THE HUMAN RIGHTS OF AFROECUADOREANS
Afroecuadoreans are generally described as constituting between five and ten percent of the national population. They are principally the descendants of Africans who were brought to the region in the sixteenth century to serve as slave labor on the coastal plantations. The Afroecuadorean population remains centered on the coast, in the Province of Esmeraldas and Guayaquil, with sizeable numbers in the Sierras, in El Carchi, La Cuenca del Rio Mira, Imbabura and more recently in Quito.
The information provided to the Commission by representatives of Afroecuadorean society has focused on specific aspects of their status within Ecuadorean law and society. The American Convention on Human Rights provides a broad prohibition of discrimination in Article 1.1, which obliges States Parties to respect and ensure all the rights protected therein on an equal basis. Additionally, Article 24 establishes the right of every individual to equal protection of and before the law. Additionally, Ecuador is a Party to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and has recognized the competence of Committee set up under the Convention to review communications claiming violations.
The Ecuadorean Constitution provides in Article 4 that "The Ecuadorean State condemns all forms of colonialism, neocolonialism and racial discrimination or segregation. It recognizes the right of peoples to free themselves from these oppressive systems." Article 22.6 establishes the prohibition of discrimination by reason of age, race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other belief, social origin or economic status. The State is to "adopt the measures necessary to make this right effective and to eliminate all discrimination." The Government noted in its March 19, 1997 submission that strengthening the national identity and recognizing the multiethnic and pluricultual character of the country are general objectives. Meeting these objectives, it stated, requires the democratization of national culture, ensuring to indigenous peoples and afroecuadoreans their development, political participation, and the strengthening of their culture.
The Penal Code of Ecuador sets forth in the provisions following Article 112, that racist organizations and activities are illegal and prohibited. It establishes criminal penalties, specifically imprisonment for between three months to two years, for certain offenses involving racial discrimination for persons who, inter alia: disseminate, by any means, ideas based on racial hatred or superiority; incite racial discrimination, or who commit or incite others to racial violence; or who support organizations which promote racial discrimination, participate in racist activities or belong to such organizations. If such offenses were ordered or committed by public agents, the penalty shall be from one to five years imprisonment.
Representatives of Afroecuadorean society informed the Commission during its visit that they were subject to pervasive discrimination from both the state and from civil society as a whole. Reports indicate that only one Afroecuadorean has ever served as a political representative, and few if any have served in high office in the Executive or military. With respect to the role of the State, the Commission was told that the attitude of the Government toward the Afroecuadorean population could be characterized as one of complete indifference. This could be seen, it was asserted, in the severe impoverishment of the vast majority of this sector, and in the lack of social services in Afroecuadorean communities. In particular, representatives cited the lack of health services and educational opportunities. It was stated that in some rural communities education was simply not available on a regular basis, due to lack of resources or lack of oversight. The insufficiency of the educational opportunities for Afroecuadoreans generally was cited as a major obstacle to opportunities for work and improved standards of living.
The existence of racism in the private sector was cited as a severe impediment to the ability of Afroecuadoreans to realize their rights and freedoms. Particular issues cited included widespread discrimination in private employment, and the utilization and perpetuation of negative stereotypes. With respect to the former, it was pointed out that few blacks are employed in professional positions. This was cited as both a method and a consequence of making this segment of Ecuadorean society feel inferior to others.
Looking to the role of both the public and private spheres, it was indicated that Afroecuadorean culture was not respected, but was rather ignored or disdained. The Commission was informed that the history of the Afroecuadorean population was not generally known, and was not included within the national curriculum concerning the history of the country. This was characterized by Afroecuadoreans as a manifestation of the inferiority with which they are treated as a social sector -- and as a means of further repressing their identity, history and culture.
The guarantees of equal protection before the law and of the law set forth in Article 24 of the American Convention, and the prohibition of discrimination established in Article 1.1 are essential to the ability of all individuals to enjoy the full range of their fundamental rights and freedoms. Where certain groups within a population have historically been subject to certain forms of public or private discrimination, the existence of legislative prescriptions may not be a sufficient mechanism for ensuring equality in society. The right to equal protection of and before the law may also require the adoption of positive measures to protect against discriminatory treatment within the public and private sectors. For example, positive measures may be necessary to ensure equality of treatment within the public-private spheres of education and employment.
The Commission recommends:
That the State collect and report on information as to the demographic and socioeconomic situation of the Afroecuadorean and other minority populations in the country.
That the State adopt measures to promote participation in decision-making at the local and national levels by members of Afroecuadorean and other minority groups.
That the State develop further initiatives through public institutions, especially in the area of education, training and culture, and encourage action in the private sphere:
to combat the prejudices which cause racial discrimination;
to promote awareness of negative stereotypes and to encourage the development of more positive interracial, intercultural and interethnic relations.
That the State consider the adoption of any additional measures which may be necessary to ensure that the occurrence of race-based discrimination, which is prohibited by the Constitution and laws of Ecuador, is treated as a human rights violation subject to the appropriate legal sanctions whenever it occurs.