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Indigenous groups' rights violated in loss of land and livelihood to oil spill

Indigenous groups' rights violated in loss of land and livelihood to oil spill
Hundreds of demonstrators join anti-government protest. Quito, 1 October 2020. (Photo by Carlos Arias via Getty Images)

Association

Unjustified detention of Kichwa people

On 29th September 2020, police detained a group of Indigenous Kichwa people for three hours. The group had attempted to file a complaint with the Judiciary Council regarding the effects of an April 2020 oil spill in rivers of the Amazon that had impacted the lands and communities of more than 27,000 Indigenous peoples. Federaci贸n de Comunas Uni贸n de Nativos de la Amazon铆a Ecuatoriana (a federation of native communities in the Ecuadorian Amazon)  reported that police had tried to accuse the Indigenous people of carrying "lethal weapons or sharp weapons" in reference to the wooden spears that represent their culture. Indigenous lawyers intervened on their behalf and the group was released and able to file their complaint. 

The Alliance for Human Rights in Ecuador, together with the affected communities, started the lengthy process to receive compensation for the loss of land and livelihood due to the now polluted waterways. Six months into the process, the Ecuadorian authorities and oil companies had, at the time of this update, not responded to their appeals. 

Amnesty granted to 20 Indigenous leaders

In a positive development, on 31st July 2020, Ecuador's National Assembly granted amnesty to 20 Indigenous leaders from the San Pedro del Ca帽ar region who had been accused of extortion and kidnapping. The Assembly ruled that the charges they faced could not be settled in a national court of law. Their sentences were annulled and the leaders released from prison. This decision acknowledges that national law protects Indigenous peoples' rights to make decisions based on ancestral traditions within their communities.

Peaceful Assembly

Demonstrators face police use of excessive force

On 15th September 2020, Ecuadorian doctors went on strike, marching through the centre of Quito to demand the state's compliance with the Ley de Apoyo Humanitario (Law of Humanitarian Support), which was enacted in June 2020. The law secures the payment of salaries and establishment of employment contracts with medical professionals. Similar marches took place in Cuenca and Guayaquil. Before arriving at Palacio de Carondelet, the seat of the Ecuadorian government, protesters in Quito faced police repression. Anti-riot police used tear gas to disperse the peaceful demonstrators.

After the demonstrations, the government announced it would sign employment contracts with doctors and issue salaries retroactively from July 2020. Police Commander Fausto Salinas apologised on his Twitter account to the president of the Association of Postgraduate Doctors, Santiago Zu帽iga, "for any excesses" by police during the demonstration. 

On 16th September 2020, hundreds of people  took to the streets to protest budget cuts and layoffs in connection with policies to access a US$6.5 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund. Protesters gathered in several parts of Quito to march to the government headquarters. In Santo Domingo Square, security forces fired water cannons to disperse the crowd. Several organisations, including Frente Unitario de Trabajadores, Federaci贸n 脷nica de Afiliados al Seguro Social Campesino, Frente en Defensa de la Educaci贸n P煤blica and Movimiento Ind铆gena y Campesino de Cotopaxi, had organised the marches.

On 1st October 2020, demonstrators again marched peacefully through Quito to protest unemployment and announce October as a month of struggle and rebellion ("rebeld铆a y lucha").

"October lives, the fight continues"

On 12th October 2020, a year after national strikes and massive protests, the Confederaci贸n de Organizaciones Ind铆genas de Ecuador (Confederation of Indigenous Organisations of Ecuador), together with the Asociaci贸n de V铆ctimas del Paro Nacional 芦Inocencio Tucumbi禄 (Association of Victims of the National Strike), filed a lawsuit with the Attorney General's Office against the Ecuadorian State for crimes against humanity and violations of human rights during the 11 days of protests in October 2019.

After the lawsuit was filed, relatives of those injured or killed in the protests gathered in Parque El Arbolito to walk on the same streets where demonstrators had faced police repression. "October lives, the fight continues", was their slogan.

The Confederation has declared October as the 'Month of Indigenous and popular resistance' to solidify the group's "commitment to the demand for truth, justice and reparation" around the October 2019 events.

Expression

Multiple cases of threats against journalists

From July to October 2020, several incidents involving threats and other violations against journalists were documented as follows:

  • Since late July 2020, journalist Carla Maldonado of Medios P煤blicos has been a victim of a smear campaign on Twitter. As reported by Fundamedios, Maldonado has received insults, foul language, denigrating comments and even caricatures with her image via Twitter. Many of these messages are denigrating and include sexist insults. Maldonado attributes these attacks to her criticism of corruption cases in the government. "These are attacks to demoralise me and to get me out of the arena, but they are a waste of time," she told Fundamedios.
  • On 7th September 2020, journalist Charly Castillo's partner received a threatening message which read: "This is just a warning. We know who you are, where you live and that you have a baby. The notice is clear -- your child will be left without a parent (sic)". As reported by Fundamedios, Castillo said that this threat came the same day he had an exchange with the former mayor of Duran, Alexandra Arce, over a publication on drug trafficking which the former official had asked to be retracted. 
  • On 25th September 2020, journalist Darwin Eugenio with Coca Visi贸n TV, in the province of Orellana, received a death threat via a WhatsApp message. The reporter filed a complaint with the Orellana Prosecutor's Office for the crime of intimidation. 
  • On 8th October 2020, journalist Juan Sarmiento was sentenced to 10 days in prison for alleged moral damages filed by a public official over Sarmiento's reporting on the health situation in the Napo province.
  • Jacobo Bucaram Pulley, son of the former Ecuadorian president, Abdal谩 Bucaram Ortiz, is under investigation by the Public Prosecutor's Office for a corruption scandal around the sale of medical supplies to the hospital of the Ecuadorian Institute of Social Security in Guayaquil. Through his social media accounts, Bucaram has been threateninginsulting, and disqualifying the work of several journalists who have reported on the scandal. 

A report by regional press freedom coalition Voces del Sur warned that the country's improving situation for freedom of expression had lost momentum, with decline taking place again after the October 2019 protests. 194 alerts for violations against fundamental freedoms were registered in Ecuador in 2019 - representing an increase of 133 percent compared to 2018. The majority of these violations took place between October and December, during and after the national strike. These included several attacks on media offices and infrastructure. The report noted a revived the legacy of animosity towards journalists and the media, saying that the growing hostility towards the press jeopardises the modest progress on freedom of expression made during Lenin Moreno's government.