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Ecuador | Victory for NGO as arbitrary decision to force its closure is reversed

01.12.2017

Lea el artículo en español aquí.

With the reinstatement of Fundación Pachamama, a four-year injustice has finally been righted. Following years of lobbying by members of the organisation, the Ministry of the Environment finally announced that the decision to close the Foundation’s offices and dissolve their legal status had been reversed.

‘This is a historic victory for civil society and the indigenous and environmental movement in Ecuador, which has worked tirelessly for the protection of human rights,’ said Juan Auz, Executive Director of the Fundación Pachamama and former ISHR trainee.

What happened in 2013?

Fundación Pachamama is dedicated to the respect of the rights of indigenous peoples and the conservation of Amazon ecosystems.

It was closed in 2013 by Executive Decree - a much criticized instrument - after the then President Rafael Correa used the platform of his weekly TV and radio programme to call for the foundation to lose its right to operate. Fundación Pachamama was provided no opportunity to challenge the accusations made against it or the decision.

Four years attempting to reverse the decision began, with very limited available options at national level.

‘It was almost impossible to get an Ecuadorian Court to give us a hearing and acknowledge that our constitutional rights had been violated. We saw that only through lobbying at the international level would we get our voice heard,’ said Auz.

Members of the organisation looked to the regional and international human rights mechanisms to raise awareness of the violations experienced in their case and seek redress.

Example of a widespread problem

The experience of Fundación Pachamana is not unique in Ecuador or elsewhere in the region. A string of closures of other Ecuadorian NGOs have been condemned by several UN experts.

‘Dissolving groups is the most severe type of restriction on freedom of association,’ said the then Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, Maina Kiai.

Closure of NGOs is aimed at silencing critics and forcing human rights defenders to commit their resources to legal and administrative processes rather than their core work.

‘Gaining back civic space is incredibly time-consuming and exhausting for organisations,’ said Juan Auz. ‘In particular for those working at local level that don’t have large budgets, or have access to possible required expertise. They need to move from defending rights, to permanent self-defence.’

‘In the case of Fundación Pachamama we had to focus on our survival.’

Adapting to survive

To continue the work of Fundación Pachamama and organise its defence, a new organisation, Terra Mater, was founded.

‘This was very important as government-backed extractive projects were spreading across the ancestral lands in the Amazon,’ said Auz. ‘We adapted to survive and to continue the work we’d been doing for 20 years alongside local communities.’

Breakthrough

The reinstatement of Fundación Pachamama comes with a change in government in the country and a change of approach.

‘The new government proposed a national dialogue in which various collectives, including national indigenous collectives, and a wide spectrum of civil society organisation participated. In this context, we had our voices heard.’

The Ministry of the Environment agreed to re-consider the case, accepting that errors and irregularities that had led to the dissolution of the organisation were a clear violation of the right to freedom of association.

Call for a new law

With this victory under their belt, the Fundación is calling for legislative changes to guarantee the rights of human rights defenders.

‘We urge the government to establish a participatory process to define a law guaranteeing the rights of civil society organisations and protecting the work of human rights defenders and those working to defend the environment,’ said Auz.

Fundación Pachamama is committed to keeping up its work in the Amazon, with the mission of protecting the Sacred Headwaters of the Napo and Marañón Rivers and strengthening the processes for the defence of collective, territorial and environmental rights.

For more information see the Fundación Pachamama press release #SeguimosEnPie 

 

 

 

Photos and Video: Fundación Pachamama and ISHR

Statement ACHPR_Item11_ENG

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Opinion:

By Gigi Alford, Coordinator, Sport and Rights Alliance, Head of Sport and Human Rights, World Players Association, UNI Global Union

Human rights are universal, and sport is no exception. Next week in Geneva, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Prince Zeid will host a public dialogue with International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach to discuss sport’s potential positive impacts and how to hold this sector accountable when it fails to live by its ideals.

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1984

ISHR commences work to develop an international Declaration on the Rights of Human Rights Defenders

1988

ISHR publishes first Human Rights Monitor, connecting human rights defenders on the ground with international human rights systems and developments

1993

ISHR facilitates global civil society engagement with the Second World Conference on Human Rights, which leads to the strengthening of women’s rights, the affirmation of universal rights, the adoption of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action and the establishment of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

1994

ISHR provides training, technical assistance and support to its 1000th human rights defender

1998

After 14 years of ISHR lobbying, advocacy and negotiation, the UN General Assembly adopts the landmark Declaration on Human Rights Defenders

2000

UN Secretary-General appoints Hina Jilani as inaugural UN Special Representative on Human Rights Defenders, strengthening protection of human rights advocates at risk worldwide.

2004

ISHR leads a successful campaign for the appointment of a Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights

2005

ISHR co-founds and supports a range of international and regional human rights coalitions, including the Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition, the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project and the West African Human Rights Defenders Network

2006

ISHR contributes to the establishment and institution building of a new global peak body for human rights issues, the UN Human Rights Council

2007

ISHR leads and coordinates the development of the Yogyakarta Principles on sexual orientation and gender identity, strengthening legal recognition and protection of LGBT rights worldwide

2011

ISHR’s sustained advocacy on the issue of reprisals and intimidation faced by human rights defenders leads to adoption of landmark UN Human Rights Council resolution condemning and strengthening protections against reprisals

2012

Working with key NGO partners such as Amnesty International, ISHR leads civil society efforts to strengthen UN human rights treaty bodies, prevent their weakening and better connect their work with victims and human rights defenders on the ground

2013

Working with supportive states and NGOs, ISHR advocacy leads to adoption of historic Human Rights Council resolution calling on all States to review and amend national laws to respect and protect the work of human rights defenders