Today, 9 August 2018, on the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, an international coalition has launched a campaign and sent an open letter to President Lenin Moreno, proposing three concrete actions for Ecuador to protect “Nature’s Guardians”: those who dedicate their lives to protecting human rights and the environment, many of whom are Indigenous leaders.
This coalition is made up of the environmental and human rights organizations Acción Ecológica, Amazon Watch, Amnesty International, the Ecumenical Commission for Human Rights and Fundación Pachamama. They propose to the president that Ecuador signs the Escazú Agreement, a regional treaty that strengthens environmental rights, and implements a national policy of protection and a protocol for the investigation of crimes against human rights defenders.
“On this day when the entire world commemorates the rights of Indigenous Peoples and their great contributions to nature and society, we five sister organizations join forces to begin to build a dream: that every person in Ecuador who decides to dedicate his or her life to protect the environment can do so free from attacks and threats,” said Cecilia Chérrez, Leila Salazar-López, Erika Guevara Rosas, Belén Páez and Elsie Monge, representatives of the organizations that make up the coalition, in a joint statement.
On this day when the entire world commemorates the rights of Indigenous Peoples and their great contributions to nature and society, we five sister organizations join forces to begin to build a dream: that every person in Ecuador who decides to dedicate his or her life to protect the environment can do so free from attacks and threats
Since the Moreno administration took office, despite some advances in dialogue with civil society and Indigenous organizations, Indigenous people who defend human rights related to land, territory or the environment – and, in the case of Ecuador, the rights of nature, which are recognized in the country’s 2008 Constitution – have been attacked, as they face the potential consequences of extractive industry projects in their communities’ territories.
These attacks have often gone unpunished, exposing rights defenders to dangers that make it harder for them to continue to protect the rights of people and nature. Among the victims are Patricia Gualinga, Nema Grefa, Salomé Aranda and Yaku Pérez, Indigenous leaders who have faced stigmatization, death threats, physical attacks and even assassination attempts for their defense of the Amazon or the rights of their communities to water, to a healthy environment, or to be consulted about extractive projects in their territories.
Though these attacks have been reported to the authorities, the authorities charged with protecting rights defenders and investigating these crimes still have not identified the material and intellectual perpetrators, nor have they taken adequate measures to guarantee that Patricia, Nema, Salomé or Yaku may safely continue their work free from attacks and threats. The work they do is critically important to society, and these attacks, for which no one has been held accountable, have grave consequences for these individuals, their communities, and other rights defenders in the country, including fear, intimidation, and self-censorship.
President Moreno has publicly committed on various occasions to protect the rights of Indigenous Peoples and to suspend new mining concessions to projects that do not obtain the free, prior and informed consent of affected communities. His administration, however, must still take concrete measures to fulfill these promises.