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Ordinary and indigenous justice in Ecuador: “The key lies in dialogue” says UN expert

GENEVA (8 June 2010) – UN Special Rapporteur James Anaya called for dialogue and understanding between political actors and indigenous organizations in Ecuador, in order to build through consultation and participatory processes the mechanisms of coordination and cooperation between ordinary and indigenous justice.

“The key lies in dialogue based on the principles of tolerance and respect for human rights,” said the independent expert appointed by the Human Rights Council to monitor the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people.

“It is counterproductive for the construction of an intercultural and multinational State as declared in the new constitution of Ecuador,” Mr. Anaya said, “to describe as wild and as human rights violations all expressions of indigenous justice, based on partial and incomplete information from the media in relation to a case that took place on May 9, 2010 at the Cocha community, Cotopaxi province.”

The Special Rapporteur expressed deep concern at the polarized atmosphere that seems to have emerged from comments in the media and statements by government officials in Ecuador, that “go beyond the reasonable and measured critique of a concrete case of indigenous justice implementation, and run the risk of being perceived as encouraging racist and discriminatory views against all indigenous peoples of Ecuador.”

In Ecuador, indigenous peoples’ rights, and in particular the right to enjoy their own laws, are recognized in the 2008 Constitution and in international treaties signed by the country. The Constitution recognizes the equality between indigenous and ordinary jurisdiction, and establishes that cooperation and coordination are at the heart of their relationship

“The constitutional proviso is not only consistent with international standards on the subject,” said the UN independent expert, “but it recognizes the undeniable reality of the existence and effective operation for hundreds of years of several indigenous justice systems corresponding to different nationalities and peoples living in the country.”

In this regard, the Special Rapporteur urged the society and the Ecuadorian authorities to recognize the effective and peaceful application of ancestral justice systems in the vast majority of cases, but also not to confuse cases of vigilante and riotous violence with the genuine expressions of indigenous justice.

“This requires a process of further dialogue with the indigenous authorities and knowledge of ancestral justices, as well as the support of legal and anthropological analysis, especially in relation to human rights issues,” Mr. Anaya stressed.

“In order to guarantee the right to justice for all,” the UN Special Rapporteur urged, the Ecuadorian authorities must redouble their efforts to strengthen the capacity of both ordinary and indigenous justice, so both become effective instruments to fight impunity while respecting human rights.”

On March 2008, the Human Rights Council appointed Professor S. James Anaya (United States of America) as Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people. Professor Anaya is the James J. Lenoir Professor of Human Rights Law and Policy at the University of Arizona (USA).

OHCHR Country Page – Ecuador: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/LACRegion/Pages/ECIndex.aspx