Commissioners: José de Jesús Orozco Henríquez, Rosa María Ortiz, Dinah Shelton, Emilio Álvarez Icaza (Executive Secretary), Catalina Botero (Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression)
Petitioners: Corporacíon de Estudios para el Desarrollo (CORDES), Fundacíon Andina para la ObservacíonSocial y Estudio de Medios (FUNDAMEDIOS), Confederación Unitaria de Comerciantes Minoristas y Trabajadores Autónomos del Ecuador (CUCOMITAE), Asosiación Red de ONG de Guayaquil (AROG), Federacíon de Estudiantes Secundarios del Ecuador (FESE)
While petitioners representing various Ecuadorian NGOs came prepared to testify before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) against representatives of the State of Ecuador (State), the Ecuadorian delegation notified the IACHR at 10:06 am on the day of the hearing on the Right to Freedom of Expression and Association that the State would not be participating in this hearing of the 149th session. The Mission of Ecuador to the Organization of American States (OAS) delivered the news at the beginning of the hearing. However, Article 64 of the IACHR Rules of Procedure guaranteed the petitioners a hearing, even in the absence of state representatives.
Petitioners stated that they were not surprised by the State’s actions, alleging that these actions were indicative of Ecuadorian domestic policies that deny citizens the opportunity to engage in dialogue. The petitioning agencies testified about the new Organic Law on Communication and Presidential Decree 016, which monitors civil society by granting the government discretion to oversee and disband a variety of non-governmental organizations and unions. Carlos Castellanos, President of Confederación Unitaria de Comerciantes Minoristas y Trabajadores Autónomos del Ecuador (CUCOMITAE), testified that the decree is oppressive in nature, suppressing those who think differently or dissent from government opinions. Castellanos was not alone in his sentiments; representatives from Corporacíon de Estudios para el Desarrollo (CORDES), Fundacíon Andina para la Observacíon Social y Estudio de Medios (FUNDAMEDIOS), Asosiación Red de ONG de Guayaquil (AROG), and Federacíon de Estudiantes Secundarios del Ecuador (FESE) also expressed grave concerns in regard to the decree.
More specifically, petitioners disclosed that the decree requires all civil society organizations to register with the government should they wish to exist legally. This requirement extends to all groups and organizations, including indigenous organizations that have existed for years. While the state allegedly claims that these organizations impair the security situation in Ecuador, petitioners alleged that these restrictions hamper civil society and deny citizens their freedoms of association and expression. Another petitioner specifically expressed concerns that Decree 016 ignores citizens’ rights to freedom of association as laid out in the Constitution of the Republic of Ecuador and in Article 16 of the American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR). In regards to freedom of expression (Convention Article 13), petitioner Miguel Rivadeneira, a reporter, focused on how the Organic Law interfered with the work of journalists. Rivadeneira criticized the law as punitive in nature and going against principles of dialogue that are important in a democratic state. Rivadeneira further alleged that the law gave the State a monopoly on information that it deems to be of public relevance. For example, if an issue is deemed to be of public relevance, reporting of the issue may be heavily regulated by the State, allegedly including specific required content. Rivadeneira expressed that these regulations dissuade journalists from interviewing people with diverse opinions that differ from state officials and curtail journalistic investigations vis-à-vis the Ecuadorian administration.
Responding to these claims and further allegations related to concepts referred to as “media lynching,” the Commissioners asked a series of clarifying and investigatory questions. Commissioner Dinah Shelton seemed to express concern when asking for more details from petitioners, explicitly stating that she did not want any of the responding petitioners to be punished for defamation against the State. In the absence of Ecuadorian officials, IACHR Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression Catalina Botero condemned the State’s measures by openly asking the empty seats of government officials what the difference would be between old-fashioned censorship and the current laws promulgated by the State.