COMMITTEE ON ECONOMIC, SOCIAL AND CULTURAL RIGHTS CONSIDERS REPORT OF ECUADOR
15 November 2012
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights this morning concluded its consideration of the third periodic report of Ecuador on that country’s implementation of the provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Richard Espinosa, Minister for Coordination of Social Development of Ecuador, introduced the report and pointed to a sharp reduction in poverty, especially extreme poverty which was the result of a number of cross-cutting policies. To some extent, Ecuador had managed to redistribute the wealth among the rich and the poor; it had taken 450,000 children out of the labour market; built more houses in 2011 than ever; and had, for the first time in history, more people in employment than in unemployment which now stood at 4.6 per cent. All these measures and the 2008 Constitution and the new legislation that was being adopted showed that the Government had truly been laying the foundation of the new country.
Committee Experts acknowledged the progress made in Ecuador and noted some issues of concern that were still pending, including the lack of independence of the judiciary, discrimination against indigenous people, mining on community land without prior consultations, sexual violence, including in schools, and the restrictive position on abortion, including in cases of rape. Ecuador’s policy on refugees was a regional benchmark, but a concern was expressed about the removal of the recognition of refugees in line with the Cartagena Declaration.
In concluding remarks, Mr. Espinosa reiterated the focus on the individual in Ecuador and said that all policies were put in place with the individual in mind. The people were providing democratic support to the Government through the votes cast at the ballot boxes and it appeared that the Government was doing the right thing. A lot had been done and achieved in Ecuador and more remained to be done; in this regard, both national and international support was crucial.
In preliminary concluding remarks, Ariranga Govindasamy Pillay, Committee Chairperson, noted the progress in the field of economic, social and cultural rights, and said that the persistent challenges meant that there was still room for improvement. Some of the principal concerns of the Committee mentioned in the concluding observations of 2004 were still valid today; in order to improve the fulfilment of its obligations under the Covenant, Ecuador must take into account all those concerns and recommendations and act upon them.
The delegation of Ecuador consisted of representatives of the Ministry for Coordination of Social Development, Ministry for Non-renewable Natural Resources, and the Permanent Mission of Ecuador to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The next public meeting of the Committee will be at 3 p.m. this afternoon when it will begin its consideration of the initial report of Mauritania (E/C.12/MRT/1).
Report of Ecuador
The third periodic report of Ecuador can be read via the following link: (E/C.12/ECU/3).
Presentation of the Report of Ecuador
RICHARD ESPINOSA, Minister for the Coordination of Social Development of Ecuador, said the Ministry he led had many full partners, including the Ministry for Public Health, the Ministry for Education, the Ministry for Social Inclusion, the Ministry for Urban Development and Housing as well as the National Secretariat for Migrant Affairs. For the past five-and-a-half years, the main policy in Ecuador had been that all activities were centred on the individual and a decision was never taken without a people-focused assessment.
Providing a bird’s eye perspective on what the current Government had achieved, particularly in terms of social development, Mr. Espinosa pointed to a sharp reduction in poverty, especially extreme poverty. In 2012 poverty stood at 25 per cent, down from over 37 per cent in 2006, and extreme poverty was for first time in single digits, down from 16.9 per cent in 2006 to 9.4 in 2012. There was no doubt that this was the result of a number of cross-cutting policies adopted by different State entities.
Ecuador had also to some extent managed to redistribute the wealth among the rich and the poor, Mr. Espinosa went on to say. Likewise, achievements had been made in terms of reducing child labour. Some 450,000 adolescents and boys and girls had been taken out of the labour market and barriers to education had been removed.
Ecuador had built more houses last year than ever before in its history; 225,000 grants had been made for the ownership of houses, which was a significant number for a total population of 14.5 million. The current Government was the first to effectively tackle the question of illegal settlements and illegal trading in land ownership titles, also trying to make sure that urban development took place in an orderly fashion.
