The Bernard and Audre Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice

Partners for change at the intersection of academics and advocacy.

PRESS RELEASE: New Report Finds that Ecuador Fails to Protect the Land Rights of Afro-Ecuadorian Communities

November 10, 2009

Photo of Valle del Chota, with haciendas in background
Tuna project in Valle del Chota. In the distance (near the river) are well-irrigated haciendas. Photograph by Rapoport delegation

The Bernard and Audre Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice has released a report documenting Ecuador’s failures to protect the land rights of rural Afro-Ecuadorians guaranteed by the Ecuadorian constitution and international human rights law.

The report, Forgotten Territories, Unrealized Rights: Rural Afro-Ecuadorians and their Fight for Land, Equality, and Security, includes a detailed analysis of the structural discrimination faced by rural Afro-Ecuadorian communities and offers concrete recommendations for protecting and promoting Afro-descendants’ access to productive land, including to their ancestral territories.

The report is the product of a nearly year-long research project conducted by the Rapoport Center, and includes the findings of a delegation that visited Ecuador in March 2009. The delegation was comprised of the Center’s director, Professor Karen Engle, and students from The University of Texas School of Law, Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies, and LBJ School of Public Affairs. The group met with Afro-Ecuadorian community members, government officials, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and academics in Esmeraldas, the Valle del Chota, and Quito.

The report finds that the Ecuadorian state has failed to guarantee the rights of Afro-Ecuadorians that are enshrined in Ecuador’s 2008 constitution, which reaffirms the rights of Afro-Ecuadorians and recognizes Ecuador as a "multiethnic, intercultural and inclusive nation." The report chronicles the systematic and deeply entrenched obstacles to the realization of those rights that Afro-descendants in Ecuador confront. It describes, for example, the economic, social and political pressures Afro-descendant communities in Esmeraldas face as a result of the largely unregulated logging, oil palm and shrimping industries and due to land trafficking and multiple forms of violence along the border with Colombia. In the Valle del Chota, lack of access to quality land and water continue to impede possibilities for development.

The report calls upon the Ecuadorian state to prioritize the land rights of Afro-Ecuadorians, as demanded by domestic and international law. Specifically, it recommends that the Ecuadorian government assign institutional responsibility for the identification, titling and protection of Afro-Ecuadorian ancestral lands; for ensuring equitable access and distribution of resources such as water and credit; and for providing remedies for environmental destruction caused by years of misuse of the land.

The report also recommends that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights conduct a study on the land rights of Afro-descendants in Latin America, strengthen the role of the Special Rapporteur on Afro-Descendant Issues and actively promote the finalization of the Draft Inter-American Convention Against Racism and All Forms of Discrimination and Intolerance. The report calls for international and regional financial institutions to ensure that all development and micro-credit programs for Afro-Ecuadorian communities are planned and implemented with the full participation of those communities.

“Ecuador is in a unique position to formulate economic and social policies regarding its Afro-descendant population, as it is currently in the process of significantly restructuring the state and formalizing land title throughout the country,” Rapoport Center Director Karen Engle said. “If it takes seriously its intercultural constitution in these processes, it could serve as a model for Latin America. If not, it threatens to exacerbate the precarious situation in which centuries of structural discrimination have placed Afro-Ecuadorians,” she warned.

The Rapoport Center’s report on Afro-Ecuadorian rights is the third in a series of reports on Afro-descendant land rights in South America. The first report examined human rights problems faced by Afro-Colombians and the second report was about the collective lands claims by Afri-Brazilian communities.

Related Links

Press Release: UT Delegation Investigates Human Rights of Afro-Ecuadorians

Afro-Descendent Property Rights in Ecuador

Brazil Fails to Protect the Rights of Afro-Brazilian Communities, Rapoport Center Press Release (24 September 24 2008)

Afro-Descendent Property Rights in Brazil

Afro-Colombian Property Rights