Hearing with Human Rights Defenders in Ecuador

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Hearing with Human Rights Defenders in Ecuador

2 April 2024

Last month, I held two online hearings with human rights defenders in Ecuador. It was an opportunity for me to learn more about the environment for promoting human rights in the country, by hearing directly from defenders themselves, and for me to present the tools of my mandate.

Defenders participated from communities across Ecuador, with many connecting from rural areas. Almost all of the defenders had faced some form of retaliation for their human rights work, whether by State actors, non-State armed groups or companies. Several of the defenders were speaking from places they had been forced to locate to after facing imminent threats in their home towns.

Overall, the picture painted by the defenders was extremely worrying, with all of those who spoke voicing serious concerns about the situation for those defending human rights in the country.

Many of the defenders had found themselves at risk after having spoken out and helped to organise communities faced with human rights violations linked to extractive industries in the country, in particular mining, but also palm oil plantations and other monocultures.

Ecuador is a party to ILO Convention 169, which states that indigenous and trial peoples have the right to decide their own priorities when it comes to development, and to give or withhold their free, prior and informed consent for activities affecting their territories. Yet, in many cases, the State seems to be only paying lip service to these rights, as well as those enshrined for all in the International Covenants on Civil and Political and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. This creates opportunities for unscrupulous companies, including transnationals headquartered in wealthy western nations.

HRDs are facing threats, including death threats, physical attacks and harassment online. Some have been kidnapped and others killed. Two defenders I spoke with told me how their homes had recently been destroyed, with one broken into and burnt down.

Spurious lawsuits against people peacefully protesting against mining appear commonplace and widespread. Defenders feel they have been abandoned by the authorities, who allow attacks against HRDs to rest in impunity. Those seeking to protect the environment, defend the right to water, and protect access to land for communities who rely on it for the fulfillment of their rights are being targeted. As in many cases, WHRDs are on the front line, with the risks particularly high for indigenous, queer and afro-descendant women, who are often working in rural areas.

Defenders of the rights of the LGBT community and people with disabilities also participated in the hearings. A trans WHRD told me of how her colleague had been killed with impunity, and a WHRD with a disability told me about her work to create a safe space to promote the rights of the people with disabilities, only to be targeted by criminal gangs. A WHRD working to protect sexual and reproductive rights spoke of the criminalisation of her organisation. WHRDs working this area are being targeted by anti-rights groups, including through doxxing. All this is of utmost concern.

I will continue to follow the situation of defenders in the country and intend to raise the cases brought to my attention with the Ecuadorian authorities, who I urge to address the insecurity faced by defenders in the country as a matter of urgency.



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