For the first time in Ecuador’s history the country had more people in employment than in unemployment. Unemployment currently stood at 4.6 per cent, compared to over 12 per cent in 2003, and the downward trend had even been pursued during the financial crisis. Simultaneously, social security coverage had been increased to over 60 per cent this year, up from 38 per cent in 2007. One of the monitoring tools the Government heavily used as part of its cross-cutting changes were labour inspections. Last year alone had seen 26,000 inspections; achieving in a single year as many inspections as in the 53 previous years was probably a world record. The protection of domestic workers had been improved, making Ecuador a leader in the field, and the rights of domestic workers were fully recognized.
The delegation said people now trusted the public health service. This was exemplified by the fact that 34 million citizens sought treatment in 2012, compared to 16 million in 2006. The President also helped build 18 major hospitals and renovate or extend a further 20 hospitals over the past five years.
All these measures, and the fact that Ecuador had put in place a new Constitution in 2008 and authorities had been drafting and adopting new legislation since then, showed that the Government had truly been laying the foundation of the new country. Ecuador was on the right track.
Questions by Experts
PHILIPPE TEXIER, Committee Member acting as Country Rapporteur for the Report of Ecuador, said it was true that many things had changed for the better in Ecuador, but some issues of concern were still pending. One issue was the lacking independence of the judiciary, even though the 2008 Constitution had changed things and improvements had taken place. Another issue was discrimination against indigenous people, particularly concerning mining on community land without prior consultations. While some changes had taken place in this regard, he felt this remained an area of concern.
The Rapporteur was concerned about sexual violence, particularly sexual violence against young girls and women. There was also the issue of the State party’s restrictive position on abortion, including in cases of rape, as well as the disappearance of a number of indigenous languages. While a law on food had been passed in 2009, various other laws must still be implemented, notably on water and the law on diversity, Mr. Texier said. While there remained areas of concern and scope for improvement, he did take note of the progress Ecuador had made.
Ecuador’s policy on refugees was a regional benchmark, a Committee Expert noted, expressing concern however that the decree removed the recognition of refugees in line with the Cartagena Declaration. What was the reasoning behind the policy and did it not reduce the protection of aliens who arrived in the country? Most refugees were Colombian, it was noted, and it was undeniable that the State had a positive attitude, but there had also been backward steps.
An Expert noted that previous concluding observations raised concern about the independence of the judiciary and lawyers. The delegation had in brief terms said that this issue had been resolved with the introduction of the new Constitution, but that was not a real reply to the Committee’s questions and concerns. It was an enormous improvement that the Constitution anchored the independence of the judiciary, but it also mattered whether people saw the judiciary as independent. Could the delegation explain what practical guarantees ensured both the institutional independence of courts and the personal independence of judges?
The Constitution incorporated many aspects of economic, social and cultural rights, in addition to indigenous peoples’ right to ownership of ancestral lands, their right to be consulted and their right to self-determination. This was laudable, but there were many cases where the Government did not uphold these rights, an Expert underscored.
In terms of equality and non-discrimination of persons with disabilities, the report referred to the quota in the Labour Code about employing such persons. There was no explanation, however, how the economic, social and cultural rights of persons with disabilities were protected beyond that, an Expert noted.
Racial discrimination was a serious problem in Ecuador, it was noted, and the delegation was asked what legislation was in place in this regard and what judicial cases existed on this matter. It would further be good to know more about the types of campaigns undertaken to oppress discrimination on the basis of sexual discrimination.
How did the Government implement treaty body observations, an Expert wondered, asking whether there as an inter-ministerial body, and how implementation was monitored before the next consideration.
Response by the Delegation
The delegation asserted that the judiciary was entirely independent. This was even the case to the extent that the whole of the Ecuadorian people had been consulted, delivering a resounding yes to a root and branch reform of the system. This had been done openly, differently than in other countries and in an unprecedented fashion: it was the Ecuadorians themselves who had decided to restructure the judicial system. The restructuring had only been underway for a short while, but quite some progress had already been made. Judges were appointed through competitive examination, and the judiciary as a whole was evaluated independently.
While there had been great improvements, the Government was well aware that much remained to be done.
