New report by human rights coalition exposes mounting threats against rights defenders

Research reveals government and industry complicity in systemic rights violations against defenders and provides recommendations for urgent action

  • Español
  • English
  • Français
  • Deutsch
  • Português
  • Opinión
-A +A

Today, Ecuador’s Alliance for Human Rights delivered a hard-hitting new report to government authorities and the Ombudsman's Office on the critical situation of rights defenders in the country. The report, entitled “Rights Defenders Under Threat in Ecuador: How Government Protection is Insufficient and Favors Industry Interests,” reveals the intensifying dangers that rights defenders face as part of their struggles to protect and defend their territories, autonomy, and identity, and puts the spotlight on state and industry complicity to undermine their vital work.


The report, published by a coalition of nineteen human rights organizations, maps systematic rights violations against rights defenders including intimidation, threats, harassment, prosecution, persecution, and even assassinations, committed principally by the armed forces, national police, and public officials. Through the documentation of twenty-two emblematic cases from the Amazon to the Andes and the coast, the report exposes the experience of 449 rights defenders over the last decade. Three assassinations linked to the mining sector notably continue with impunity.


The work of human rights and environmental defenders in Ecuador, one of the world’s most biodiverse countries, is vital to the protection of critical natural ecosystems such as the Amazon rainforest and fundamental for the protection of democracy and the rule of law. The report finds that across the country, rights defenders face escalating violence, especially in situations of conflict linked to the extractive industries and the energy sector, which account for eighteen of the twenty-two cases presented in the report. Oil, mining, agribusiness, and the water sector are consistently the biggest drivers of attacks against rights defenders. With Ecuador’s new government set to ramp up natural resource extraction in the context of the global economic crisis of the pandemic and the country’s crippling debt to China and the International Monetary Fund, this worrisome trend risks only intensifying.


Rights defenders from Indigenous, afro-descendant, and montubios communities, and especially women, face disproportionate risks of violence. The majority of cases detailed in the report represent communities on the frontlines of resistance movements opposing extractive industries driving the climate crisis and the destruction of nature. Alarming instances of the government’s systematic violation of Indigenous people’s rights to prior consultation and Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) are registered as part of the report, as well as violations to the right to environmental prior consultation by the Ecuadorian government in complicity with companies. These grave abuses against the rights and lives of historically marginalized and vulnerable communities, and the forests and rivers that they protect, undermine Ecuador’s pioneering Constitution that declares the country to be a plurinational and intercultural country, and grants rights to nature.


The cases presented in the report also demonstrate the Ecuadorian government’s flagrant failure to safeguard the vital and peaceful work of rights defenders and outlines the tactics employed by the government and industry to quash protests and weaken resistance movements, and maintain a legacy of corporate impunity, as devastatingly evidenced in cases in the Amazon rainforest. Stigmatization and even the criminalization of defenders through an abusive use of the justice system feature widely throughout the cases. The report demonstrates Ecuador’s non-compliance with signed treaties, pacts, and international instruments that guarantee the protection of rights defenders, such as the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders of the United Nations and the Escazú Agreement – an international treaty that includes the world's first binding provision on human rights defenders in environmental matters.


Among the report’s chief recommendations are the urgent need for the Ecuadorian government to establish clear and culturally appropriate mechanisms of protection, reparation, and non-repetition in cases of murder, threats, and intimidation that affect rights defenders and their families.


Ecuador’s Alliance for Human Rights intends for this first edition of the report to provide fundamental recommendations for the construction of a public policy to guarantee the work of human and environmental rights defenders, which has been under development by an inter-institutional roundtable under the leadership of Ecuador’s Ombudsmen since 2019. Over this period, high instances of State-led harassment, intimidation, violence, and criminalization against rights defenders have been recorded. This is most visible in the severity of the cases of Andrés Durazno (one of the three defenders murdered), the communities and defenders of the April 7th, 2020 oil spill, the Shuar Arutam People, and the defenders within the case of modern slavery against the company Furukawa, Buenos Aires, Explocen, and others.


Amazon Watch is a nonprofit organization founded in 1996 to protect the rainforest and advance the rights of Indigenous peoples in the Amazon Basin. We partner with Indigenous and environmental organizations in campaigns for human rights, corporate accountability, and the preservation of the Amazon's ecological systems.


Subscribe to America Latina en Movimiento - RSS