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Experts of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights voice concerns about the negative impact of economic reforms on human rights in dialogue with Ecuador

Committee on Economic, Social
and Cultural Rights

4 October 2019

Committee Experts also Express Concerns about the Ongoing State of Emergency's Potential Effects on Fundamental Freedoms

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights concluded today its review of the fourth periodic report of Ecuador on measures taken to implement the provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.  Committee Experts pointed out that the Government's efforts to "reduce its size" and implement an agreement with the International Monetary Fund could negatively impact human rights protected by the Covenant.  As news emerged of the declaration of a state of emergency in Ecuador during the dialogue, they expressed concerns that this decision would curtail fundamental freedoms.

Committee Experts inquired how the Government intended to "reduce its size" while maintaining important programmes in areas such as health and education.  The budgetary policy seemed unbalanced, too focused on indirect taxes.  The country's agreement with the International Monetary Fund could have a negative impact on economic, social and cultural rights.  Committee Experts also expressed doubts about the compatibility of the Prosperity Plan and the National Development Plan. 

Cecilia Del Consuelo Chacon Castillo, Human Rights Secretary of Ecuador, said that it was important to note that investment in education (4.59 per cent), health (2.65 per cent) and housing (0.32 per cent) had been maintained at a sustained increase.   On the other hand, the country steadfastly persisted in its efforts to face poverty and extreme poverty which had seen a downward trend between 2007 and 2018.  Over the last decade the unified basic salary had increased by 93 per cent, at an annual growth rate of 8 per cent. 

Regarding plans to reduce the size of the Government, it should be noted that they would not affect health, education, social development or housing.  The budgetary allocations for those areas were set and could not be modified.  The Government was preparing a plan to implement its agreement with the International Monetary Fund.  The President had indicated that he was open to dialogue regarding fiscal policies.

In her concluding remarks, Ms. Del Consuelo Chacon Castillo thanked the Committee members.  Their recommendations and observations would provide opportunities to enlarge rights in the country.  Ecuador was determined to grow.  The measures put forward by the President would allow the Government to get back millions of dollars that would be used for a greater enjoyment of rights.

In his concluding remarks, Mikel Mancisidor, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Ecuador, said the Committee had been taken by surprise by the news of the state of emergency.  He understood that the Government had put in place temporary and delineated restrictions, and that it had respected the principles of international human rights.  He thanked the delegation for its professionalism.

Renato Zerbini Ribeiro Leão, Committee Chairperson, concluded the meeting by saying that it had been a frank, constructive and open dialogue.

The delegation of Ecuador consisted of representatives of the Secretariat for Human Rights, the Presidency of the Republic, the Office of the Public Defender, the Ministry of Education, and the Permanent Mission of Ecuador to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will next meet in public at 10 a.m.  on Monday, 7 October, to hold a meeting with national human rights institutions and non-governmental organizations with respect to Senegal, Denmark and Slovakia, whose reports will be considered next week.

Report

The Committee has before it the report of Ecuador (E/C.12/ECU/4).

Presentation of the Report

CECILIA DEL CONSUELO CHACON CASTILLO, Human Rights Secretary of Ecuador, said the Constitution of Ecuador embodied social justice and rights, and the State had signed national and international agreements to give effect to human rights.  The Government of President Lenin Moreno Garcés had entrusted the Secretariat of Human Rights to be the lead agency of public policies on human rights in Ecuador.  It was in charge of the eradication of violence against boys, girls, adolescents and women, the protection of indigenous peoples living in voluntary isolation, and providing effective access to quality and timely justice.  Since 2019, the Human Rights Secretariat had also assumed the responsibilities related to plurinationality and interculturality; citizenship, participation and movements; and social actors and organizations.

The Government contributed to the progressive realization of economic, social and cultural rights.  It put together in an inclusive fashion a national plan for development, geared to ensure a decent life with equal opportunities for everybody.  The Government's measures included flagship programmes with the goal of changing the structural conditions of equality and poverty in Ecuador, aiming to guarantee basic social protection for the population.

The complex economic situation had led Ecuador to make decisions that had contributed to the reduction of the fiscal deficit and to the sustainable management of the economy.

