The EU should address land rights, criminalisation, and justice concerns in Ecuador

Open Letter
en es

Dear Ms Mogherini,
Dear Ms Malmström,
Dear Mr Mimica,
Dear Ms Zacarias,

FIDH and its partner organisations in Ecuador CEDHU (Comisión Ecuménica de Derechos Humanos) and INREDH (Fundación Regional de Asesoría de Derechos Humanos) are writing to draw your attention to the deteriorating situation of human rights defenders in Ecuador, for which we would like to ask to take action, in application of the instruments at the EU’s disposal to meet its commitments to protect human rights defenders [1] and to ensure that all areas of EU-Ecuador relations (political dialogue, trade, development cooperation) are consistent with both partners’ obligations under international human rights law.

Since 2006, our organisations have been reporting and denouncing the criminalisation of human rights defenders and social leaders in Ecuador. In a joint report, published on December 10th 2015 [2], our organisations document the attacks against human rights defenders and community leaders, the involvement of the private sector and the related dysfunctional judicial system, which shows great zeal for criminal prosecutions requested by companies while it lets impunity prevail for human rights violations.

The report highlights for instance the cases of Mr José Acacho Gonzalez and Mr Pedro Mashiant Chamik, two community leaders who received a 12-year prison sentence each on the basis of an ambiguous definition of “terrorism”. They were held responsible for the death of Mr Bosco Wisuma, solely because of their leadership in the protest during which he was killed.

Another emblematic case is that of Mr Javier Ramírez. The search warrant request concerning his residence clearly indicated as a reason for the search the fact that Mr Javier Ramírez is the leader of a social movement against a mining project.

Conversely, the killings of Mr José Tendetza, Mr Fredy Taish and Mr Bosco Wisuma – three community leaders involved in fights for their rights against mining projects – still remain unpunished. In addition, organisations specialised in human rights and land rights defence, such as the Pachamama foundation, have been dissolved by the government.

The attacks against human rights defenders and indigenous peoples that the report documents take place in the context of investment projects that generate high pressure on the ancestral land of communities, which, in the absence of recognition of this traditional ownership, leads to land conflicts. The citizens and the affected farmers are not consulted and cannot participate in the decision-making process for projects involving their land. This is notably the case for indigenous communities, in violation of the right from which they benefit from in the Constitution.

The EU has a specific responsibility to address the lack of independence of the judicial system, the land rights violations, the inequality before the law between companies and social leaders and the attacks and criminalisation of human rights defenders. For Ecuador to become a party to the EU-Colombia/Peru Free Trade Agreement, it is crucial that the EU ensures that its own companies are not complicit in human rights violations in the country and in particular that they do not take advantage of the lack of independence of the Ecuadorian judicial system. In addition, the EU must ensure that trade benefits to all, including the poorest of the population, land owners and users, and indigenous peoples, as suggested in the new strategy for trade so timely called “Trade for all” [3].

In order to achieve this, we believe that the EU should fully implement the flanking measures included in the Sustainability Impact Assessment final report of October 2009 [4]. It should also set-up a human rights committee in the framework of the current EU-Colombia-Peru Free Trade Agreement and set up a complaint mechanism that could be seized by affected populations, their representatives and human rights NGOs. This should be completed by the improvement of the functioning of the Domestic Advisory Groups (DAGs), and the establishment of one DAG per country to facilitate the constructiveness and efficiency of the discussions.

In addition to the actions taken in the trade sector, the EU diplomatic services (EEAS and HR/VP) should publicly raise their concern regarding criminalisation of land-rights defenders, and urge the Ecuadorian authorities to properly investigate and prosecute all violence perpetrated against them. They should also adopt a rights-based approach (including land and human rights concerns) to their relations with Ecuador, in accordance with the 2008 Ecuadorian Constitution, the Plan Nacional Para El Buen Vivir 2013-2017 and the EU’s commitments.

In this framework, the EU delegation in Quito has a key role to play. It should ensure the full implementation of the EU guidelines on human rights defenders [5] and the EU Action Plan on Democracy and Human Rights 2015-2019 [6]. We believe that this could be achieved for instance by the establishment of a working group (including the EU Delegation in Quito, the Member States Embassies and all other relevant diplomatic missions) which would meet regularly to assess the situation of human rights defenders in Ecuador, in cooperation with civil society, and propose concrete actions to ensure their protection.

The EU delegation should also organise outreach activities more frequently in rural areas (e.g. in the Zamora Chinchipe, Morona Santiago, Azuay or Bolívar and Imbabura provinces). It should also reach out to European companies present in Ecuador in order to raise awareness regarding land-rights issues and attacks against human rights defenders and encourage the proper implementation of the UN guiding principles on business and human rights [7].

Finally, we are convinced that the EU can make a difference by making sure that a human rights based approach is properly implemented in its development programmes directed at Ecuador. The EU should also encourage that the objectives, indicators and evaluations of its Multi-annual Indicative Programme and of Member States’ support to the justice and security sector programmes covers key elements like the resolution of land conflicts, the protection of the communities and their leaders, equal access to justice and the rule of law.

We remain at your disposal to discuss jointly the detailed implementation of these recommendations.

Yours sincerely,

Karim Lahidji
FIDH President

Elsie Monge
CEDHU Director
FIDH Vice-President

Beatriz Villareal
INREDH Director

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