Ecuador’s order to close 16 foreign non-governmental organizations is the latest in a series of actions that seem to strictly regulate local and foreign NGOs in the country. Seen as exerting “highly discretionary” power over them, these measures lay pressure on groups perceived to oppose the government and raise the possibility that more NGOs could be targeted next.
Among the groups ordered to shut down due to their alleged failure to meet the government’s deadline for disclosing information on their activities, including private and government funding, are the Spanish Doctors Without Borders and NGOs from the United States, Spain, Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, Argentina, Colombia, Puerto Rico and the Philippines.
In the past couple of years, Ecuador has passed a series of laws that regulate civil society operations more strictly. The latest law, published in July 2011, requires international groups to sign a treaty with the government that would disclose information on their objectives, specific activities and funding sources for them to secure government authorization to operate in Ecuador. Under the law, the Ecuadorian government could revoke the agreement if it deemed that the group violated certain prohibitions – described by the Human Rights Watch to be ”vaguely defined“ – such as activities that are “incompatible with public security and peace.”
In 2008, President Rafael Correa issued a decree granting the government broader discretionary powers over NGOs, such as the power to dissolve an NGOon the ground of “compromising the interests of the state.” The decree also imposes additional requirements for registration of civil society organizations and created a government registry to “better regulate and coordinate” them.
Correa has been known to criticize NGOs publicly in Ecuador. In June 2011, he accused some foreign NGOs of acting in complicity with rebel groups to destabilize his government. In May 2010, the president denounced the fact that there are more than 50,000 organizations with legal status in Ecuador, citing vast corruption among them, the ICNL cites. In 2009, the government ordered the closure of anti-mining group Ecological Action that spearheaded Indian protests against mining interests.
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