It was important to note that investments in education (4.59 per cent), health (2.65 per cent) and housing (0.32 per cent) had been maintained at a sustained increase.  On the other hand, Ecuador steadfastly persisted in its efforts to face poverty and extreme poverty, which had seen a downward trend between 2007 and 2018.  Over the last decade the unified basic salary had increased by 93 per cent, at an annual growth rate of 8 per cent.   

One of the great challenges that Ecuador faced was to reduce violence against women and girls.  In 2018 an organic law had been promulgated to prevent and eradicate violence against women, and to implement the decentralized national system for the prevention and eradication of violence, which was articulated with 22 State entities.

The measures adopted by the State in the area of ensuring equal rights between men and women had had a positive impact.  The Misión Mujer programme, for instance, included an economic empowerment component that contemplated strategies for the promotion and enforceability of the economic rights of diverse women in order to achieve their autonomy.  While in 2008 the wage gap between men and women had been 24.9 per cent, by 2018 it stood at 17.9 per cent.

The right to education was a central objective for Ecuador.  The Government focused in that regard on universal access, accessibility, educational infrastructure, and appropriate teaching materials.

The Human Rights Secretariat had resumed the process of devising a comprehensive policy for the promotion and protection of human and natural rights defenders, comprised of four fundamental components: promotion of rights; prevention of violence; protection and guarantees of rights; and investigation, prosecution and punishment.

Interconnectivity in the globalized world and the right to information was not only a right, it had become a substantial need linked to access to opportunities, growth and development of territories.  The Government of Ecuador through the organic law on telecommunications was seeking to foster the adequate development of telecommunications and promote universal access to information and communication technologies.

Finally, Ecuador, being a pluricultural State, sought to preserve and promote existing indigenous languages.  The Government sought to enhance social collective memory.  The plan for the safeguarding of the indigenous languages of Ecuador aimed to revitalize their value, recognition and the related cultural historical collective memory.

Questions by Committee Experts

MIKEL MANCISIDOR, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Ecuador, congratulated the State party on the ruling by the Constitutional Court which established equal marriage.  He requested information on the way in which the Government was adapting to that change.

Citing the development index, he noted that progress which the country had seen in the past year had not reached all the segments of the population. 

How did the Government intend to "reduce its size" while maintaining important programmes in areas such as health and education?  The budgetary policy seemed unbalanced: it seemed to focus on indirect taxes.  There was some room for improvement here.  A progressive tax policy would allow for a greater enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights in the country.

Violence was rife in the north of Ecuador, he said.  Vast areas were deprived of guarantees.

The constitutional system of Ecuador was exemplary.  Mr. Mancisidor requested information on the direct use of the Covenant in judicial proceedings in the country.  Could the delegation provide examples of judgments where the Covenant was used?

The country's agreement with the International Monetary Fund could have a negative impact on economic, social and cultural rights.  He expressed doubts about the prosperity plan and the national development plan.  Were they compatible?  Which one superseded the other?

Mr. Mancisidor asked the delegation to comment on the causes of corruption.  Was it impunity?  Abuse against women could amount to a form of corruption.  Was the State party considering this broader definition?

On climate change, how did economic, social and cultural rights fit into the Government's policies?  It seemed that the new mining policy was not compatible with the commitments made by Ecuador within the framework of the Paris Agreement.

Mr. Mancisidor requested information on the implication of the constitutional standing that had been recently granted to the prior, free and informed consent principle.  What obstacles did the Government face in effectively implementing this principle?

The Committee had received concerning information about outbreaks of violence against Venezuelan migrants.  Were they sporadic?  The delegation's comment on this matter would be welcome.

Responses by the Delegation

Marriage equality marked a significant progress in Ecuador, said the delegation, explaining that any legislation that breached that right was null and void. 

The prosperity plan was fully compatible with the national development plan, which included all the policies of the Government ensuring that all the rights of citizens were provided for.

Regarding plans to reduce the size of the Government, it should be noted that these would not affect health, education, social development or housing.  The budgetary allocations for those areas were set and could not be modified.

On corruption, all the causes mentioned by the Rapporteur were valid: a lack of transparency in the use of public funds; there was a high degree of impunity; social corruption and influence peddling were also issues.

Legislation and the Government's strategy aimed to distribute mining royalties to autonomous decentralized Governments.

On migration from Venezuela, the State had decreed a migration amnesty whereby some migration offences had been pardoned.  This included the issuance of humanitarian visas to certain groups such as certain categories of minors.

