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Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination discusses anti-discrimination efforts in Ecuador and Tajikistan with civil society

GENEVA (7 August 2017) – The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination this morning held an informal meeting with civil society representatives from Ecuador and Tajikistan, whose reports will be considered this week. 

The reports of the United Arab Emirates and Djibouti will also be reviewed by the Committee this week but there were no civil society representatives speaking on those two countries.

In her opening remarks, Anastasia Crickley, Committee Chairperson, welcomed civil society representatives from Ecuador and Tajikistan, and underlined the importance of a dialogue between the experts and civil society.

During the discussion, representatives of civil society raised issues that they were working on.  Those from Tajikistan focused on the situation of underrepresented and vulnerable ethnic minorities that lacked comprehensive State protection, such as the Jughi, Pamiri and Yagnobi.  Representatives of civil society from Ecuador drew attention to the challenges faced by various indigenous communities in terms of extractive business activities in their traditional areas and privatisation of their water resources.  Organizations also drew attention to multiples forms of discrimination faced by indigenous women, and discrimination of Ecuadorians of African descent, migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. 

Speaking in the discussion were ADC Memorial, Pueblo Kitu Kara, Land is Life, Acción Ecológica and Fundación Alejandro Labaka, Coalición Nacional de Mujeres del Ecuador, Ecuarunari, Grupo de Pensamiento Afrodescendiente, and CAPAJ.

The next public meeting of the Committee will be at 3 p.m. on Monday, 7 August, when it will start its review of the eighteenth to twenty-first periodic report of the United Arab Emirates (CERD/C/ARE/18-21).

Opening Remarks

ANASTASIA CRICKLEY, Committee Chairperson, welcomed civil society representatives from Ecuador and Tajikistan, and underlined the importance of a dialogue between the Committee Experts and civil society. 

Statement by a Non-governmental Organization on Tajikistan

ADC Memorial explained that the organization was not based in Tajikistan.  There was a constant risk in Tajikistan of the adoption of laws similar to those adopted by the Russian Federation on the so-called “foreign agents.”  The organization focused on ethnic minorities that did not have their own national countries, such as the Central Asian Roma (the Jughi), the Pamiri and the Yagnobi.  The Government of Tajikistan did not support them in education and did not recognize their languages.  They lacked political representation and experienced subtle discrimination due to the neglect of their cultural and social needs.  The Jughi minority led a nomadic life and according to official statistics amounted to some 2,500.  However, that data was not accurate.  At least 3,000 of them lived in and around Dushanbe, in addition to a number of other settlements in the country.  Typically they faced structural discrimination, extreme poverty, unemployment, risk of expulsion, and harmful practices, such as exploitation of children, early and forced marriage, and polygamy.  The Government of Tajikistan denied that there was any discrimination of the Jughi.  Their passports contained a Russian page and a Tajik page indicating their ethnicity as “Roma/Tsigan.” 

The Pamiri were not allowed to mention their ethnicity in their passports, and were recorded as Tajik.  They lived in mountainous areas, and they faced prejudices and stereotypes.  They were considered as “bad Muslims” because they belonged to the Shia Ismaili religion, while the majority of the Tajiks were Sunni Muslims.  They were often suspected of separatism because during the civil war they had supported opposition groups.  They were denied education in their native language.  The third community were the Yagnobi, who lived in isolated mountainous settlements around the Yagnobi River.  There were between 5,000 to 15,000 Yagnobis in the country.  Their language and culture were under the threat of extinction.  As for the Uzbeks and Kyrgyz, there were schools in their languages, but no opportunity to pass State exams in those languages.  As a result, Uzbek and Kyrgyz parents preferred to place their children in Tajik schools.   Attitudes towards the Uzbeks were quite negative due to the bad relations between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.  The Uzbeks made up about 14 per cent of the population, but their political representation stood at around 6 per cent.         

Questions by the Committee Experts

YANDUAN LI, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for Tajikistan, noted the lack of information in the country report.  Refugees and asylum seekers were not allowed to live in certain parts of Tajikistan, such as Dushanbe, and they did not have access to work, adequate housing and healthcare.  There was also the issue of the definition of racial discrimination and hate crime.  The change of names of certain villages and towns was another problematic issue, which had to do with the change of Russian and Soviet-era names.  That change had taken place without any consultation with the local population. 

