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Seventy Latin American and international civil society organisations have endorsed a letter urging President Correa of Ecuador to constructively engage with indigenous communities opposing the development of extractive industry projects on their lands. The letter also calls for the removal all legal and policy measures limiting these communities’ fundamental rights to association, assembly and expression.
“The government has responded to the indigenous communities’ legitimate demands for consultation with mounting repression and further restrictions on fundamental freedoms,” said Marlon Vargas, President of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon (CONFENIAE). “Indigenous community leaders and organisations resisting the advances of extractive industries and demanding the implementation of consultation mechanisms for the expression of their communities’ free, prior and informed consent are being routinely criminalised and judicially harassed,” Vargas added.
Most recently, in the context of ongoing protests and activism orchestrated by indigenous Shuar communities in opposition to the activities of mining companies in Ecuador’s Southern Amazon region, the government has declared a state of emergency suspending basic freedoms in the Morona Santiago province, and threatened to dissolve Acción Ecológica, a well-respected national organisation that has advocated for the rights of nature and the collective rights of peoples for nearly three decades.
The letter highlights the following issues:
• Abuses were committed against the Shuar community of Nankints, who were denied consultation rights, evicted to make way for a mining venture, repressed as they attempted to reclaim their territory, and further criminalised following clashes with security forces guarding the newly established mining camp resulted in casualties.
• Under the state of emergency that was decreed in the Morona Santiago province, military presence was reinforced in the Shuar communities, basic freedoms were suspended and local dwellers were terrorized.
• In retaliation to its work to raise awareness about the environmental impacts of mining projects and lack of consultation of indigenous communities, the environmental organisation Acción Ecológica was threatened with the initiation of dissolution procedures.
• Domestic legislation, including Executive Decrees No. 16 and No. 739, currently allows for the arbitrary dissolution of civil society organisations, and should be repealed and replaced by a comprehensive Associations Law removing all undue restrictions on the freedom of association.
“Over the past few years, the Government of Ecuador has increasingly targeted dissenting civil society, overstepping the boundaries protecting the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression,” said Inés Pousadela, Policy and Research Officer at CIVICUS. “We all need to stand in solidarity with the people of Ecuador and call on the government to uphold its constitutional and international human rights commitments.”
The signatories to the letter urge Ecuador’s Government to implement consultation mechanisms with indigenous communities, refrain from criminalising indigenous community leaders and organisations challenging extractive industry projects, and replace current restrictive legislation with an alternative NGO law upholding constitutional and international standards on freedom of association.
Civic Space in Ecuador is rated as ‘obstructed’ in the CIVICUS Monitor.