Ecuador had developed social protection policies that implemented an inter-sectoral approach, providing comprehensive support in addition to financial assistance.  They sought to promote social mobility. 

National mapping exercises had been carried out to identify people who were extremely vulnerable.  A specific programme targeted families that earned less than 47 dollars per month, providing them with an allowance as high as 50 dollars per month.

The Government provided free legal services to people who were on the move, such as stateless people, victims of trafficking, and asylum seekers, amongst others.

The country was tackling unlawful and unlicensed mining, "the source of all evils" as it fostered violence, be it sexual or psychological, modern slavery, and trafficking, amongst other scourges.  The Government was making efforts to distinguish between small scale and artisanal mining and unlawful mining. 

Follow-up Questions by Committee Experts and Answers by the Delegation

Committee Experts asked follow-up questions on corruption and sexual favours; the application of free, prior and informed consent; the distinction between unlawful and lawful mining; the appropriateness of the automatic association of the artisanal nature of certain mining practices and their legality or lawfulness; and the principle of non-discrimination.

In response, the delegation said that the Government was preparing a plan to implement its agreement with the International Monetary Fund.  The President had indicated that he was open to dialogue regarding fiscal policies.

On influence peddling and sexual favours, those were ways in which corruption could be perpetrated.  The Constitution provided for the punishment of influence peddling through broad provisions.

The Ministry of Education had developed strategies to address the needs of indigenous peoples.  Over 8,000 teachers were assigned to intercultural bilingual education.  Lack of school attendance was one of the contributing causes of the cycle of poverty.  By educating its citizens, the Government acknowledged that they were rights holders that could contribute to the development of the country.

Second Round of Questions by the Committee Experts

RENATO ZERBINI RIBEIRO LEÃO, Committee Chairperson and Rapporteur for Ecuador, asked what the Government was doing to provide labour guarantees to land workers, notably those working on large-scale farms.

He requested information about the labour rights of Venezuelans, as well as more broadly those of refugees and migrants. 

What public policies was the State considering to address the gender labour gap?  He asked if the social programmes of the Government had improved the living conditions of the people in rural areas.

He enquired about the situation of the informal labour market and the related public policies.  Did the Government believe that the social security system could remain sustainable, and how could that be attained?  How was the State party guaranteeing trade union rights in the country?

Second Round of Replies by the Delegation

The delegation explained that Ecuadorian law provided for the protection of indigenous workers through a "Peasant Social Security" scheme in which 383,000 people were enrolled.  A sub-department was dedicated to the regularization of land ownership.

Ecuador for over a year had been reviewing the rules applying to Venezuelan citizens.  The Labour Ministry had launched inspections where it had transpired that Venezuelan workers were employed.  The aim was to develop the best working conditions for them.  Furthermore, there were laws criminalizing non affiliation to social security schemes, regardless of the nationality of the concerned individual.

Every year, the Government carried out a survey on employment.  Thanks to this official census, the Government now knew that employment in the informal sector had fallen.  This was linked to the inclusion of women and Afro-descendants in the labour market.  The Government was taking a multi-modal approach to address the issue of the informal market through decentralized police stations that carried out monitoring and audit functions.

On the tax reforms, the delegation said that budgets were developed on the basis of income, which came from taxes and also oil revenues.  Equal shares of the national budget had to be transferred to local governments.  Tax incomes were included in the collective distribution of the State budget.  Strategic sectors such as miners would always be managed by the Government.

Third Round of Questions By Committee Experts

KARLA VANESSA LEMUS DE VÁSQUEZ, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Ecuador, asked the delegation to provide information on the progress made by the State party with regard to the establishment and operation of the National Observatory on Violence against Women and the creation of a single registrar of violence against women as mandated by law.

What efforts or plans had the Ecuadorian State made to collect and update information on gender-based violence against women, taking into account the typology of violence outlined in article 10 of the Organic Law on the Prevention and Eradication of Violence against Women.

She requested data on the budget allocated to the provision of care in shelters as well as to children orphaned by femicides.  Could the delegation provide information on policies, programmes or educational campaigns seeking to change the culture of violence, particularly against children?

Was a comprehensive strategy being implemented to raise awareness on the minimum legal age for marriage?  It was clear that legal reforms did not guarantee the eradication of the practice.  The Committee would also appreciate information on the results of the work of the National Committee for the Progressive Eradication of Child Labour.  The Rapporteur requested disaggregated statistics on the issue of obesity. 

