President Lenin Moreno signed two presidential decrees on Monday, ending requirements imposed by former president Rafael Correa on non-governmental organizations, or NGOs. Moreno said the old policies put unnecessary restrictions on private organizations and violated constitutional rights.
Correa had used the requirements to ban a number of organizations, including the country’s largest teachers’ union and an indigenous organization that opposed his policies.
Free speech advocates hailed Moreno’s action, one calling it “critically important for restoring the rights of civil society in Ecuador.”
Under Correa’s rules, NGOs were required to provide detailed information about their membership and activities, were subject to periodic reviews by government agents, and could be dissolved if the government decided that they were not fulfilling their stated mission or were interfering with government operations.
Several prominent private organizations had pushed for repeal of the Correa rules, saying they were burdensome, arbitrary and granted extraordinary power to the central government. The Pichincha Bar Association, the Unitary Front of Workers (FUT), and the Ecuadorian Business Committee, were among the NGOs that formally requested the repeal. In their petition to Moreno, the organizations claimed that Correa’s policies “restricted freedom of speech and association of citizens, violating articles 132 and 133 of the Constitution.”
During the Correa administration, an undetermined number of social and professional organizations were shut down, including the indigenous Pachamama Foundation and the National Union of Educators (UNE). Two other NGOs, media watchdog Fundamedios and the environmental group Acción Ecológica were targeted for closure but were spared when the government reversed course following international complaints.
After he signed the decrees, Moreno emphasized that the new rules do not eliminate the requirement that NGOs be registered and operate under legal guidelines. “There will still be responsibilities for civil society groups,” he said. “What I am doing is removing some of the bureaucratic obstacles for starting and operating organizations and, more important, taking politics out of the process.”