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Slow progress on free expression in Ecuador one year after U.N. review

Exactly one year ago, on 21 May 2012, Ecuador submitted to the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) before the Human Rights Council of the UN, in Geneva, Switzerland. As a result of this second review 134 observations were received, 24 of them directly related to the right to freedom of expression; 18 States expressed their concern about the situation of this fundamental freedom in our country.

In the session for the adoption of the report, which took place on 19 September 2012, Ecuador rejected 3 of the 24 recommendations. One made by Switzerland about "Reforming legislation regarding freedom of expression with a view to bringing it in conformity with international standards and those of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights”. Two made by the United States regarding "eliminating laws that criminalize opinion" and "accepting visit requests from the OAS and the UN special rapporteurs on freedom of expression”. The recommendations were rejected by Ambassador Luis Gallegos who noted that "we cannot eliminate inexistent laws" and that "no requests from Special Rapporteurs have been denied, both from the UN and the OAS".

Despite the acceptance of the vast majority of observations because they are “being implemented or under implementation”, Fundamedios is concerned that in practice these advances are not evident. On the contrary, these problems have worsened, as evidenced by a substantial increase in aggressions against journalists, lawsuits filed against citizens for exercising their constitutional right to protest, and an increase in the hostile discourse against the press by public officials, among other things.

Fundamedios requested information from the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights on the progress of the implementation of the recommendations received in the UN's Human Rights Council. The documentation received shows the lack of action by the State to improve the situation of freedom of speech and the press, while recognizing advances in other fields such as the protection of the rights of people with different abilities. (You can access the complete document delivered to Fundamedios by the Ministry of Justice: here)

According to the Ministry of Justice, Human Rights and Freedom of Religion (Ministerio de Justicia, Derechos Humanos y Cultos, MJDHC), only two recommendations regarding the freedom of expression, association and social protest have been met and they are those made by Peru and Canada:

1. Continue making efforts to guarantee all Ecuadorians the right to free intercultural, diverse and participative communication in all environments and media and the right to search, receive, exchange, produce and circulate truthful, verified, timely, contextualized and plural information (Peru).

In regard to this the MJDHC stated that “For the first time in Ecuador plural and diverse access to the media exists. Ecuador provides access to the electromagnetic spectrum to private, community based and public media. In this way the State is setting a policy that respects freedom of expression and guarantees the right to communication and information”.

2. Ensure that community activists and indigenous leaders exercise their right of assembly and peaceful protest and that anti-terrorist legislation is not used to censor these activities (Canada);

In this regard, the Ministry of Justice reported that "Accusations for terrorism under Ecuadorian law cannot be comprehended under the international notion, especially the criteria on terrorism handled by UNODC, since they have different notions and considerations of applicability by virtue of the different historical moment in which the offense was typified in Ecuador".

Although the Ministry itself published in December 2012 a compilation of the UPR, in which it indicated that among the recommendations made to Ecuador on matters of freedom of expression, there were several concerning policy review and reform, the Ministry made no reference to how it would makes adjustments to international standards on freedom of expression, the protection of journalists and respect for public protest.

Fundamedios urges the Ecuadorian State to follow up on the commitments made during its second Universal Periodic Review in order to promote and guarantee the freedoms of speech and the press, fundamental pillars for the development of a full democracy.

Below you can find the list of the 24 observations on freedom of expression made by 18 countries here

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