She also asked for information on measures taken to prevent the forced sale of land in rural and indigenous areas, to correct the situation of inequitable distribution of land and related resources, as well as to avoid the eviction of peasant populations?

The Rapporteur also expressed concerns about the high rate of teenage pregnancy and enquired about efforts to promote sex education, access to contraceptive methods, and the empowerment of girls and adolescents.  What steps had the Government taken to ensure that services related to sexual and reproductive health were respectful of issues of gender, age, disability, sexual diversity and life cycle?

Questions and Answers on the State of Emergency Declared in Ecuador

MIKEL MANCISIDOR, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Ecuador, said that on Wednesday night, a state of emergency had been declared in Ecuador.  There were reports that rights had been suspended, notably freedom of association, assembly and movement.  Could the delegation confirm this information?  He requested that the delegation provide information on the impact of the state of emergency on the rights protected by the Covenant, before continuing the dialogue.

CECILIA DEL CONSUELO CHACON CASTILLO, Human Rights Secretary of Ecuador, said the President had had to put together a policy to underpin the rights of Ecuadorians and guarantee economic sustainability in the future.  This required making structural and fiscal adjustments.  The citizens were not always in agreement and availed themselves of the right to protest. 

The protests and demonstrations nationwide had led to assaults and vandalization of property.  This in turn had caused production to drop.  Ecuador was entitled to define how to respond to this situation; the Government had to distinguish between vandals and legitimate protesters.

The President had decided to declare a state of emergency.  This did not mean that the Government would curtail fundamental freedoms and human rights.  It was designed to bring about order and prevent vandalism, so that goods and services could continue to flow. 

Ecuador would not keep the state of emergency for longer than required.  It had been put in place to guarantee the rights of citizens and ensure the production and sale of goods.

MIKEL MANCISIDOR, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Ecuador, said the Committee would not and could not challenge the sovereignty of the State.  However, it had to seek clarification on this matter: what effect would this decision have on rights?  This decision would suspend the right to freedom of association, assembly and movement, according to reports.  Was that correct? Concretely, could the head of delegation provide a response to the Committee on this matter?

CECILIA DEL CONSUELO CHACON CASTILLO, Human Rights Secretary of Ecuador, said the state of emergency was designed so that all citizens could continue producing and exporting goods.  The Government would use the force required to bring back order.  The police forces were addressing activities curtailing peace. 

Article 164 of the Constitution had been invoked by the President to declare a state of emergency.  Following the principles enshrined in the Constitution, freedom of association would be permitted.  But when people got together to commit acts of vandalism, that would not be permitted.

The delegation explained that the restriction on freedom of association and assembly only applied to public places for the first 24 hours.  This decision had been made to prevent vandalism.  Freedom of movement was curtailed only insofar as was required to prevent vandalism.  Transport was requisitioned, by law; the whole of the national territory had been declared a security zone, which triggered the application of security guidelines, in line with relevant rules.  The state of emergency had been declared for 60 days.

CECILIA DEL CONSUELO CHACON CASTILLO, Human Rights Secretary of Ecuador, said the Government had identified the perpetrators.  Individuals had pelted stones at a Red Cross ambulance.  The Government did not want these actions to be repeated. 

The President of the Republic had been bold in this decision he had taken, and this had come at a cost.  As soon as possible, democratic order would be back.  The Government was acting to defend the well-being of the majority of the citizens in the country.

Third Round of Replies by the Delegation

CECILIA DEL CONSUELO CHACON CASTILLO, Human Rights Secretary of Ecuador, turning to violence against women, said the Government had created shelters that provided psycho-social support and crisis intervention.  They also ensured inter-institutional coordination to offer comprehensive protection.  There were 46 comprehensive protection services in 40 towns throughout the country.

The Government was working to ensure adolescents had universal access to sexual and reproductive education and services, as per the National Sexual and Reproductive Health Plan.  There were over 1,000 obstetric centres integrated in hospitals that could provide services to girls and women.  Efforts were made to prevent pregnancy amongst girls and adolescents, particularly when they were in school.  It was a priority to make sure that pregnant girls and adolescents pursued their studies.

Abortions were still not authorized for women who had fallen pregnant following a rape.  Progress had been made, however, on the political front as the population had seized the matter.

