A new Constitution was approved in a referendum held in September. In June the Truth Commission into past human rights violations presented an initial report. Prison reforms announced in 2007, and reiterated at Ecuador’s UN Universal Periodic Review in April, remained pending. Reports of violations against Indigenous and environmental activists continued, and critics accused the government of a growing intolerance of dissent.
The Constituent Assembly, which opened the reform process in November 2007, approved a draft Constitution in July. It increased presidential powers and gave government more control over extractive industries and land distribution. It recognized the multi-ethnic and multicultural nature of Ecuador and gave local communities the right to consultation over mining and oil extraction projects. A bill on mining was still under discussion at the end of the year, amid protests from civil society groups who feared it would give too much control to large mining companies, to the detriment of local communities and the environment.
The Truth Commission, set up in May 2007 to investigate human rights violations committed under the government of León Febres Cordero (1984-1988), began receiving testimonies in February 2008; an interim report was issued in September. Former President Febres Cordero died in December.
"...the magnitude of unsafe abortion and its effects on maternal mortality were under-recorded..."
In March, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia’s second-in-command, Raúl Reyes, was among those killed during a military operation by the Colombian security forces within Ecuadorean territory (see Colombia entry).
Extractive industries and human rights
In a report released in August, the UN Special Rapporteur on indigenous people expressed concern about reported violations and indicated that he would continue monitoring conflicts between transnational petroleum companies and Indigenous or other local communities.
- Esther Landetta Chica, an environmental and women’s activist, received a series of anonymous death threats between May and July because she had voiced community concerns about the possible negative consequences of irregular mining activities in Guayas Province.
In March the Constituent Assembly amnestied several hundred detainees, most of whom had been arrested in the context of environmental protests. They included 37 people arrested in the town of Dayuma, Orellana Province, in December 2007, after the government declared a state of emergency in response to protests against oil operations. A number of the detainees who had been charged with terrorism had their charges dropped, including Provincial Prefect Guadalupe Llori. However, she remained imprisoned charged with fraud for almost 10 months. She was acquitted of all charges and released in September.
In November the government withdrew the controversial mining concession from the Canadian mining company Copper Mesa Mining Corporation (formerly Ascendant Copper). This, and a number of other decisions to withdraw mining concessions, followed the approval by the National and Constitutional Assemblies of a Mining Mandate in April, which aimed to protect the environment and local populations from the negative impacts of mining.
Violence against women and girls
In its concluding observations on Ecuador, issued in November, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women expressed concerns about violence against girls in schools. It also highlighted the persistence of high levels of poverty and social exclusion among Indigenous women and women of African descent who faced obstacles in accessing education and health care and in participating in decision-making processes. The Committee urged Ecuador to design and implement a comprehensive strategy, with dedicated appropriate resources, to combat and eradicate all forms of violence against women and girls. The Committee also expressed concern about the high incidence of maternal mortality. It noted that the second leading cause of maternal mortality was abortion and that the magnitude of unsafe abortion in the country and its effects on maternal mortality were under-recorded and unknown.
Freedom of expression
Tensions between the government and some sectors of the media increased. In July, two television stations were among businesses seized by the state to collect debts resulting from a banking scandal. The news directors of the television stations were sacked and replaced by government appointees, leading to concerns about the imposition of state editorial control.
In June, a judge ordered the closure of a case against Francisco Vivanco Riofrío, editor of the newspaper La Hora, for “disrespect” against President Correa, stemming from publication of a March 2007 editorial critical of the government.
Police and security forces
Police at times used excessive force against demonstrators. Cases of arbitrary arrest and ill-treatment were reported, particularly against Indigenous people and members of ethnic minority groups.
- On 13 April, police detained 23 Ecuadoreans of African descent in La Carolina Park in Quito, reportedly because they were thought to be acting “suspiciously”. Several were held for a few days before being released without charge. The Minister of the Interior subsequently apologized. Following its July review, the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination expressed concern at the events.
- In February, three Quito police officers accused of killing 17-year-old Paúl Alejandro Guañuna Sanguña in January 2007 were each sentenced to 20 years in prison.