Responses by the Non-governmental Organization

ADC Memorial clarified that the problem of stateless persons was common in all former Soviet republics.  Part of the problem was the weak documentation of the Jughi minority, connected with their poverty and slow collection of birth certificates.  Some Jughi could not change their Uzbek passports, due to bad relations between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.  Tajikistan rejected the need for the adoption of a comprehensive anti-discrimination law.  As for the name change of villages and town, that was a real problem which, in fact, represented “Tajikisation.”   

Questions by Experts

Had there been any discrimination cases brought to court?  Was there a Tajikisation of all residents of the country?  Were the Jughi recognized as citizens of Tajikistan or not?

Responses by the Non-governmental Organization

ADC Memorial explained that there had been no cases of racial discrimination in front of courts in Tajikistan.  In various censuses over the years, there were different ways of reporting on ethnic minorities.  The Yagnobi migrated from their traditional areas due to mass labour migration to the Russian Federation.  The Jughi were not fully regarded as regular Tajik citizens because their Jughi ethnicity was recorded in their passports.

Statements by Non-governmental Organizations on Ecuador

Pueblo Kitu Kara spoke of the discrimination of indigenous peoples in Ecuador, due to the colour of their skin, the dialect they spoke and the poverty in which they lived.  They were treated as cheap labour and their territories were coveted by various companies for resource extraction and tourist exploitation.   The people of Kitu Kara had been evicted from their lands.  Pueblo Kitu Kara said Ecuador needed to change its institutional structure and policies to ensure respect for the rights of indigenous peoples, and demanded that Ecuador implement community democracy as a form of democracy on an equal footing with other forms of democracy.  Ecuador had to urgently harmonize its laws to meet the reality of indigenous communities, which were subject to experimental policies, and to implement the principle of community property.

Land is Life, Acción Ecológica and Fundación Alejandro Labaka raised issues that were crucial for the indigenous peoples of Waorani, Kichwa and Tagaeri Taromenane, which they had to deal with on a daily basis.  The Government of Ecuador had failed to protect the area of the National Parc of Yasuní, which was one of the richest areas of Ecuador in terms of biodiversity, from hydro-electric and mining exploitation.  The lack of control over massive exploitation and illegal fishing, originating mainly from Peru, led to usurpation of indigenous ancestral lands and natural patrimony.  The organization asked the Government why there were no military posts on the border area with Peru and what the Government intended to do to protect the local indigenous peoples.  The organization demanded that the Government of Ecuador guarantee the rights of indigenous peoples by securing the untouchability of the National Parc of Yasuní, by respecting the constitutional norms, and by protecting the national borders.

Coalición Nacional de Mujeres del Ecuador drew attention to the urgent issue of the mineral extractive activities in the traditional lands of the indigenous peoples of Shuar and Achuar, which had been going on since the 1960s.  In the province of Morona Santiago, those communities lived under the threat of the economic interests of companies.  In August 2016, families from the community of Nankints had become refugees due to forced displacement by the State authorities.  Mining went hand in hand with the process of colonization, exposing indigenous communities to vices, such as prostitution, drug and alcohol abuse, and breaking of families.  Ecuador had to adopt emergency measures to ensure that the rights and lands of indigenous peoples were not violated.  Immediate reparations should be provided to the victims of land evictions.  The Constitution of Ecuador had failed to achieve its goals in practice when it came to the recognition of the specific needs and circumstances of indigenous communities in the country, especially of indigenous women who suffered from multiple forms of discrimination.  Sadly, the good initiatives mentioned in the State party’s report had not been implemented.

Ecuarunari underlined that indigenous peoples suffered from racial violence and they lacked resources to defend themselves.  There was a long history of laws regulating the intersections of race and marriage.  Indigenous unions were considered by Christian tradition as “savage.”  The plurinational State of Ecuador and international norms guaranteed indigenous rights to self-determination.  Denying indigenous marriage was an act of racial discrimination that led to forced assimilation.  That story was part of a broad context of discrimination against indigenous authorities and institutions over the past decade.  Former Ecuadorian President Correa had called indigenous authorities “savage,” “ignorant,” “backward,” and “terrorist” in his official speeches.  The Government had shut down thousands of indigenous bilingual schools in rural areas and had pushed the indigenous university Amauta Wasi into illegality.  Legal warfare had been used to jail and silence indigenous activists.   

