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Statement to the media by the United Nations’ Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, on the conclusion of its official visit to Ecuador, 16-20 December 2019

Spanish

Quito, 20 December 2019

The Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent thanks the Government of Ecuador for its invitation to visit the country, and for its full cooperation. This visit is a follow up to the 2009 visit of the Working Group.

The Working Group thank in particular the Ministry for Foreign Affairs for arranging the visit and the national and local authorities who met with the Working Group during our visit. We would like to give special thanks to the civil society representative organizations and individuals from the Afro-Ecuadorian community for sharing their concerns and recommendations with our delegation. We also thank the United Nations Country team for their support to the visit.
The views expressed in this statement are of a preliminary nature, our findings and recommendations will be presented in our mission report to the United Nations Human Rights Council in September 2020.

During the visit, the Working Group assessed the situation of Afro Ecuadorians and people of African descent and gathered information on the forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, Afrophobia and related intolerance that they face. The Working Group studied the official measures taken and mechanisms to prevent racial discrimination and to protect victims of racism, as well as responses to multiple forms of discrimination. The visit focused on both good practices and challenges faced in realising their human rights.

As part of its fact-finding mission, the Working Group visited Quito, San Lorenzo and Esmeraldas. It met representatives of the National Government, the National Assembly, the Parliament Commission on Collective Rights, the Parliament Group on Afro descendants, the National Council for Equality of Peoples and Nationalities, local authorities in Esmeraldas province, the National Prosecutor, Judges of the Constitutional Court, the Judicial Council, the Ombudsman, people of African descent, civil society and the United Nations Country Team. It also visited the Juvenile detention centre in Esmeraldas.

According to Government official statistics based on the last census in 2010, 7.2% of the population or more than one million citizens of Ecuador are Afro descendants.

The Working group welcomes the many good practices and positive steps to guarantee the rights of people of African descent in Ecuador including the following:

The International Decade for People of African Descent was launched in Ecuador on 16 February 2016. (Decree 915)
The National Plan for equality of Indigenous Peoples, Afro Ecuadorians and Montubio (2019-2021)

The 2008 Constitution establishes that Ecuador is an intercultural and plurinational state, recognizing collective rights for Afro-descendant peoples. (Art.1 and art. 58) It guarantees free, prior and informed consent for communities, peoples and nations. (Art. 57)

The Constitution also has a ground-breaking provision on the environment. It provides for the rights of nature. Ecuador considers nature so important that it includes nature as a rights bearer. (Art.71)

The Decree 60 (28 September 2009) set to minimize the rates of discrimination, exclusion and to improve the situation of historically discriminated populations (indigenous, Afro-Ecuadorian and montubio), including through affirmative action.
The Plurinational plan to eliminate racial discrimination and exclusion.

The Parliamentary group on Afrodescendants development of a new law to better introduce ethno-education into the curriculum. A pilot project for schools that will become guardians of traditional knowledge. Work to translate the General History of Africa into Spanish.

The work of the Ombudsman, the Secretary of Human Rights and the National Council for Equality of Peoples and Nationalities to protect the human rights of Afro Ecuadorians and people of African descent.

The adoption of the Comprehensive Organic Criminal Code, which has been in force since 2014 and whose articles 176 and 177 criminalize acts of racial discrimination and hate crimes.

The Working Group also welcomes the civil society initiatives to promote and protect the human rights of people of African descent and raise awareness about Afro-Ecuadorian identity.

Despite the progressive provisions of the Constitution, recognition of the collective rights of people of African descent and the positive measures referred to above, the Working Group is deeply concerned about the human rights situation of people of African descent in Ecuador.

There has not yet been effective implementation and enforcement of laws and policy to protect the rights of people of African descent.

Afro-Ecuadorians and people of African descent continue to suffer racial discrimination, particularly with regard to their access to justice, security, land, clean water, education, healthcare, housing and economic opportunity.

Ecuadorians of African descent make up 7.2% of the Ecuadorian population. Yet they make up 40% of Ecuadorians living in poverty. According to INEC the province of Esmeraldas where 68.25% of the population is Afro-descendant is one of the poorest and most excluded in Ecuador, 84.6 % live below the poverty line, 15.3% are illiterate, and 23% have basic services. According to official data that region also has the highest rates of maternal mortality, gender based violence and teen pregnancy.