Ecuador had made such progress regarding persons with disabilities that it was advising other Latin American countries in this respect. The Government had implemented two programmes. The first, which cost tens of millions of dollars, brought to light people with disabilities. As soon as that information had become available, activities immediately swung into action to provide grants to all persons with disabilities or their family members and dependents. The Government provided $240 a month for people who cared for a person with a disability in the family, which was significant given the average wage of $292. Artificial limps were also provided for free to persons with disabilities, which went hand-in-hand with pre-natal screening for the protection from pre-natal diseases. One of the main problems related to disabilities was a result of vehicle accidents. To tackle this, Ecuador had finally introduced speed limits, had ensured its roads were among the best in Latin America, and was conducting more checks. In terms of employment, a law had been enacted to compel companies and State bodies to ensure that at least 4 per cent of their staff consisted of persons with disabilities.
Ecuador was the Latin American country with the most refugees, said the delegation. It had more than 56,000 refugees, the vast majority being Colombians, and received 1,100 refugee applications every month. Ecuador had a humanist approach and shouldered this responsibility willingly. It had adopted a new decree to provide for a more stringent approach to examining each application so as to avoid abuse. In the past, people who did not comply with the conditions set out in the 1951 Refugee Convention had erroneously been let in.
Discrimination of all types, including on the grounds of age and sexual orientation, was criminalized with imprisonment ranging from three to 16 years of imprisonment. The comprehensive Criminal Code was being revised to provide extra mechanisms for proof and evidence for this type of crime, an issue which remained daunting.
There was a ministry following up on Committee observations and compliance was the shared responsibility of all concerned ministries.
Questions by Experts
A Committee member took note of the organic law of 2010 on public servants and the decree which established compulsory retirement. However, the Committee had been informed that 12,000 public servants had been dismissed on the basis of this legislation. Usually dismissals in the public sector were the result of professional wrong-doing and dismissals should be individual in nature. How could collective dismissal take place all of a sudden?
Several Committee members asked in-depth questions about the situation of persons with disabilities in terms of work, notably how they were being integrated in the labour market.
An Expert commended that over 51,000 jobs had been created according to the State party, wondering how many had been given to women and whether any jobs were being created specifically for women. A Gallup study of 2012 showed that Ecuador and Saudi Arabia had the widest gender employment gap; Ecuador must do more to tackle the inequalities between men and women in the labour market.
Response by the Delegation
The delegation acknowledged that about 11,000 public officials – about 2 per cent of all civil servants – had been dismissed. However, this included retirements, and others had received over $40,000, about 150 times the basic wage, which vastly exceeded compensations paid in the private sector. There had been no collective dismissal; it was all individual dismissals. It was natural that public authorities must ensure having the best staff, and Ecuador was no exception. Changing a country meant restructuring the set up, the infrastructure and human resources alike.
This year, more than 16,000 persons with disabilities had been integrated into the labour market, the target being the integration of 28,000 persons with disabilities by the end of this year. The year 2013 had been declared the year of employment opportunities for persons with disabilities, the delegation said, adding that the Government tried to cover the living costs of persons suffering from severe disabilities who were unable to work.
The Government accorded high importance to the employment of women and had several programmes in place. One of most successful programmes helped women from low income backgrounds form cooperatives to manufacture uniforms for the public sector, for instance.
Questions by Experts
A Committee member took note of the organic law for the right to food but wondered whether Ecuador envisaged speedily promulgating complementary laws through the National Assembly.
A Committee member pointed to the high number of unwanted teenage pregnancies which worsened the conditions of lower-income women in particular. What sexual and reproductive health campaigns was the Government implementing, were contraceptives available for free and were they easy to get hold of? How was the issue of emergency contraception handled, the Expert further asked, also wondering how abortion was dealt with. Another Committee member wondered how authorities dealt with the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, including in cases of physical or mental health problems.
Many people were at high risk of contracting diseases due to the lack of clean water and a proper disposal system. Good note had been taken of the estimations provided by the State party, but what were the bases of these estimations? According to other estimations, the figures seemed to be much higher.
It seemed that little attention was paid to the pollution of surface water and ground water by the mining industry. This was very serious as the mining industry was growing and could cause serious health consequences. How did Ecuador intend to remedy the situation and mitigate the risks?
