Human rights defenders lacked appropriate protection mechanisms to safeguard their lives and physical safety. The authorities failed to ensure effective investigations into threats and attacks against human rights defenders, particularly those working to defend Indigenous Peoples’ rights, their territory and the environment. Ongoing exclusion and discrimination exacerbated the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the rights of Indigenous peoples.
Ecuador reported its first case of COVID-19 in February and on 11 March the Minister of Health declared the national health system to be in a state of emergency. Supreme decrees and subsequent laws established quarantine measures, mandatory stay-at-home regulations, among other economic and social measures to deal with the pandemic. On 7 April Ecuadorian human rights organizations drew attention to the grave humanitarian situation in the city of Guayaquil after images emerged of corpses abandoned in the streets, hospitals in a state of collapse and morgues overwhelmed with bodies. As of 31 December, the Ministry of Public Health had reported 212,512 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 9,473 deaths and a further 4,561 deaths “probably” related to the virus.
Human rights defenders
The authorities had yet to design and implement a national policy for the protection of human rights defenders, including a protocol for the investigation of crimes committed against them. By the end of the year, no one had been brought to justice in connection with threats and attacks against Amazonian Women collective members Patricia Gualinga, Nema Grefa, Salomé Aranda and Margoth Escobar. There were concerns that the criminal investigations into these attacks might be archived.1
In May, Ecuador ratified the Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean (Escazú Agreement).
On 16 December, a judge ruled that criminal proceedings against digital human rights defender Ola Bini for “unauthorized access to a computer system” should proceed to the pre-trial stage.
Indigenous peoples’ rights
Indigenous Peoples in the Ecuadorian Amazon continued to be at high risk in the context of the pandemic due to lack of access to drinking water, food, medical supplies, health services and COVID-19 tests, resulting from long-term inequality, exclusion and discrimination.
On 7 December, Indigenous and human rights organizations reported 3,257 confirmed cases, 50 confirmed deaths and 54 deaths with symptoms of COVID-19 among the Indigenous nationalities (ethnicities) in the Ecuadorian Amazon.
In August, the government published a protocol for the prevention and care of COVID-19 in Indigenous, Afro-Ecuadorian and Montubio Peoples. Indigenous and human rights organizations in the Amazon stated that Indigenous Peoples had not been adequately consulted on the protocol and it did not reflect their demands. They also noted that Indigenous Peoples had been excluded from the Emergency Operations Committees in charge of implementing the protocol.2
On 7 April an oil spill in the Amazon polluted the Coca and Napo rivers, affecting the environment, water, food and livelihoods of nearly 120,000 people, of whom 27,000 were Indigenous. On 29 April, a group of Indigenous and human rights organizations filed constitutional protection proceedings and requested precautionary measures on behalf of the people affected by the oil spill. On 1 September, a judge rejected the petition and refused precautionary measures, stating that the petitioners had not proved a violation of rights. The petitioners claimed that there had been procedural irregularities in the case and that the judge had not respected due process guarantees.
Sexual and reproductive rights
In August, the National Assembly approved a new Health Code which improved access to sexual and reproductive health care. In September, the President vetoed the Health Code, which was to be reviewed by the National Assembly in September 2021, in its entirety. Abortion remained criminalized in most cases, creating a barrier to accessing health care.
Repression of dissent
By the end of the year, investigations into allegations of human rights violations and abuses committed in Ecuador during the October 2019 protests had not concluded. In June, the Ministry of Defence issued Agreement 179, which allows the Armed Forces to use lethal force against protesters, in violation of international human rights law and standards. In July, the Constitutional Court suspended the application of the Agreement pending its decision on its constitutionality.
Economic, social and cultural rights
Some 25% of the Ecuadorian population was living below the national poverty line in 2020. In May, the government announced a series of measures to reduce public spending, raising concerns about the possible negative impact this could have on economic and social rights, especially for disadvantaged individuals and groups who could be disproportionately affected. There were concerns that these measures could deepen existing inequalities and lack of access to rights.