The delegation explained that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Organization for Migration and the United Nations Children's Fund were on the ground in the north of the country.  Measures were taken to ensure the protection and vaccination of people on the move, most of whom were Venezuelans.

The fiscal reforms were designed to favour balance in the tax system; they would not create an imbalance in economic, social and cultural rights.  They would inter alia promote growth in the industrial sector, by implementing a single tax system in the banana industry, for example, and promote entrepreneurship. 

Follow-up Questions and Answers

Experts asked follow-up questions on detention conditions, the right to food, the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, and drug policies.

On drug policies, the delegation explained that previously, the small-scale sellers or producers were criminalized.  A reform was underway which established that sentences could not be accumulated if there were a variety of substances.  It was the quantity of the substances that was used to determine the sentence.

In order to tackle prison overcrowding, the Government had sought to ensure the guarantee of legal protection in prison, provide faster access to treatment, and better train judges to foster faster trials.  The President had also granted pardons for humanitarian cases and for certain crimes that were not "cause for a great social alarm".

Fourth Round of Questions by Committee Experts

RODRIGO UPRIMNY, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Ecuador, noted the progress achieved in the education sector in Ecuador.  What was the Government doing to provide universal access to preschool education, notably for the most disadvantaged segments of the population?  Such access fostered social mobility, he stated.  He requested more information on gaps in access to basic education, notably concerning rural and urban areas and people of African descent, illiteracy, and education for people with disabilities and the related public policies.

Access to education was low and the dropout rate was high for migrant children.  Was the humanitarian visa a requirement to have access to social services?  

Turning to cultural rights, the Rapporteur inquired about measures taken to reduce the threat of extinction of indigenous languages.  The information that had been provided in writing about the safeguard plan was far too general.  He said steps taken to strengthen bilingual and intercultural education as reflected in the Constitution were laudable.  And yet, the quality of bilingual education was reportedly low. 

He noted that while poverty had significantly fallen for white and metizo persons, Afro-descendants and indigenous persons remained particularly poor.  He highlighted the link between this issue and land rights and prior and informed consent.  The decree that had been applied on this matter was too general and did not take into consideration cultural diversity.

He requested further information on the strategy used by the State party to reduce the digital divide.

Fourth Round of Replies by the Delegation

On indigenous languages, the Government had put together a working round table, to harmonize guidelines and policies.  It brought together the main stakeholders, and defined targets.  The safeguard plan had to be applied immediately, to continue building the plurinational State based on rights.  Too often, students were forced to learn Spanish.  It was right for children to receive education in their own language without having to speak Spanish.

CECILIA DEL CONSUELO CHACON CASTILLO, Human Rights Secretary of Ecuador, said public education had increased in Ecuador; it had become rooted.  When she was a child, people had to migrate to the capital to have access to education.  Having attended public schools, she was keen to develop such schools outside the capital.

The delegation said the Government had achieved significant progress.  And yet, it did not rest on its laurels: efforts had been deployed to, inter alia, strengthen the provision of bilingual education and education for students with special needs.  It had promoted inclusive education across the board.

The Government acknowledged the gaps that persisted.  It had developed special offers to reach an increasing part of the population.  Great attention had been given to creating a policy of inclusion for young adults who had not been able to complete their education in the time usually allotted.

Two management models had been developed that in no way promoted segregation: the specialized educational system for persons with mental and psychosocial disabilities and the bilingual and bicultural system for persons with hearing disabilities.  They worked in 108 specialized public schools.  And they also operated as a standard for regular schools that taught students with disabilities.

A specific policy had been developed for people on the move, to ensure that they could access the education system while their migratory status was being determined.

Concluding Remarks

CECILIA DEL CONSUELO CHACON CASTILLO, Human Rights Secretary of Ecuador, thanked the Committee members.  Their recommendations and observations would provide opportunities to enlarge rights in the country.  Ecuador was determined to grow.  The measures put forward by the President would allow the Government to get back millions of dollars that would be used for a greater enjoyment of rights.

MIKEL MANCISIDOR, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Ecuador, said the Committee had been taken by surprise by the news of the state of emergency.  He understood that the Government had put in place temporary and delineated restrictions, and that it had respected the principles of international human rights.  He thanked the delegation for its professionalism.

RENATO ZERBINI RIBEIRO LEÃO, Committee Chairperson, said it had been a frank, constructive and open dialogue.

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