Grupo de Pensamiento Afrodescendiente stated that Ecuador had undergone a period of great changes in terms of positive discrimination, which did not benefit Ecuadorians of African descent.  The needs and rights of that population had been exchanged for the private interests of the people close to the Government.  The principles of recognition, justice and development had been applied selectively.  Due to its strong commitment to defend the rights of Ecuadorians of African descent, the group had been subject to all forms of criticism by the Government.  The Group demanded that the Government work on true actions to meet the objectives of the International Decade for People of African Descent.  It demanded that the central Government not take action based on party lines, but to involve Afro-Ecuadorians in its decision-making as they represented 7.2 per cent of the population. 

CAPAJ reiterated the claim that maternal languages in Ecuador should be protected, especially oral languages.  It reminded that that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization had convened a dialogue on biodiversity in Ecuador in order to closely analyse the actions taken by the Government, including on maternal languages.  CAPAJ recommended that the Government establish a unit devoted to the task of the protection and preservation of oral languages. 

Questions by the Committee Experts

PASTOR ELIAS MURILLO MARTINEZ, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for Ecuador, asked about the difference between indigenous peoples and nationalities.  What kinds of institutional changes should take place in Ecuador?  Had any initiatives been taken to promote dialogue between the Government and ethnic groups? 

Another Expert raised the question of indigenous leaders and their situation.  What was the percentage of indigenous peoples and nationalities in Ecuador?  Were there any court cases involving indigenous peoples and how long did they last?  What was the situation of various indigenous peoples in the Amazon area?

Responses by the Non-Governmental Organizations

Coalición Nacional de Mujeres del Ecuador explained that the National Council produced reports that were not binding for the State.  The National Council was only made up of representatives of five peoples and it did not represent well the diversity of the population in Ecuador.  Speaking of the closure of the indigenous educational system, the organization explained that community schools had been closed and replaced by the so-called “millennium” schools which often lacked teaching means.  They were far away from indigenous communities, leading to a high drop-out rate among indigenous girls.  About nine per cent of the population was indigenous in Ecuador.  There were a number of court cases involving indigenous peoples who had to invest a lot of money for defence.

Ecuarunari said that there were some 20 indigenous groups in the country.  Almost all indigenous leaders had been criminalized in Ecuador because they had been anti-extraction activists.   Many had been accused of sabotage and terrorism because they had defended the access of indigenous peoples to water.  One of the critical issues was water resources close to gold mines.    

Questions by Committee Experts

Where were Afro-Ecuadorians located in the country and what kind of access to employment did they have? 

Did civil society organization see any concrete progress in terms of improvement for the situation of indigenous peoples in light of the Government’s assertion that Ecuador was a plurinational country? 

What was the national agenda on human mobility, namely on migrants and refugees?  Experts asked for information on stereotypes about migrant workers in the media and wondered if the State was effective in combatting those stereotypes?  Had legal assistance been given to asylum seekers?  More details were requested on working conditions for migrant workers, especially for migrant women?  There were cases of Afro-Colombian children being bullied in schools.  

What could be done to improve the situation of indigenous peoples living in voluntary isolation?  Did the Ecuadorian Federation of Indians still exist?

With respect to the status of land, expulsions and privatisation of water systems, were those privatisations established on legal grounds?  Were indigenous communities consulted and was there any compensation? 

Responses by the Non-Governmental Organizations

Land is Life, Acción Ecológica and Fundación Alejandro Labaka explained that indigenous institutions had been strengthened, but the so-called “equality councils” only met the interests of the Government through a false image of representation of indigenous peoples.   The forest indigenous peoples could protect their lands because they had a commune-based organization.  In the Amazon area, indigenous peoples were isolated and did not have political representation. 

Ecuarunari noted that sovereignty in Ecuador needed to be plurinational in nature.  Indigenous justice was recognized in theory, but not in practice.  As for refugees, the welcome centre operated as a prison for Colombians and Haitians, who were mainly of African descent.  The Confederation of Indians still existed.  The excuse for the privatisation of water systems was that they were not modern enough. 

Grupo de Pensamiento Afrodescendiente said that persons of African descent were located chiefly in the north of the country, in the province of Esmeraldas.  Today, they found themselves throughout the territory of Ecuador.   The worst situation was that of women of African descent.

Coalición National de Mujeres del Ecuador clarified that discussions about the bill on human mobility had not been open to civil society organizations.  There was ongoing discrimination of migrants from Colombia and they did not find better living conditions in Ecuador.

For use of the information media; not an official record