Education in particular is a right which they have been denied. While there is affirmative action in universities giving additional points to help gain admission, Ecuadorians of African descent are not able to reach that point of seeking to gain admission because of the poor quality of their education at the primary and secondary levels.

The Working Group is deeply concerned by the activities of extractive industries, and the lack of monitoring and sanctions of these industries by the state. These industries -forestry, palm, and mining are responsible for some of the most serious human rights violations. It is a situation of environmental racism due to the systematic contamination of water, the environment, threats and intimidation of communities and insufficient efforts by the State to avoid, punish and repair such degradation. The state should not remain indifferent to the abuses and human rights violations carried out by these companies.

Ecuadorians of African descent in particular have been seriously hurt by the significant environmental harm that endanger the lives of communities. On its country visit, the Working Group saw up close a dying toxic river in Esmeraldas province. Afro Communities who drink from the river, bathe in it or wash their clothes in it end up suffering diseases including skin rashes, genital infections and other serious illnesses.

The Working Group is deeply concerned by the racialized criminalization of people of African Descent as a strategy to suppress or even to eliminate opposition to extractivist projects.

Despite the constitutional guarantee of the right to land, Afro-Ecuadorians complain that thousands of hectares of ancestral lands have been given to extractive industries.

The Working Group expresses concern about the inaction by the State due to interference and lobby by the exporters and other groups and personalities seeking to continue the operations of these industries. The Working Group also noted the insufficient action on the part of the Ministry of the Environment, the Ministry of Mining (Agencia de Regulacion y Control Minero - ARCOM) and the Ministry of Agriculture.

The Working Group is deeply concerned by the reports of impunity and ongoing violations of the human rights of plantation workers and their families by the Japanese company Furukawa Plantaciones CA.  The Ombudsman report indicates that the majority of workers are Afro-descendants, who work and depend on the extraction of abaca fiber without having employment contracts or social security. They verified the situation in 17 camps located in the provinces of Santo Domingo de los Tsáchilas and Los Ríos, such as: high risk of being evicted from the territories where they live because they are owned by the company. The camps in which they live do not have basic services such as drinking water, electricity, public lighting, sanitary or toilet facilities, among others. The company made them sign lease contracts to avoid signing employment contracts as a means to deny the employment relationship; the purchase of abaca was exclusively for the company; child labor; and, health effects due to physical disability derived from cuts, mutilations and occupational accidents.

According to information received, for 56 years, Ecuadorians of African descent have worked for the company under deplorable conditions.  Children born on the farms did not have their births registered denying them the right to nationality de facto. The children are forced to work instead of going to school. Both their parents and the children do not have identity documents. They do not have access to health care and other services. The Working Group met a man whose legs were twisted and broken on the job. He needs an operation, but he does not have the necessary papers or money for the operation. The workers live in make- shift homes that do not qualify as adequate housing. In 2019 the authorities took initial action and suspended the operations of the company. The company is still operating and the workers are demanding justice and reparations for the harm suffered.

The Working Group is concerned by the lack of access to justice for people of African descent and welcomes the commitment by the Constitutional Court to address the backlog of cases.

Another concern is the overrepresentation of people of African descent in detention. The Working Group visited the juvenile detention center in Esmeraldas where 90% of detainees were people of African descent. We are deeply concerned by the lack of access to legal aid, clean water, inadequate food, insufficient recreation, poor living conditions and insecurity.

The cases of Michel Arce and Andres Padilla demonstrate racial discrimination, hate speech and police violence against Afro Ecuadorians. Arce was a cadet at a police academy who was on the receiving end of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and racial discrimination from his police instructor. This was the first case in Ecuador in which a person was convicted for the crime of racial hatred. On the other hand, Padilla was shot by a member of the Special Operations Group of the National Police (GOE), in a control operation that was carried out in the sector called Mascarillas in the province of Imbabura. The Police was punished with the minimum penalty (3 years 4 months) established for the crime of overreach in the execution of an act of service of the members of the Armed Forces and National Police.

