President Lasso must address the structural causes of the demonstrations
The repression by President Guillermo Lasso’s government of demonstrations called by Indigenous, trade union and social organisations as part of a national strike since 13 June 2022 is causing a human rights crisis with many reports of harassment, excessive use of force, arbitrary arrests, ill-treatment, and criminalisation of protesters, journalists and human rights defenders, Amnesty International said today.
“President Lasso’s regrettable decision to repress the protests is provoking a human rights crisis reminiscent of that of October 2019. To prevent history from repeating itself, the president must cease the repression and address the structural causes of the protests, including addressing the economic crisis and the impact of his policies on the rights of groups most affected by the pandemic, such as Indigenous Peoples and people living in poverty,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International.
Since 14 June the Ecuador Alliance for Human Rights has recorded 79 arrests, 55 injuries and 39 episodes of human rights violations – such as excessive use of force, arbitrary detentions of demonstrators, attacks on journalists and intimidation of civil society organisations – in the context of the authorities’ repression of demonstrations. Other human rights organisations have also warned of cases of ill-treatment and criminalisation. The National Police have also reported incidents of violence by demonstrators.
According to public information, between the night of 17 June and the early hours of 18 June at least 16 people received injuries, including to the skull and eyes, during the repression of a demonstration by National Police officers in Riobamba. Two of the victims are reported to have suffered pellet wounds.
On 19 June at 2:17 pm the General Commander of the National Police stated that he would launch an internal affairs investigation and denied that his officers used buckshot and also that they shot at the victims.
Human rights defenders and Indigenous leaders have also reported suffering harassment and attacks while carrying out their work in the context of the protests.
On 18 June the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) reported that unidentified individuals had shot at the window of the vehicle of its president, Leónidas Iza, while it was empty. Two hours later the Ministry for Government reported that it would request an investigation into this and that it did not tolerate acts of violence “all the more so if the acts occur against those who criticise us, justifiably or not”. CONAIE had already reported surveillance and harassment by unidentified persons.
On 19 June at 6:34 pm CONAIE released a video showing two military trucks with security agents allegedly parked in the vicinity of the organisation’s headquarters in Quito.
CONAIE, the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon (CONFENIAE) and the Alliance for Human Rights Ecuador reported having suffered attacks on their websites by bots seeking to overload their servers on 13, 14 and 18 June, respectively.
“To prevent the escalation of this crisis, Amnesty International calls on President Lasso to cease stigmatising and repressing those exercising their right to peaceful protest, to publish detailed information on the number of people injured and detained, as well as the charges against them, and to address the structural causes that have led various sectors of the population to demonstrate in defence of their human rights,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas.
Given the disturbing number of allegations of human rights violations committed by security forces, the Attorney General must conduct prompt, thorough, independent and impartial investigations to bring those suspected of criminal responsibility to justice, including the chain of command.
On 14 June, at around 12:29 a.m., security forces arrested Leonidas Iza, president of CONAIE, in Cotopaxi province. He was detained incommunicado and charged with the crime of “paralysing a public service” before being released that night. His detention may have been arbitrary and the criminal proceedings against him could constitute the criminalisation of protest.
On 17 June President Lasso issued Executive Decree No. 455 which declared “a state of emergency due to serious internal commotion in the provinces of Cotopaxi, Pichincha and Imbabura”, suspending freedom of association, assembly and transit for thirty days. The decree established the Metropolitan District of Quito as a “Security Zone” in the charge of the Armed Forces, who were also ordered to “maintain order” in the context of the protests in a manner “complementing” the actions of the National Police.
An earlier version of the decree, which contained the president’s signature, included worrying provisions authorising the use of “lethal force” (Article 11) by security forces and limiting the right to information (Article 9), suspending “fixed, mobile and internet telecommunications services” and restricting the dissemination of “classified, reserved or restricted information through social media, social networks and communication content”. Subsequently, the President’s Office contended that this was only a “draft” and issued a new version without these provisions.
On 18 June, despite the state of emergency suspending freedom of association and assembly, the President’s Office issued Official Bulletin 561 entitled “Ecuadorians’ capital marches for Peace”, to promote a march of “hundreds of Quito residents (…) concerned about the situation in the country and the acts of violence and vandalism”. The bulletin included the message “The National Government supports this initiative and joins this cause”. Both the official page hosting the bulletin and the tweet promoting it were subsequently deleted. A video posted on social media, allegedly recorded during the march, shows a group of people chanting racist messages against the indigenous population.
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