Ecuador’s Civil Society Organizations

Presidency of Ecuador / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

In June 2013, President Rafael Correa issued a controversial decree creating new procedures for nongovernmental organizations to obtain legal status and require international organizations to undergo a screening process to seek permission to work in Ecuador. The decree also grants far-reaching powers to the government to oversee and dissolve nongovernmental organizations, for the sake of maintaining “public peace.” Those who oppose the measure argue that it violates Article 16 of the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees the rights of freedom of expression and association.

To shed light on the debate and the impact that this law has on the work of independent organizations in Ecuador, the Dialogue hosted a conversation with Carlos Pérez Guartambel, who heads the movement of indigenous groups Ecuarunari, and Enrique Herrería, the director of the Observatory of Rights and Justice. José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch, provided an overview of the decree’s implications for the rights to free speech and freedom of assembly.

The issuing of this decree was not an isolated incident, but rather part of the systematic and progressive efforts by the current administration to concentrate its power, said Pérez. He believes that the decree marks an overall attempt to consolidate executive authoritarianism by Correa. Herrería agreed that the act was a government attempt to overtake total public control. Vivanco added disappointedly that the decree solidifies that separation of powers and freedom of expression are now foreign concepts in Ecuador.

Pérez stated that while this decree targets associations, it also affects indigenous communities and violates their rights. He stipulated that it is the duty of the government to consult populations before implementing laws and decrees that affect them, and said that the rights for the indigenous peoples of Ecuador recognized in the 2008 constitution are now being completely destroyed. Pérez added that Correa’s recent decision to exploit the resources of the Yasuní wilderness area is detrimental to the indigenous communities groups and that the mining will violate their basic human rights. He concluded that the government is hypocritical because it claims to represent the diverse population of Ecuador, which is a “plurinational” country, but it in fact has no regard for the rights of a major sector of the nation.

Herrería and Vivanco both enumerated the specific violations Correa’s new decree commits against national and international codes. Hererría explained that Articles 95 and 96 of the 2008 constitution specifically guarantee the rights of freedom of association and expression. Furthermore, the population has the right to participate in public control. He said that the decree strips Ecuadorians of these rights, and further violates Article 16 of the American Convention on Human Rights. Vivanco illustrated that the rigorous requirements for organizations registering, combined with the lax guidelines for officials, will make it almost impossible to form any kind of association in civil society.

Panelists criticized the new developments of the draconian system of penalization, and the decree that they argue essentially gives executive power over all societal institutions. They view Correa’s decree as a major failure for Ecuadorian democracy and urge further debate so that the decree can be struck down.