On 11 July 2016, the UN Human Rights Committee will publish its recommendations to the Ecuadorian State at the end of the sixth periodic review of the country’s implementation of the International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights. This was reported by Ecuadorian civil society organizations which participated in sessions on Monday 27 and Tuesday 28 June in Geneva.
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The United Nations body consists of 18 independent experts who monitor the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights. To this audience, journalist and academic Manuela Picq, representing the Confederation of Kichwa Nationality (ECUARUNARI), described the persecution experienced by indigenous peoples in Ecuador. She denounced the State’s constant criminalization of social protest and gave details of her own case: she was expelled from the country in 2015 after a protest against the regime. “The report by ECUARUNARI, CONAIE, Frente Popular and other organizations indicates that more than 700 people have been criminalized and three have been murdered. Activists and workers have been arrested, students have been tortured and teachers criminalized. Most victims are indigenous,” she said.
The Director of Fundamedios, César Ricaurte, spoke about the Communications Law in Ecuador. Three years after the Law came into effect, he described its impact on the press and freedom of expression. According to official figures, 896 lawsuits have been filed against media and journalists, with 550 ending in sanctions. “Two out of three processes are initiated by the Superintendency itself or in response to complaints from public officials. Censorship occurs every day through content imposed by officials who abuse the right to correction and reply, in addition to the regular transmission of national broadcasts,” he said.
Lawyer and activist Silvia Buendía spoke in defense of the rights of LGBTI people and equal marriage. Buendía reported that in Ecuador abuse of this vulnerable population is constant, highlighting the need to enact policies of non-discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. She also highlighted another obstacle faced by social organizations: Decree 16, which prevents organizations from engaging in political activities. “The Ecuadorian Government views as an enemy any organization that is not aligned to, or is critical of, its discourse; to the State, this is engaging in politics.”
Representing the Platform for the Defense of Democracy & Human Rights in Ecuador, Luis Verdesoto requested the Committee to make recommendations to the Ecuadorian State. For example, he said it would be necessary to repeal the Communications Law; to stop using public media to discredit opponents; to ensure that civil society can organize freely; and to prevent the closure of NGOs without respect for due process, among others.
Meanwhile, Ramón Muñoz Castro, head of the International Human Rights Network (RIDH for the Spanish acronym), summed up the situation faced by human rights defenders, social leaders, indigenous peoples, journalists and communicators. These groups, he alleged, are subject to persecution and permanent stigmatization by the Ecuadorian State. “Defenders are spied upon and harassed constantly. Their Twitter accounts and social networking sites are tapped,” he said.
On Tuesday 28 June, at a press conference in Switzerland, representatives of the organizations expressed satisfaction with their participation and asked the media to follow-up the recommendations due to be issued by the Committee on 11 July.
The civil society representatives agreed that the participation of the State, whose official delegation was led by Foreign Minister Guillaume Long, had been weak. In his speech, Long highlighted supposed advances made over the last 10 years in the areas of poverty reduction; the transformation and strengthening of the judicial system regarding human rights; equality and non-discrimination; an intercultural State; the rights of persons with disabilities; human mobility; participation in public affairs; freedom of expression; the prohibition of torture and trafficking; and the case of Julian Assange.
During the review, the Committee experts questioned Ecuador about excessive use of force in the case of Manuela Picq and other peaceful demonstrators in 2015; the judicial process in the case of the Luluncoto 10; and progress to curb police abuse and torture in prisons. They expressed concern over the breadth of the scope of criminal law regarding sentences for terrorism and sabotage. The experts also asked the Government for information on the reform of the Organic Integral Penal Code (COIP for the Spanish acronym); penalties for gender discrimination; and the use of the state of exception. The Government was also asked to provide details on criminal proceedings against women who have undergone abortions.
According to the organizations, the State did not answer the experts’ questions on issues such as freedom of expression, human trafficking and women’s rights, among others. This information must be sent, in writing, by the Ecuadorian State to the Committee.
The UN experts criticized the Foreign Minister for dedicating himself to discrediting the delegation of organizations in a high forum for the defense of human rights. “These discreditation attempts carried no weight with the Committee,” said Ricaurte, who also reported that the experts were alert to possible Government reprisals against the participating representatives of civil society organizations.
Ramón Muñoz, director of the RIDH, praised the preparation carried out by the representatives who travelled to Geneva. The results of this review will impact the Universal Periodic Review of Ecuador in May 2017, Muñoz said. “Ecuador is obliged to implement the recommendations and we must demand that it does.”