Ecuador had made efforts to prevent the abuse of alcohol, tobacco and drugs. But the Committee was more interested in the outcomes than in the programmes itself – how had the situation improved?
The State party was asked to provide details on the participation of indigenous people in Ecuador’s cultural life and their influence in decision-making processes and consultation.
What steps were authorities taking to ensure wide access to the internet, particularly by marginalized groups, another Expert wondered, saying the internet was an important tool in the implementation of various rights – including the right to education and the right to work – and a vehicle for contemporary civil society.
Response by the Delegation
Ecuador had made a lot of efforts in the fight against chronic malnutrition and had in place the programme which aimed to completely eradicate it by 2015. Chronic malnutrition affected 34 per cent of the population in 1998 and 22 per cent in 2010; the rural population was considerably worse affected. Some successes of the programme included the reduction in child mortality rates to six per 1,000 of live births in the first year of life, while prevalence of anaemia had been reduced by 10 per cent. Between 2009 and 2011, a total of 41,000 households in Ecuador had access to basic water and sanitation, while more than 200,000 children under the age of five attended early childhood learning centres.
The programme called ENIPLA looked at family planning and the prevention of adolescent pregnancy; more than $ 200 million had been invested in the programme in 2012 and a similar amount would be provided in 2013. Teachers were enabled to appropriately train and advise their students.
Victims of violence could seek support and assistance in a number of centres that existed throughout the country; 99 per cent of victims of violence in 2011 had been appropriately taken care of. In order to curb maternal mortality, the Government paid out grants to low income pregnant women upon their visits to health centres. New hospitals and health centres were being built in the country and the programme was in place to restructure the whole health infrastructure in the country over the next three years. Medical malpractice was included in the new draft law which was currently before the Parliament. The Government had made strides in reducing under-five mortality rates and was making significant investments in the care or cancer patients. Everyone in the country, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons, had equal access to health care.
Sexual violence and gender-based violence were serious problems in Ecuador; in 2011 the national plan for the eradication of violence in the education sector had been launched, which had a human rights based approach and recognized girls, boys and adolescents as holders of rights. It allowed for rapid special procedures to be put in place when those rights were violated to avoid recurrence and provide rehabilitation. Ecuador was a multinational country and the programme also took into account cultural customs and practices. Around 75 complaints of sexual violence in schools had been filed in 2011, which bore both administrative and criminal consequences. Modules on sexual education and crime prevention had been developed and included in the school curriculum; Sexuality without Mystery was a programme allowing adolescents to speak openly about their sexuality and to understand that the violation of those rights constituted abuse.
Ecuador had an awareness raising campaign on damages and harms of smoking and had promoted an organic law in 2012 that prohibited smoking in public places and advertising of tobacco products in the media, sports and public events.
With regard to forced evictions, there had been several thousand cases of illegal occupation of private properties and public land that was too dangerous for habitation. Rather than speaking about evictions, the term relocation should be used; 690 families had been relocated so far and the relocation of an additional 400 families was expected by the end of this year. They had been relocated to safe areas with basic services; the Government had donated them the land and house construction was financed by low-interest loans; this meant that those people had access to decent housing and at lower price.
Great strides had been made in the area of decent work in terms of employment rates, working conditions and salary range. In addition to the basic unified wage established by the law, workers were also entitled to receive 10 per cent of remuneration at the end of year.
The Government had been working on ensuring prior consultation with indigenous peoples and communities prior to taking any administrative decisions concerning the activities of oil companies. The institution of prior consultation in the provinces of Napo and others that were part of the future call for tender for oil extraction had strengthened democracy and had gathered the opinions of stakeholders directly involved and directly affected by the future oil extraction industry.
In terms of cultural participation in the country, the Government had put in place a number of measures to maintain and preserve national languages, which included publishing of dictionaries in those languages, poem and story reading events and competitions, the publishing of those poems and stories, and others. The national plan to eliminate racial discrimination and ethnic discrimination contained five pillars: a legislative pillar, education and communication, citizen participation, institution strengthening and international relations.
