Ecuador: Serious Concern Over the Misuse of Terrorism Charges
The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), the Ecumenical Commission for Human Rights (CEDHU), the Regional Human Rights Advisory Foundation (INREDH), and the Centre for Economic and Social Rights (CDES) express their concern for growing criminalization against social protest of indigenous communities in Ecuador, which are mobilized in defence of their rights due to the presence of large scale mining activities on their territories.
In effect, following demonstrations on September 30th 2009 in the province of Morona Santiago, seven Shuar indigenous leaders were accused of organized terrorism, three of these as intellectual authors who were detained, and four for cover up who were not detained, and another four that had their charges provisionally overturned (absolved). On February 1st 2011, José Acacho González, President of the Interprovincial Federation of Shuar Centres and one of the indigenous people who had been accused, was detained in a joint operation between the Ecuadorian army and National Police. This same day, Pedro Mahshiant Chamik and Fidel Kaniras Taish were also detained and taken first to the Police Station in Macas, later to the local jail and finally, in the afternoon, to the García Moreno prison in the city of Quito.
The protests in September 2009 took place against the proposed Water Law. The indigenous communities considered that this bill would not protect their sources of water from the damages that industrial activities cause, and that the Mining Law does not precisely define the precautions that should be taken by companies that have mineral holdings in order to avoid contamination of water reserves.
FIDH, CEDHU, INREDH, and CDES consider that to charge the Shuar indigenous, who were mobilized in defence of their rights, with terrorism seriously undermined the international principles to the right to protest and contravenes the international definition of what is meant by a terrorist act.
In this way, the application of article 160.1 of the penal code as applied by the President of the Provincial Court of Morona Santiago is very disconcerting. To designate as terrorism the actions which were undertaken as part of the social protest carried out by the Shuar people in defence of their rights to organize, to the freedom of association and to liberty of expression as enshrined in the Political Constitution of Ecuador and international instruments such as the Inter-American Convention and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, according to the provisions in Article 160.1 of the penal code, is a dangerous misinterpretation of the legal framework tending toward the criminalization of social protest. This is particularly worrisome when the right to resistance is clearly guaranteed in the current Magna Carta of Ecuador.
An act of public protest does not constitute organized terrorism, and as a result the state, in fulfillment of the constitution and its international obligations, should absolve the indigenous men who have been detained of these charges, without prejudice, and investigate in an objective and impartial way the death of Professor Bosco Wisum. There exists a grounded fear that the above-mentioned indigenous men have been implicated in this crime merely for being social leaders and/or for having opposed through public demonstration the government’s proposed water law that was not previously consulted with indigenous peoples. As a result, our organizations condemn the criminalization of protest in Ecuador, as well as the appeal to national justice as a means to silence social demands.
It is fitting to mention that these acts are taking place within the framework of the implementation of large scale, open-pit mining on indigenous lands on the part of foreign companies, which without due oversight by the state of their activities, have contributed to the growth in social conflicts and have led to the violation of fundamental rights of affected communities. The protests that have been developing at a national level since 2005 are directly linked to the lack of participation on the part of affected populations in environmental management, as well as an absence of dialogue, a lack of mechanisms for prior, informed consultation of local populations, and as a result of a failure to consult with indigenous peoples as guaranteed in Convention 169 of the International Labour Organization and the constitution.
Additionally, FIDH, CEDHU, INERDH, and CDES express their concern for the fact that despite the amnesty granted by the National Constituent Assembly in 2008 in favour of individuals that were affected by investigations and legal processes as a result of their defence of their land and water, repression, detentions and charging of citizens who are committed to the defence of collective rights continues.
Finally, these organizations recall that the right to free, prior and informed consent of communities and indigenous peoples is contemplated in Article 57 of the Constitution of the Republic of Ecuador, as well as in Article 6 of Convention 169 of the International Labour Organization (ILO), while reiterating their extraordinary concern as a result of the violation of human rights in the above mentioned context.
CEDHU: Elsie Monge + 593 2 257 0561; email@example.com
INREDH: Luis Ángel Saavedra + 593 2 244 6970; firstname.lastname@example.org
CDES: Gabriela Ordoñez + 593 2 250 2611; 8414 1218; email@example.com