO which is 'an aggressive and violent event.'

While noting that they would resort to all available national and international appeal mechanisms, Acción Ecológica responded to the notification with a letter dated 21st December, in which it denied all the accusations. The organisation's position was publically backed by a number of national, regional and international civil society coalitions, including the Ecuadorian Democracy and Human Rights Platform, the Bureau of Coordination of National Associations and Networks of NGOs in Latin America and the Caribbean (Mesa de Articulación) and the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders. In all cases, the shutdown was denounced as an arbitrary act of retaliation for the organisation's support of the communities affected by extractive industries.

On 28th December, a group of United Nations' Special Rapporteurs called on the Ecuadorian government to revoke its decision. Their statement was dismissed by the Correa administration as biased against it and based on insufficient information.