Refugees were not held in camps and enjoyed freedom of movement within the whole country, they could join the labour market and participated in the economy; refugees were fully integrated in the society.
Questions by Experts
In a further round of questions and comments, Experts said that considering the extensive nature of sexual violence in schools in Ecuador, the number of complaints was rather low; were there any studies on the prevalence of sexual violence in schools and how the reporting and complaints mechanism worked? An Expert noted that teenage pregnancies were not only a problem of lack of access to contraceptives and family planning and asked what were the main reasons for the high rates of cancer among the population. The rights of indigenous peoples coincided with the protection of the environment; how did a green economy figure in the overall economy of Ecuador? To what extent were prior consultations an opportunity to give consent by people affected by extractive industries?
The legislation on abortion was very limited and it was good to hear about measures to prevent unwanted pregnancies and to make abortion the last resort; it must be ensured that a decision to abort was made freely by the mother. The second cause of maternal mortality was abortion taking place in settings outside of health clinics; the new code must also be expanded to include abortion for victims of rape.
The next speaker noted that education in Ecuador was free, and yet only 10 per cent of rural children attended school; how this could be explained? How successful had the implementation of the plan to increase the number of children in secondary school been since it had started in 2006?
Another Expert said that there seemed to be a clear difference between Government statements and the information from civil society concerning the prior consultation and wondered to which extent this consultation was compulsory and whether social, economic and other rights of indigenous peoples were always taken into account.
Response by the Delegation
Responding to those questions, the delegation said that some 50,000 persons with disabilities had joined the labour market and noted that there were still a number of public and private institutions and companies that were not fully compliant with the regulations and obligations to ensure the integration of persons with disabilities in the labour market.
In September 2011 a Protocol had been put in place which contained training for teachers to prevent sexual violence in schools, together with students and their families. The aim of the programme was to bring to light the serious issue of sexual violence in schools. In terms of combating chronic malnutrition, school feeding programmes were in place in all schools in rural areas and the school lunch programme was very successful and used as a model for other countries in the region.
Ecuador believed that it had made great strides in the free of charge distribution of contraceptives so far, considering that it had not existed before 2012; in addition to some 5 million condoms, 244,000 intra-uterine devices had been distributed. Genuine prevention policies were in place as well and the Government believed that was where the focus should be. The morning after pill was provided to victims of rape. Ecuador acknowledged that 10 per cent of women who came to health care centres died from the results of illegal abortions, but noted that the rate was the lowest for the countries in the region.
In terms of combating cancer, over $401 million was being invested in services and infrastructure. Ecuador had a number of green economy programmes, including one on prohibiting underground oil exploitation, which allowed for the preservation of the environment on a large scale.
It was important to say that the national policy was to serve the persons and communities who lived on the land where resources were found and that the owners of those natural resources were not the communities who lived on the land, but belonged to the 14 million Ecuadorians. The requirements concerning extractive activities included the obligation to protect the environment as much as possible and to use the benefits of the resources to first serve the needs of the communities living on the land before distributing them throughout the country.
In exchange for the $25 that students had to pay as registration fees, free textbooks were provided, the number of beneficiaries of school lunches increased and children enjoyed school breakfasts. Enrolment rates in primary schools had increased, including indigenous children.
Preliminary Concluding Remarks
RICHARD ESPINOSA, Minister for the Coordination of Social Development of Ecuador, reiterated the focus on the individual in Ecuador and said that all policies were put in place with the individual in mind. The process of development was an irreversible process and the people were providing democratic support to the Government through the votes cast at the ballot boxes; it appeared that the Government was doing the right thing. A lot had been done and achieved in Ecuador and more remained to be done and national and international support in this regard was crucial.
ARIRANGA GOVINDASAMY PILLAY, Committee Chairperson, expressed appreciation for the detailed information provided by Ecuador on various issues. The Committee noted the progress in the field of economic, social and cultural rights, but persistent challenges meant that there was still room for improvement. Some of the principal concerns mentioned in the concluding observations of 2004 were still valid today; in order to improve the fulfilment of its obligations under the Covenant, Ecuador must take into account all the concerns and recommendations of the Committee and act upon them.
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