Ecuador: "They will not stop us" : Justice and protection for Amazonian Women, defenders of the land, territory and environment

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Throughout 2018 in Ecuador, Amnesty International recorded a series of attacks and threats perpetrated against women human rights defenders and leaders Patricia Gualinga, Nema Grefa, Salomé Aranda and Margoth Escobar, members of Mujeres Amazónicas Defensoras de la Selva de las Bases frente al Extractivismo (Amazonian Women Defending the Forest from Extractivism), also known as the Mujeres Amazónicas (Amazonian Women) collective.

The organization visited the country in February and October 2018 to gather information on the security situation of these women defenders, on the attacks and threats they were suffering, and on the State measures being implemented to prevent, investigate and punish these attacks.

During these visits, Amnesty International interviewed members of the Amazonian Women collective and held meetings with Indigenous Peoples’ organizations, UN and EU representatives, civil society organizations and the Ecuadorian authorities.

Having analyzed the information gathered, the organization has been able to identify one common denominator in all these attacks and threats: the work being done by Amazonian Women to defend and promote rights related to the land, territory and environment.

This document narrates the recent history of the Amazonian Women collective and its members Patricia Gualinga, Nema Grefa, Salomé Aranda and Margoth Escobar. It also analyzes the actions of the Ecuadorian authorities in response to the attacks and threats against these human rights defenders and the extent to which the authorities have complied with their duty to adequately and effectively investigate these acts and protect these women. Finally, it makes recommendations, both immediate and structural, aimed at resolving this situation and addressing its underlying causes.

On 9 August 2018, International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, together with the Ecuadorian organizations Acción Ecológica, the Comisión Ecuménica de Derechos Humanos and Fundación Pachamama and the regional organization Amazon Watch, Amnesty International launched the Guardians of Nature campaign and published an open letter to President Lenín Moreno.

Through this coordinated effort, the organizations publicly expressed their concern at the attacks and threats against members of Amazonian Women and against the human rights defender, Yaku Pérez, due to the lack of progress in investigations and the failure to provide comprehensive and effective protection measures.

The organizations jointly called on the authorities to publicly recognize the importance and legitimacy of the work of human rights defenders, for example in defending rights related to the land, territory and environment, and to fulfil their duty to ensure a safe and enabling environment in which to carry out this work. Finally, they called on President Moreno to implement the following measures, which remain viable but which have still not been implemented.

  1. The threats and attacks against defenders mentioned in this letter be effectively investigated,that the results of these investigations be made public and that the material and intellectual authors of these crimes be brought to justice.

  2. A National Policy for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders be designed and implementedin consultation with Indigenous Peoples and with the participation of the people, communities and organizations involved in defending human rights. It should adhere to the guidelines established by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The policy should specifically address concerns related to gender and Indigenous and campesino identity, the specific risks to each individual defender and the specific characteristics of the work of defenders, such as those who defend land, territory and environmental rights.

  3. The Attorney General’s Office be encouraged to design and implement a Protocol for theInvestigation of Crimes Against Human Rights Defenders. This Protocol should be a tool to guarantee the effectiveness of such investigations, adhering to relevant national and international legal frameworks. Likewise, it should also specifically address concerns related to gender and Indigenous and rural identity and it must include in its principles a broad definition of human rights defenders that includes, among others, those who defend land, territory and environmental rights; a description of the context in which the crimes occur; and a description of the work that defenders carry out.

  4. Ecuador sign and ratify without delay the Regional Agreement on Access to Information, PublicParticipation and Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean, known as the Escazú Agreement. In October 2018, Amnesty International held meetings in Quito with the National Secretariat for Policy Management, the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of the Environment, the Attorney General’s Office and the Ombudsman in order to demand these requests of the President of the Republic once more, now in relation to the powers of each of these institutions.