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Human Rights Watch says Ecuador has made major progress but more needs to be done

Significant progress has been made toward improving Ecuador’s record on human rights, according to the international organization Human Rights Watch (HRW). “During his first year in office, President Moreno has set a new tone and direction for the government that has generated a climate that allows for the exercise of basic rights and an open debate,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director for HRW.

President Lenin Moreno

He cautions, however: “But more needs to be done to repair the systemic damage suffered by the country’s democratic institutions under the previous government.”

HRW representatives shared with President Moreno their findings and assessment on a range of issues, such as free speech, freedom of association, judicial independence, and judicial harassment of indigenous leaders and environmentalist activists. During former President Rafael Correa’s decade in power, Ecuador experienced serious setbacks in all these areas, HRW said.

The Moreno administration has taken positive steps during its first year, including ending Correa’s practice of publicly threatening and harassing independent journalists, human rights defenders, and critics. It has allowed public media outlets to have an independent editorial line. President Moreno also proposed a reform to the Communications Law and modified Correa’s presidential decree to regulate the work of nongovernmental organizations, which were used under Correa to punish critics.

However, Ecuador should address certain structural problems to protect and promote fundamental human rights. These include reforming the provisions in the Communications Law that enable the government to arbitrarily limit free speech and repealing articles in the Organic Integral Penal Code that are incompatible with the right to free expression, such as the criminalization of slander.

The government should also propose a comprehensive law to replace the existing presidential decree that still grants the government the authority to arbitrarily dissolve nongovernmental groups.

It is also critically important to repeal the provision in the Organic Code of Judicial Function that allows for the removal of judges who commit “inexcusable errors,” HRW says. This provision was improperly used to sanction judges who ruled against government interests. In addition, Ecuador should consider creating a commission of independent experts to investigate cases of judicial harassment against indigenous leaders and environmentalists.

In the discussion about foreign policy, Human Rights Watch urged President Moreno and his government to pay special attention to Venezuela’s human rights and humanitarian crisis.

The Human Rights Watch delegation in Quito also met with other high-level officials, including members of the Transition Council of Citizen Participation, the defense minister, the ombudswoman, and the attorney general; as well as with legislators, foreign diplomats, activists, journalists, and academics.

“President Moreno has showed a positive degree of openness to our recommendations and willingness to keep adopting measures to protect fundamental rights,” Vivanco said.
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Credit: Human Rights Watch, www.hrw.org