Ecuador: Authorities must end repression of demonstrations immediately
The Ecuadorian government must cease the repression of demonstrations, guarantee the human rights of all and ensure that any austerity measures it takes are consistent with international human rights law, Amnesty International said today.
“The Ecuadorian authorities must put an immediate end to the heavy-handed repression of demonstrations, including mass detentions, and conduct swift, independent and impartial investigations into all allegations of arbitrary arrests, excessive use of force, torture and other ill-treatment of those who have been detained in the context of the protests. They must also respect the freedom of the press and ensure that journalists are able to safely cover the situation,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International.
The Ecuadorian authorities must put an immediate end to the heavy-handed repression of demonstrations, including mass detentions, and conduct swift, independent and impartial investigations into all allegations of arbitrary arrests, excessive use of force, torture and other ill-treatment of those who have been detained in the context of the protests
The ongoing protests began in multiple cities on 3 October in response to President Lenín Moreno announcing austerity measures. Hours later, the president declared a state of emergency across the nation, thus authorizing the mobilization of the Armed Forces and the National Police to maintain order and prevent violence. This decree suspends the rights to freedom of association and assembly in relation to its subject matter, and the right to freedom of movement in cases where it affects the rights of other citizens, and to prevent acts of vandalism which may affect the right to life and property of others.
“The state of emergency cannot be an excuse to violently repress people’s discontent over economic measures that may put their rights at risk. Blanket bans on the permissible time or location of a demonstration are impermissible restrictions because they prevent authorities from engaging in a case-by-case assessment of the specific circumstances of each situation,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas.
The government must ensure that any austerity measures are developed and implemented in a manner consistent with international human rights law. This includes ensuring that austerity measures are temporary, reasonable, and proportional; exhausting less restrictive, alternative measures; and ensuring the genuine participation of affected persons and groups. The government should urgently carry out a human rights impact assessment to ensure that austerity measures are not discriminatory and are consistent with human rights, particularly the rights of marginalized groups.
The Ombudsman of Ecuador has documented security forces violently repressing protesters and journalists, and forcing their way into private properties. In some cases, they have used tear gas and pellet guns indiscriminately against crowds, that have also affected children, pregnant women, the elderly and people with disabilities.
The Ombudsman found that the authorities detained 485 people in the context of the protests on 3 and 4 October alone, including children. In some cases, authorities have allegedly detained people without identifying themselves, failed to inform them of their rights or the reason for their arrest, and physically and verbally mistreated them.
While there have also been allegations of violence by protesters in some of the demonstrations, the authorities must take all appropriate measures to address such episodes of violence while ensuring that those who are protesting peacefully are allowed to continue to do so.
The state of emergency cannot be an excuse to violently repress people’s discontent over economic measures that may put their rights at risk
Despite challenges by several human rights organizations, on 7 October, Ecuador’s Constitutional Court ruled that the present state of emergency is constitutional but limited its scope to 30 days. The court also ordered the National Police and Armed Forces to fulfill their duties to protect the integrity and rights of journalists, humanitarian assistance organizations and the general public.
The economic measures that President Moreno announced included labour flexibilization, the elimination of labour benefits for public sector employees, and the elimination of subsidies for petroleum that would reportedly increase the price of fuel by 120%. There is a risk that these measures could impact household incomes and make necessary commodities more expensive for everyone.
The Minister of the Economy said publicly that the measures were part of an agreement that Ecuador had reached with the International Monetary Found (IMF) to access credit of more than 4 billion dollars. The IMF said the reforms were aimed at “improving the sustainability of the Ecuadorian economy”.
Ecuador is a signatory of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, among other treaties that protect these rights. Several UN bodies have noted that austerity measures pose a danger to human rights, especially economic, social and cultural rights, and that states continue to have human rights obligations even “in times of economic crisis, when adjustments in the implementation of some Covenant rights may be unavoidable”. On this basis, they have developed criteria to ensure that austerity measures are temporary, legitimate, necessary, reasonable, proportionate and non-discriminatory.
As per international human rights standards, austerity measures should only cover the period of the economic crisis in question, with the ultimate aim of protecting the totality of human rights, mitigating the inequalities that can emerge in times of crisis and ensuring that the rights of marginalized individuals and groups are not disproportionately affected. They should only be taken after careful consideration to ensure that they are the most suitable and capable means of achieving these aims, and that there are no alternatives that would be less restrictive of economic, social and cultural rights.
Austerity measures should also protect the minimum core content of economic, social and cultural rights. They should be based on transparency and genuine participation of affected groups and subject to meaningful review and accountability procedures. Conducting a human rights impact assessment is essential to this process and can help government and lenders ensure that austerity measures are consistent with international human rights law.
Ecuador has a long history of inappropriate uses of states of emergency. In 1998, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights told Ecuador that using the state of emergency to control popular discontent over economic measures was contrary to its human rights obligations.
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