Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2007 - Ecuador
|Publisher||International Federation for Human Rights|
|Author||Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders|
|Publication Date||19 June 2008|
|Cite as||International Federation for Human Rights, Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2007 - Ecuador, 19 June 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4864667dc.html [accessed 31 August 2015]|
The accession of Mr. Rafael Correa to the Presidency of the Republic on January 15, 2007, after winning the presidential election on November 26, 2006, gave rise to the hope that his election might put an end to the great political instability that had reigned in the country since 1997. Indeed, three Presidents were removed from power between 1997 and April 2005 and Ecuador had undergone a dramatic institutional crisis in 2004 and 2005 when, in December 2004, the Parliament decided, under pressure from the Government, to dismiss all the Supreme Court judges and replace them with judges under the influence of the authorities in power. This decision, followed by the irregular annulment of proceedings against the three dismissed former Presidents, was greeted with general indignation. The economic crisis and the increase in poverty due to the frenetic liberalisation of public institutions resulted in a general uprising in April 2005, bringing about the fall of President Gutiérrez in the same month.
The Government was elected under the presidency of M. Rafael Correa on the basis of a programme of constitutional, economic and social reforms and, with this in mind, the people of Ecuador voted on April 15, 2007 in favour of reforming the Constitution and the State institutions, granting full power to the Constituent Assembly. The parliamentary elections held on September 30, 2007 resulted in 70% of the Assembly seats being held by the Government movement. From then on, all decisions would be voted by simple majority and ratified by referendum.
However, in 2007, the indigenous populations remained the main victims of repression and human rights violations, especially in their conflicts with the multinational mining and petroleum companies. The main social conflicts are fuelled by the mining projects (of wood, petrol and minerals) set up in indigenous territories and protected nature zones without prior consultation with the populations that are affected by these projects.
Defamation campaign and reprisals against defenders of the right to the environment
Once again this year, human rights defenders, community leaders and ecologists who condemn Government policies and the harm done by the mining industries were the targets of threats and acts of intimidation. This was the case in particular of environmental NGOs whose leaders actively participated in protests against the extraction activities (minerals, hydrocarbons, wood, etc.) of national and international private companies, that have a harmful effect on the environment and the inhabitants of the surrounding areas. On December 1, 2007, President Correa publicly stated on a national TV channel that "communities that protest are no more than terrorists", that "whoever is opposed to the development of the country is a terrorist" and that ecologists are "romantics" who "want to destabilise the Government" and are "the principal enemies of [his] project". President Correa also announced there would be "zero tolerance for [those people] who want to strike and generate chaos" with the aim of "paralysing the country's development" and he promised that these people would be punished "with all the severity that is legally permitted". He also confirmed that the Government was carrying out an investigation into the persons "who were hidden behind [these movements]". The Government had unofficially hinted that it would investigate the organisation "Ecological Action" (Acción Ecológica). However, as at the end of 2007, there was no official knowledge of proceedings against the organisation.
In this context, defenders of the right to the environment were sometimes targets of physical attacks, as was the case of Mr. Jaime Polivio Pérez Lucero, leader of a small farmers' defence association in García Moreno parish, who was threatened on August 4, 2007 after opposing a copper-mining project in the Intag area of Imbabura province. Villagers are particularly concerned about the effects the project might have on the environment of the region, a nature reserve where most inhabitants make a living from agriculture.
The criminalisation of social protest and legal proceedings against defenders who protest against projects for the exploitation of natural resources
The lack of any prior consultation with peasant and indigenous communities gave rise throughout the year to peaceful protest movements against the impact of mining industries on the environment and the population's means of subsistence. The army and the police systematically used excessive force to repress these demonstrations. On October 4, 2007, the army used violence to disperse a peaceful protest in Tiguino parish in the south of Orellana (Ecuadorian Amazon) calling for compensation from the Petrobell company after the contamination of a nearby river as a result of the company's drilling activities.
Furthermore, at the end of November 2007, communities in Dayuma parish in Orellana province started protests calling for the application of the agreements signed in 2005 by the Government with the State company "Petroproducción"1 and for compensation for environmental damage caused by petrol leakage that had poisoned the region's soil and water. On November 29, 2007, the Government decided to reinforce the contingent of armed forces already present at the petroleum sites. On the same day, the President of the Republic removed the Executive Director of Petroproducción from office, replacing him with an army officer and declaring a state of emergency in Orellana province, suspending the freedoms of expression, movement, assembly and association. In addition, armed forces were deployed throughout the province and the Law on National Security (Ley de Seguridad Nacional) was decreed, permitting the trial by military tribunal of persons arrested. All demonstrations were banned, even peaceful protests. On November 30, 2007, demonstrations were violently broken up by the military, which also arrested around 40 people, including Mr. Wilmer Armas, Vice-President of Dayuma parish, who was accused of "terrorism" and transferred to Tena prison. The state of emergency was lifted on December 11, 2007.
This was the context in which legal proceedings were taken against many defenders because of their human rights activities, notably on the grounds of "sabotage", "terrorism" and "rebellion". Most of these proceedings were instigated by the national and transnational companies that exploit natural resources and consider that social leaders and environmental defenders present obstacles to their activities. As an example, on December 10, 2007, Mr. Alberto Timbelo and Mr. Julio Granado, members of the "Ángel Shigre" Network of Community Leaders (Red de Lideres Comunitarios Angel Shingre), were arrested and accused of "rebellion" after distributing leaflets on International Human Rights Day in defence of the small farmers' community in Dayuma, in the Orellana region. Similarly, Ms. Aida Astudillo Durán, Mr. Franklín Reinoso Ruíz, Mr. Marco Ochoa Durán and Mr. Tarquino Cajamarca Mariles, four members of the Coalition for Life and Nature (Coordinadora en Defensa de la Vida y la Naturalez) in the canton of Limón Indanza, Morona Santiago province, were accused of "sabotage", "terrorism" and "using explosives" after they took part in a march on March 6, 2007 calling for an end to the Hidrotambo hydroelectric project.2 The police used violence to break up this march and four warrants were issued for the arrest of these defenders.
In addition, on September 21, 2007, judicial proceedings for "rebellion" were brought against Ms. Nathalie Weemaels, a Belgian citizen and Spokeswoman of the Committee for Water Without Arsenic (Comité pro-Agua Sin Arsénico – CPASA) of the Tumbaco area of Quito, after reports were sent to city hall and to the drinking water management company (EMAAP-Q) following the discovery of very high levels of arsenic in the drinking water. The Committee called for medical examinations for the population and compensation for the harmful effects of the consumption of water containing high levels of arsenic, and for improvement in water quality. Legal charges against Ms. Weemaels were still pending at the end of 2007.
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders is a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH).
1 Under this agreement, the Government had undertaken to tarmac all the main roads of the province, including those linking the capital city, Coca, to all the main towns in Dayuma parish. Only 30% of the final project had been carried out.
2 This project had been set up without prior consultation with the communities and had serious consequences including the forcible displacement of the population with no compensation and/ or any real possibilities of resettlement.