RECOMMENDATIONS

The following recommendations are intended to assist Ecuador in its efforts to combat all forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, Afrophobia and related intolerance faced by Afro-Ecuadorians and people of African descent. The Government of Ecuador should:

Intensify awareness-raising campaigns combating racial discrimination, stereotypes and all forms of discrimination.
Recognize the historical contribution of people of African descent to Ecuadorian culture, society and economy at all levels of government and in the society as a whole.

Ensure that quality education is accessible and available in areas where communities of African descent live, particularly in rural and marginalized communities, with attention to improving the quality of public education.

Ethno education should be inserted into the national school curriculum. Create a national secretariat of ethno-education within the Ministry of Education.

Ensure that textbooks and other educational materials reflect historical facts accurately as they relate to past tragedies and atrocities, in particular slavery, the trade in enslaved Africans and colonialism, so as to avoid stereotypes and the distortion or falsification of these historic facts, which may lead to racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.
Increase special measures so that Ecuadorians of African descent will be able to attend university.

Adopt effective measures to prevent acts of violence against Human Rights Defenders, leaders and defenders of the rights of Afro-Ecuadorians and to ensure the protection of their lives.

Ensure access for Afro-Ecuadorians to justice, security, land, clean water, healthcare, housing and economic opportunity.
Increase economic and social investment to improve equality of access, opportunities and needs for Afro-Ecuadorian families and to facilities their full participation in public life.

In preparation of the 2020 Census collect, compile, analyse, disseminate and publish reliable statistical data at the national and local levels, and take all other related measures necessary to assess regularly the situation of people of African descent who are victims of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

Guarantee access to justice and reparations for Afro-Ecuadorians affected by extractivist industries.

Audit and ensure environmental control of mining companies and other extractivist industries with the active participation of Afro Ecuadorians and civil society. Monitor and control water quality and environmental impacts with the participation of concerned communities. Investigate to establish criminal liability for human rights violations and environmental damage done to Afro Ecuadorian communities by companies. Effect closure of extractivist companies that pollute the environment. Sanction institutions and authorities that have not complied with the law.

Ensure that Afro Ecuadorians are consulted and enjoy the benefits arising from the use of the land.

Provide clean water and full access to free and adequate health services for these victims.

Ensure that State institutions take concrete actions aimed at overcoming racism and discrimination, including the dispossession of lands and territories, and the lack of enforcement mechanisms for participation and consultation and forced displacement.

Implement the recommendations of the Ombudsman report on the Furukawa case for the (1) indemnification of the workers for the violation of their human rights; (2) expropriation of the land to be awarded to the workers; (3) and closure of the Furukawa company.

The Working Group would like to add that: (1) the births of children of the Furukawa workers must be registered; (2) identity papers be given to the Furukawa workers who lack them; (3) the Furukawa workers and their children be given scholarships in schools and universities; (4) the Furukawa workers be given full access to health care, housing and formal job market.

Strengthen the Ombudsman's Office to create a subdivision dedicated to the protection and promotion of the rights of Afro-descendant peoples with sufficient human, financial and technical capacities.

Implement Executive Decree No. 915 of 2016 for the International Decade of People of African Descent and assess progress made in consultation with people of African descent.

Ensure police and military academies undergo training and capacity building to eradicate racism and comply with national and international human rights law.

Ensure that the 2030 Sustainable Development agenda truly leaves no one behind and racial discrimination is addressed, Afro-Ecuadorians and other people of African descent must be included and specific programmes developed to protect their human rights.

Ensure that women of African descent are adequately protected from all forms of discrimination and violence, and can enjoy equal opportunities in access to employment, health and justice.

The Working Group reminds media of their important role as a public watchdog with special responsibilities for ensuring that factual and reliable information about people of African descent is reported. It also urges media to play its role in increasing visibility of Afro-Ecuadorians and people of African descent and their culture, including through representation in the media sector.

The Working Group would like to reiterate its satisfaction at the Government’s willingness to engage in dialogue, cooperation and action to combat racial discrimination faced by Afro Ecuadorians and people of African descent. We hope that our report will support the Government in this process and we express our willingness to assist in this important endeavour.