Dear President Rafael Correa,
A disturbing and increasingly widespread practice of criminalization and legal persecution of environmental rights defenders has emerged in Ecuador, according to the verdict of an international Ethical Tribunal held in Cuenca, Ecuador in June. The Tribunal determined that “This practice has been encouraged by national and transnational corporations, particularly in the extractive sector, carried out by different judicial, police, military, and administrative authorities." To date, Ecuadorian social organizations estimate that 189 men and women defenders of nature, water, and their right to decide over development taking place on their lands have been criminalized. As a result, indigenous and non-indigenous peoples have been speaking out, exposing these measures as attempts to curtail their freedom of expression and association, and to impede their work of defending their rights. The Ethical Tribunal determined that this is part of efforts to eliminate social protest in the country. Disconcertedly, this is taking place despite significant progress made in Ecuador’s 2008 Constitution, which now recognizes Ecuador as a plurinational state, establishes the rights of nature, and recognizes the human right to water, good living (Sumak Kawsay or Buen Vivir), and social protest.
In this context, the undersigned organizations would like to express our deep concern and opposition to such criminalization, and speak out in particular against the unjust sentences issued in the province of Azuay against Carlos Pérez, Federico Guzmán, and Efraín Arpi, community leaders and defenders of the rights of nature, water and life.
In May 2010, Carlos Pérez, Federico Guzmán, and Efraín Arpi were accused of “terrorism and sabotage” for their alleged involvement in protests against a proposed water law. This charge was later reduced to “blocking roads,” following which the three leaders were later absolved. After an extraordinary delay, the case was reopened, and in August, the First Courtroom of the Criminal Court of Justice of Azuay sentenced the three environmental defenders to eight days in prison. This decision sets an unfortunate precedent for others who may be legally prosecuted as a result of their opposition to national or multinational mining operations.
The three community leaders are part of local opposition to the silver and gold Quimsacocha mine project in the southern highlands of Ecuador, property of the Toronto-based mining company IAMGOLD. This company’s concessions are located in protected forest areas and overlap with a principal water source for the communities of Victoria del Portete and Tarqui. These communities principally rely on dairy production and fear that mining activities will be detrimental to their health and livelihood due to potential impacts on the quantity and quality of their water supply. In 2007, President Correa told Pérez and others that his “hand would not tremble” to revoke Iamgold’s mineral concessions in order to safeguard precious water supplies. In 2008, the National Constituent Assembly also decreed a mining mandate, which ordered mineral concessions revoked that overlapped with protected areas, water supplies and in areas where communities had not been properly consulted. These promises, however, were never fulfilled and the conflict over this proposed mine persists.
We urge Ecuadorian authorities, according to the strict application of Article 8 of the American Convention of Human Rights, that appeal be granted to Carlos Pérez, Federico Guzmán, and Efraín Arpi who were unjustly sentenced, and that the legal proceedings against them ultimately be shelved and their right to continue in the defense of water and nature as enshrined in Ecuador’s new constitution be protected.
Additionally, we express our solidarity with all 189 men and women environmental defenders in Ecuador who are estimated to have been criminalized by state and non-state actors, particularly for their opposition to mining expansion, and request that the Ecuadorian government implement the recommendations of the Ethical Tribunal, which are attached to this letter with the aim of ending the criminalization of social protest.
Stopping criminalization is a necessary step to creating the space to effectively listen to the concerns of mining-affected communities in Ecuador and to reaffirm the country’s commitment to Sumak Kawsay, or good living, for all its citizens.
Signed by the following organizations:
Atlantic Regional Solidarity Network, Canada
Barrio Nuevo, Toronto, Canada
Canadians Against Mining in El Salvador, Toronto, Canada
Center for Alternative Mining Development Policy in La Crosse, Wisconsin, USA
Coalition sur les impacts des transnationales en Amérique latine, Montreal, Quebec
Council of Canadians
Ecuador Solidarity Network, Canada/USA
Educators for Peace and Justice, Toronto, Canada
Guatemala Research Group, University of Northern British Columbia, Canada
KAIROS - Regina Chapter, Canada
Latin American and Caribbean Solidarity Network, Toronto, Canada
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, Washington, USA
Mining Injustice Solidarity Network, Toronto, Canada
Mother Earth Justice Advocates, Regina, Canada
National Council of Latin American and Caribbean Women of Canada
Protest Barrick, Canada/USA
Salvadorian Canadian Association of Ottawa (ASCORCAN), Canada
Dr. Carlos Ramirez Romero, President of the National Court of Justice
Dr. Galo Chiriboga, Attorney General of Ecuador
Dra. Johana Pesántez Benitez, Minister of Justice, Human Rights and Religious Freedom
Dr. Fernando Gutierrez Verta, People's Ombudsman of Ecuador
Dr. José Vicente Andrade Vélez, President of the Court of Justice of the province of Azuay