Commissioners: José de Jesús Orozco Henríquez, Tracy Robinson, Paulo Vannuchi, Rose-Marie Belle Antoine, Emilio Álvarez Icaza Longoria (Executive Secretary), Elizabeth Abi-Mershed (Assistant Executive Secretary)
Petitioners: Centro de Derechos Humanos de la Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador / Fundación Regional de Asesoría en Derechos Humanos (INREDH) / Grupo de Afectados por la disolución de Fundación Pachamama / Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL)
State: Ecuador (not present)
On March 28, 2014, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) held hearings on the situation of the right to freedom of association and environmental defenders in Ecuador. The Petitioners presented many difficult issues facing organizations in Ecuador while the representatives from the State of Ecuador were not present for hearing. The Commissioners stated that though the representatives from Ecuador were not present, the State can send its response in writing. The Petitioners stated that the absence of State representatives from the hearing showed a lack of respect for the international forum.
The Petitioners expressed discontent with the President’s Executive Decree 16, which allows the State to dissolve organizations that it deems as going against its mission or purpose. The Petitioners emphasized that the right to freedom of association affects all people and that because Executive Decree 16 includes ambiguous language and can lead to the dissolution of organizations without due process, it is unconstitutional under Ecuador’s Constitution. The Petitioners further stated that the measures taken by the State should be proportional and the purpose should be objective, without undermining other rights. Pachamama, a non-profit organization in the Amazon that defended the rights of indigenous tribes and the conservation of the forests, was one of the main Petitioner Organizations and was dissolved in 2013 under Executive Decree 16. The Petitioners emphasized that Pachamama engaged in civil advocacy and provided legal advisory services to the indigenous community but did not engage in any form of violent activity. Despite its peaceful activities, on November 30, 2013, the Office of the Interior sent fifteen officials to Pachamama’s offices to shut it down based on police reports indicating that Pachamama was behind violent acts. The Petitioners further allege that because the government officials did not give any notice to Pachamama prior to shutting it down, employees were forced to leave all private documents and computers in the office. The State shut down Pachamama, arguing that it had veered from its foundational goals by participating in public politics, and government officials sealed the organization’s offices. Pachamama’s dissolution occurred within four hours, without any due process. Petitioners asserted that because of this process, the organization’s right to freedom of association was harmed.
The Commission expressed that it felt severely handicapped by not being able to ask questions of the State. Commissioner Rose-Marie Belle Antoine asked whether there was a law defining what a political party is and if so what is the precondition for registration. She also asked if there were any criminal penalties, in addition to dissolution, that Pachamama employees faced, and if there was a criminal penalty, if the law specifically explains who would be criminally prosecuted and under what circumstances. Commissioner José de Jesús Orozco Henríquez expressed serious concern over the rights of association being curtailed by the Executive Decree and asked whether it offered any due process guarantees. Commissioner Paulo Vannucci inquired about the Judiciary and whether it had decided against the constitutionality of the Executive Decree.
The Petitioners responded to the inquiries posed by the Commissioners by asserting that presently there were ten prosecutions against indigenous leaders; however, none of those individuals belonged to the Pachamama organization. Additionally, the Petitioners stated that the members of the Pachamama organization could be prosecuted criminally, but so far the government had not taken any action against them. Lastly, the Petitioners stated that Pachamama is in the process of filing a complaint with the Constitutional Court in Ecuador to compensate it for its rights that have been violated by the Ecuadorian government.