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Ecuador: UN expert calls for urgent action to boost women’s rights law and free women jailed over abortion

GENEVA / QUITO (10 December 2019) – Ecuador's adoption of a comprehensive law to end violence against women marks significant progress in the fight against gender-based violence, however a number of obstacles are preventing it being fully operational, a UN human rights expert has concluded after a fact-finding visit.

Proposed budget cuts, the criminalisation of abortion and a lack of coordination between relevant bodies are all hindering implementation of the law, said the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, Dubravka Šimonović, in a preliminary statement after her first mission to the country.

"If the Government prioritises implementing the new law, develops a National Action Plan to eradicate violence against women, and allocates the necessary budget, I am convinced that Ecuador can make significant progress in the near future in ensuring a life free from violence for all women and girls in the country," she said.

"This is of critical importance given the high levels of gender-based violence in the country. Recent Government statistics indicate that seven out of 10 women in Ecuador have suffered psychological or physical violence, and 642 have been reported as victims of femicide since 2014."

The expert said Ecuador had one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in the region, often as a result of rape or incest, a criminal justice system that prohibited therapeutic abortion in cases of rape, incest or unviable pregnancies, and overly restrictive interpretations of the right to life and health exemptions.

"The high level of sexual violence and rape, including against young girls and adolescents in educational settings but also at home, is of particular concern," she said. "The definition of rape in the criminal code should be changed so that it is based on the absence of consent rather than the use of force, since this requirement is preventing many perpetrators being brought to justice, while statute of limitation to report rape should be amended to allow for the efficient initiation of criminal proceedings after the victim has reached the age of majority."

The Special Rapporteur also urged Ecuador to free some 250 women who are reportedly being held on charges linked to having abortions. "This is contrary to international standards and must be urgently addressed," she said.

"Progress has been made in the political and legislative sphere, through increased numbers of women in Parliament and the adoption of some encouraging new laws, and I hope we can now see all of Ecuador's laws fully implemented and harmonised, for example to ensure women can access shelters and protection orders when they need them, and to expedite adoption of the new Health Code."

During her 11-day mission, Ms Simonovic met the Vice-President, high-ranking Government officials, the President of the National Assembly, and representatives of parliamentary committees, the Constitutional Court, international organisations, development agencies, and civil society and grass roots organisations. She also met with the Governor of Azuay, and relevant stakeholders in Cuenca, Huaquillas, Machala and Tulcan. 

She will present a full report on her visit to the Human Rights Council in June 2020.

ENDS

Ms Dubravka Šimonović (Croatia) was appointed as Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences by the UN Human Rights Council in June 2015, to recommend measures, ways and means, at the national, regional and international levels, to eliminate violence against women and its causes, and to remedy its consequences. Ms. Šimonović has been member of the CEDAW Committee from 2002 to 2014. She headed the Human Rights Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Croatia and was the Minister Plenipotentiary at the Permanent Mission of Croatia to the UN in New York. She was also Ambassador to the OSCE and UN in Vienna. She co-chaired the Ad hoc Committee (CAHVIO) of the Council of Europe that elaborated the Convention on Preventing and Combatting Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention).She has a PhD in Family Law and published books and articles on human rights and women's rights.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council's independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, country page: Ecuador

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