Last Updated 30 November 2020

Ecuador is a presidential democracy with a Constitution that declares Ecuador to be secular. The people are a patchwork of indigenous communities, including people of colonial Spanish origins.

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Constitution and government

Ecuador is among the countries showing the biggest fluctuations with regard to religiosity. In 2005, 85% of Ecuadorians declared a religious affiliation. In 2012 this had reduced to 70%, according to the Global Index of Religiosity and Atheism (2012) by Win-Gallup.1 However, a 2018 report by Pew Research found that 95% of the population consider themselves a religious affiliate.2

The Constitution of the Republic of Ecuador3 refers to the state “Guaranteeing secular ethics as the basis for public service and the legal regulatory system” (Article 3(5)), but the preamble invokes: “the name of God and recognizing our diverse forms of religion and spirituality”. Article 1 declares Ecuador “a social, democratic, sovereign, independent, unitary, intercultural, multinational and secular State.”

Article 11(2) provides a comprehensive non-discrimination clause, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of “ethnic belonging, place of birth, age, sex, gender identity, cultural identity, civil status, language, religion, ideology” among other distinguishing attributes. It also establishes a positive obligation on the State to “adopt affirmative action measures that promote real equality for the benefit of the rights-bearers who are in a situation of inequality.”

Article 66(8) protects the right to:

“practice, keep, change, profess in public or private one’s religion or beliefs and to disseminate them individually or collectively, with the constraints imposed by respect for the rights of others.

“The State shall protect voluntary religious practice, as well the expression of those who profess no religion whatsoever, and shall favor an environment of plurality and tolerance.”

Since 2018, the Interfaith National Council for Religious Freedom and Equality has worked to propose legislation to achieve more equal treatment of different religious institutions and organizations. However, the Catholic Church continues to benefit from financial privileges and tax exemptions.4

Education and children’s rights

Under Article 26 of the Constitution, education is designated a priority area for public policy-making and investment. Article 28 states that “[p]ublic education shall be universal and secular at all levels,” however Ecuador has a long history of provision of private education by religious organizations.

According to Article 27:

“Education will focus on the human being and shall guarantee holistic human development, in the framework of respect for human rights, a sustainable environment, and democracy; education shall be participatory, compulsory, intercultural, democratic, inclusive and diverse, of high quality and humane; it shall promote gender equity, justice, solidarity and peace; it shall encourage critical faculties, art and sports, individual and community initiatives, and the development of competencies and capabilities to create and work.”

Public schools are prohibited from providing religious instruction.

Family, community and society

LBGTI+ rights

Same-sex marriage was legalized in Ecuador in July 2019, following a Constitutional Court ruling that the country’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.5 The country has yet to legalize adoption by same-sex couples.6

According to a survey conducted in 2019, an estimated 51.3% of the population still disapprove of same-sex marriage.7

Indigenous communities

Approximately one quarter of the country’s estimated 1.1 million indigenous people live in the Amazonian region. Of the 14 nationalities indigenous to the country, seven are in an extremely vulnerable position with populations ranging between 300-1,500.8 The COVID-19 pandemic has caused some groups to fear extinction.9;

Chapter four of the Constitution sets out the rights of its indigenous peoples. However, according to the International Working Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA), “Ecuador still lacks specific and clear public policies that could prevent or mitigate the risk of these peoples disappearing, together with effective instruments that would ensure the enforcement of collective rights that are already widely recognised in the current Constitution.”

As a mineral and oil-rich country, the lands and territories of the indigenous peoples of Ecuador are vulnerable to exploitation and extraction that undermine their human dignity, cultural heritage, socio-cultural cohesion and economic security.10

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

Free speech limitations

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech. In particular, Section three outlines rights related to information and communication. Article 18 states “[a]ll persons, whether individually or collectively, have the right to: 1. Look for, receive, exchange, produce and disseminate information that is truthful, accurate, timely, taken in context, plural, without prior censorship about the facts, events, and processes of general interest, with subsequent responsibility.”

Some self-censorship is exercised, especially regarding politically-sensitive issues and stories about the armed forces. Defamation is a criminal offence punishable by up to three years in prison. In 2011, three executives and a former columnist from opposition daily newspaper El Universo were sentenced to jail terms and a massive fine for “libelling” President Correa.11

Under a law which requires the media to give the government free space or airtime, governments can and have required TV and radio to broadcast programmes produced by the state.

Freedom of assembly and attacks on the press

In October 2019, at least 138 journalists were attacked while attempting to cover protests taking place against a series of economic adjustments (Decree 883) announced by the government, which included a reduction in public sector salaries and the end to fuel subsidies.12; Journalists reportedly faced attack from the police and by demonstrators.13 The declaration of a State of Emergency further hampered journalists’ ability to cover the protests.

Following a fact-finding mission conducted by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the Ecuadorian government was found to have used excessive use of force in order to quell the protests.14

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