Foreign Affairs Ministry
Washington, D.C., July 22, 2013
Dear Mr. Patiño,
We are writing in response to the public statement issued by the Foreign Affairs Ministry of Ecuador on June 20, 2013,regarding a letter we had sent that day to President Rafael Correa on refugee rights.
As you know, Human Rights Watch's letter urged President Correa to revoke problematic provisions included in Presidential Decree 1182, which regulates asylum procedures in Ecuador. Ecuadorian human rights organizations have also expressed concerns about the decree and the UNHCR has stated that “access to asylum has become difficult” since its adoption.
In your response to Human Rights Watch's arguments, you claimed our letter "does not correspond to reality," but the issues you raise do not support that assertion. As explained below, the statement —which includes six short bullet points—fails to address our substantive concerns; argues or suggests Human Rights Watch made inaccurate claims that were never made; and includes broad statements of principles and information that does not explain how existing norms comply with Ecuador's international obligations on refugee rights.
Bullet point 1 of your statement says, "Ecuadorian legislation includes verbatim the internationally recognized definition of refugee in the 1951 Geneva Convention, it is therefore incorrect to say that Ecuadorian legislation includes a "narrow" definition of who may be considered refuge." However, the Decree abolishes from Ecuadorian law the broader refugee definition in the 1984 Cartagena Declaration on Refugees under which most, if not all, Colombian asylum seekers —who make up the vast majority of refugees and asylum seekers in Ecuador— would qualify.
Bullet point 2 challenges the relevance of the Cartagena Declaration by stating that "it is false that the Cartagena Declaration is a binding norm," that it was adopted "to address the Central American conflict in a context and time that differ notably from current affairs," and that it was "elaborated in an academic fora and not by states, which makes adherence to it voluntary." Our letter says, precisely, that Ecuador had voluntarily included this definition in its legislation in a decree from 1992, and as such, it became binding in Ecuador. The letter stated that the decision to use the new Decree to eliminate it from the current norms regulating access to asylum constituted "a regression of refugee rights under Ecuadorian law."
Bullet point 3 broadly states that the "admissibility process to determine refugee status follows rigorously the guidelines of the UNHCR's executive committee." The statement provides no information at all to rebut the substantive arguments included in Human Rights Watch's letter regarding specific UNHCR guidelines that are not respected by the procedures set out in Decree 1182.
Bullet point 4 states that "all Latin American countries provide for deadlines to present refuge requests" and that Ecuador's deadline is "not only not the most rigorous but it also contemplates exceptions." Our letter does not say nor suggest that Ecuador's 15-day limit to lodge asylum requests is the most rigorous in the region. Moreover, it talks about exceptions when it mentions that "asylum seekers who qualify as members of a "priority" group, including children, the elderly, or people with disabilities, are typically allowed to file their claims more than 15 days after they enter the country." The letter calls on Ecuadorian authorities to ensure that they take into account the fact that some asylum seekers may struggle to reach asylum authorities within 15 days of arrival in the country for understandable, logistical reasons — an issue that your statement does not discuss.
Bullet point 5 says, "in accordance with the 1951 Refugee Convention, Ecuador has the right to revoke refugee status [of an individual] under certain circumstances." The letter, for its part, states in its second paragraph that, "the government of Ecuador is entitled to regulate who is permitted to stay in the country and to reject unfounded asylum claims" and cites, in the last section on powers to revoke refugee status, article 1F of the 1951 Refugee Convention, which defines the circumstances under which a state may exclude a person from refugee status. What your official statement fails to address, however, is our argument that Decree 1182 grants Ecuadorian authorities the power to revoke the refugee status of recognized refugees on grounds beyond that permitted by international law.
Bullet point 6 states there are currently 56,000 refugees in Ecuador, which is the Latin American country with the largest number of refugees. Human Rights Watch's letter includes exactly the same information in its second paragraph. In addition, bullet point 6 says that the Ecuadorian government spent 60 million dollars in programs to support refugees, that 27,000 foreign children had access to free education in Ecuador, and that 65,000 foreigners had access to free healthcare in the country. Human Rights Watch welcomes the fact that Ecuador is ensuring that thousands of foreigners have access to basic rights such as health and education, but this has no impact at all on our argument that Decree 1182 includes problematic provisions that violate basic rights of refugees provided for by international law.
In closing, we would like to point out that your statement says, at the end, that the information included in it "reflects the commitment of the Ecuadorian government to respect and promote human rights, refuge, and the rights of asylum seekers and refugees." Based precisely on this commitment, we respectfully urge the government of Ecuador to revoke the problematic provisions of Decree 1182 discussed in our June 20 letter, and to push for the adoption of comprehensive legislation that fully respects the right to seek asylum.
We take advantage of this opportunity to offer our collaboration, should the Ecuadorian government consider it useful, to work with you to modify the existing legal framework on asylum.
José Miguel Vivanco Bill Frelick
Americas Division Refugee Program
Human Rights Watch Human Rights Watch
"Human Rights Watch's statement on refuge in Ecuador has no relation to reality" (Pronunciamiento de Human Rights Watch sobre el refugio en Ecuador no corresponde a la verdad), June 20, 2013, http://cancilleria.gob.ec/pronunciamiento-de-human-rights-watch-sobre-el... (accessed July 4, 2013).
Letter from José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director, and Bill Frelick, director of the Refugee Program, Human Rights Watch, to President Correa, June 20, 2013, http://www.hrw.org/node/116555 (accessed July 4, 2013).
Constitutional challenge against the decree presented by the Law Clinic at the University San Francisco de Quito (copy on file at Human Rights Watch). Asylum Access, “The determination of the condition of refugee in Latin America: Challenges and Opportunities,” 2013, http://asylumaccess.org/AsylumAccess/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/DETERMINACIO%CC%81N-DE-CONDICIO%CC%81N-DE-REFUGIADO-EN-AME%CC%81RICA-LATINA.pdf(accessed July 16, 2013).
UNHCR Global Appeal, December 2012, Ecuador.