New bill to regulate citizen participation under review in Ecuador

Association

On 31st March 2017, the executive branch of the Ecuadorian government submitted a bill to the National Assembly on regulating "citizen participation and social control system". The bill includes provisions for CSO registration and dissolution processes similar to those contained in the controversial Executive Decree No. 16 of 2013. Civil society actors have already expressed their opposition to the initiative, campaigning against it on the same grounds as their objectives to Decree No. 16.

Executive Decree No. 16 created a government agency to monitor civil society activities, and it was used in December 2013 to shut down the Pachamama Foundation, an environmental and indigenous rights CSO. The agency forced the Foundation to close on the grounds that it was not "fulfilling its objectives" and was "acting like a political party that affects the internal security of the state as well as public peace". Decree No. 16 was also applied in July 2016 to dissolve the National Education Union (UNE), one of the oldest and largest trade unions in the country. Imposing excessive controls over civil society organisations and their representatives puts the sector under constant pressure. The media freedom organisation Fundamedios was also targeted and the National Secretariat of Communication (Secom) attempted to shut the organisation down.

On 22nd March 2017, a delegation of environmental defenders of the Americas, including representatives from Ecuadorian CSOs, presented a statement to the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) on the vilification and repression they face due to their advocacy on indigenous and land rights. They specifically denounced the serious attacks against women human rights defenders, indigenous defenders, persons of African descent and peasants combating the disruptions caused by extractive industries. The statement called for greater protection of human rights defenders and an end to civil and political rights violations.

In addition, on 6th April 2017 a group of Ecuadorean indigenous and civil society organisations, including CONAIE - the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador - participated in preparatory sessions for Ecuador's Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in Geneva, Switzerland. Every four years, the UPR process provides an opportunity for each UN member state to discuss any action taken to improve the country's human rights situation and fulfill domestic and international human rights obligations. In turn, civil society organisations submit their own evaluation of the country's progress (or lack thereof) and provide recommendations to shape their government's human rights policies and agenda.

This year, the Ecuadorean indigenous movement submitted a key demand regarding the criminalisation of social protest in the country.  In a public statement, the participating organisations, International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH),  Ecumenic Human Rights Commission (CEDHU), Acción Ecológica and Fundación Regional de Asesoría en Derechos Humanos (INREDH) reminded the Ecuadorean government "that every person has to be protected and not persecuted, harassed or criminalised for defending her rights at the domestic or international levels".

Peaceful Assembly

On 2nd April 2017, the government-backed candidate, Lenin Moreno, won the run-off presidential election by a slim margin. The opposition candidate, Guillermo Lasso, challenged the results, alleging that the elections were marred by fraud, even after the Organization of American States (OAS) observation mission stated that "no discrepancies" had been found between data collected by observers at polling stations and official results.

As results were announced that day, hundreds of Lasso's supporters gathered in front of the Electoral Council headquarters in Quito and Guayaquil chanting, "No to fraud!" and "We don't want to be Venezuela!" The protests, however, did not escalate, as they had after the first round of elections on 19th February 2017, when thousands of outraged Lasso supporters crashed through metal barricades, almost reaching the entrance of the Electoral Council’s offices in Quito, Ecuador’s capital. Similar events took place in Guayaquil, where tear gas was fired to disperse the crowds. During the first round in February, civil society organisations, Fundamedios and Usuarios Digitales, did report irregularities in the voting process and a lack of transparency and timeliness in reporting official information on the election results.

Expression

A few days before the first round of presidential elections in February 2017, Teleamazonas journalist, Janet Hinostroza, received a package containing a makeshift explosive device. The TV station offices had to be evacuated. The package also contained a DVD labelled, "Who is behind the corruption?". In 2013, Hinostroza received the Committee for Protection of Journalists (CPJ)'s International Press Freedom Award for her investigative reporting on politics and corruption. In response to the intimidation and threat, CPJ's Senior Program Coordinator for the Americas stated:

"Ecuadorian authorities should thoroughly investigate this serious incident and prosecute all those responsible. [...] In the days leading up to the presidential elections it is critical that journalists are able to report on the problems facing Ecuador without fear".