After the success of the 2016 session, held despite bans, the 2021 ITE (International Tribunal on Evictions) session ascertains a resumption of human rights violations, the participation of the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to housing and the direct dialogue between popular organisations and the country's authorities.
The verdict calls on the country's authorities to set up a negotiation and dialogue table, zero evictions policies and supports the proposal for a new housing law being debated in Parliament.
Testimonies of violations
Karina Almeida, representative of the "Ciudad de Dios" neighbourhood in Guayaquil, Ecuador. "In 2010, we were victims of a brutal forced eviction. We were left with more or less a thousand abandoned families. The military came to count the numbers, to take a census. We didn't get any support from any authority”.
Marjorie Párraga, the representative of "Bloque 22", has been living there for more than 13 years. "We are persecuted by the municipality, worse than criminals. We are not left in peace. There have been forced evictions, also in this period of the pandemic, houses have been demolished with the help of the army and the police".
These are some of the chilling testimonies heard by the International Tribunal on Evictions (ITE) in the framework of the “World Zero Evictions Days” organised by the International Alliance of Inhabitants last November, on how every society produces its own vulnerabilities, but also resistances, especially on the part of women.
The Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the fragility of human beings in the face of a virus, but above all the fragility of governments' economic and social systems and their lack of preparation, as well as the absence of adequate policies to deal with it. Indeed, this pandemic has been particularly revealing of the fragility of housing policies and their absence in many countries of the world. Containment has certainly undermined the neoliberal system and demonstrated the limits of globalisation and capitalism, increasing inequality, unemployment and injustice. And despite moratoriums to stop evictions, in some parts of the world thousands of families have continued to be displaced with indifference.
With more than 22,000 official deaths (more than 10,000 if one adds the deaths whose viral origin has not been confirmed) and more than 481,000 cases, for 17,5 million inhabitants, Ecuador appears proportionally as the country most affected by the Coronavirus in Latin America. The province of Guayas and its capital Guayaquil, the country's second-largest city after Quito, are particularly affected. The "Pearl of the Pacific" (Guayaquil's nickname) concentrates more than 68,000 cases, or nearly 15% of the total and 20% of deaths in Ecuador.
After a near moratorium thanks to the 2016 ITE evictions have resumed
In Guayaquil, evictions resumed in the midst of the pandemic after a 5-year near-moratorium, obtained thanks to the ITE held in 2016 in Mount Sinai, one of its municipalities, and subsequently in the capital Quito as part of the Popular Forum on Resistance to Habitat III. This 5th session of the ITE was a success, despite the failed attempt by the authorities to prevent it by force, and because of the number of participants, a thousand people, who came to testify and denounce the violations suffered by thousands of people. Strong recommendations were proposed, calling for the respect of the right to housing and the implementation of adequate housing policies, to allow the restoration of the dignity of the inhabitants of the neighbourhood and to put an end to displacement and evictions. For a while, this was the case, but five years later, the violations of human rights ratified by Ecuador have been resumed.
Faced with this situation, another session of the ITE to denounce these facts was decided and organised this November, The mission was carried out on 15 August 2021 by the Ombudsman's Office, the Permanent Human Rights Commission of Ecuador and the Citizens' Observatory for Access to the City and Public Spaces of Guayaquil, conducted comprehensive research, disclosing and attesting that 65% of its urban residential territory is occupied by informal and/or irregular settlements, with 6,000 dwellings per year, due to the lack of planning and provision of social housing, with approximately 300,000 people living there, including individuals and families occupying areas at risk. In Mount Sinai alone, 30,000 families live in informal settlements, up from 10,000 before its establishment. This is despite the militarisation of the area and the assimilation of those fighting for their homes to land traffickers.
The 2021 ITE session makes history
The 2021 ITE session, which was broadcasted via Zoom in several languages, was even more widely recognised and powerful than the 2016 session. Not only was it not banned, but local authorities and national government representatives participated, listened to Balakrishnan Rajagopal, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing, began to give some answers to a qualified jury of international experts and jurists, and offered some willingness for dialogue with social organisations and neighbourhood representatives themselves.
The ITE jury, composed of Diana Bell, political scientist and master of urban planning, (Ecuador), Agustín Territoriale, lawyer and expert in housing law, a permanent member of the ITE and juror since 2016, (Argentina), Cesare Ottolini, global coordinator of the IAI, (Italy); Soha Ben Slama, coordinator of the IAI in Tunisia and coordinator of the ITE, did not spare any effort in asking specific questions to the local and national government authorities.
Why were the evictions carried out without resettlement in adequate housing when they violate the Ecuadorian Constitution, which is the supreme law? And explain in detail how it was possible to violate article 42, article 30 and article 32, to name but three, in addition, article 11 (right to housing) and article 12 (right to health) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights ratified by Ecuador?
How is it possible that entire populations of inhabitants, women, children, elderly people, disabled people, have been violently evicted, without taking into account the serious factor of the Covid-19 pandemic which has lasted for almost 2 years, and which has killed more people in Guayaquil than in any other part of the country? And what about the right to health?
Why were these families allowed to buy land, build, and settle for years, only to be forcibly evicted? And why should the families who bought the land with their own hard work be treated in the same way as the crooks and land dealers who sold it to them, knowing that these same land dealers are usually not punished? And given that these same traffickers are mostly not punished, why have the traffickers and their links to local and national political structures not been confronted?
Why are people struggling for the right to housing not considered as human rights activists, and why are they not protected as stipulated in the Charter on Human Rights Defenders adopted unanimously by the UN General Assembly in 1998?
How will the children continue to go to school? What will you do to help them after the shock of forced eviction with guns, which they and their parents endured as if they were criminals?
What have you planned for the elderly - who have lived there for decades, and who have paid for the land they have acquired with their blood and their health - what have they planned to compensate them - financially, psychologically and in terms of the violation of their human dignity?
What about the women - housewives, day labourers, office workers and others who have built, educated and supported a whole family on their shoulders, from grandparents to husbands to unemployed youth? Have you thought about the risk they run of losing their jobs as a result of these evictions? Have you offered them alternatives? Compensation? Decent housing? Not far from their children's schools and jobs?
Finally, a fundamental question: once responsibilities have been identified and acknowledged, are you ready to engage in a multilateral dialogue with the aim of regularising informal settlements in full respect of human rights?
And, in the meantime, also declare the necessary moratorium on evictions? Until the Covid-19 pandemic is eradicated and these families can be provided with adequate alternative housing!
How a People's Tribunal can have the power to enforce human rights
In the light of the clarifications of the UN Special Rapporteur, and qualified Ecuadorian lawyers, it has been demonstrated that the evictions violate Ecuadorian laws. And the blatant buck-passing of responsibilities between the different levels of the administration and the government proved that the irregular settlements are the consequence of the lack of policies aimed at the working classes, while the solvent middle classes have no problem.
The verdict, once these violations were proven, gave way to the Preliminary Recommendations, read by Agustín Territoriale at the end of the session, which urged the competent authorities to establish an immediate moratorium on evictions; to create a joint working group with the aim of preventing evictions and defining inclusive housing policies that allow for the recognition, legalisation and improvement of the neighbourhoods concerned; and that the complaints and investigation of the Public Prosecutor's Office against housing and land rights activists be dropped.
This result was possible thanks to the coordination between local organisations, the International Alliance of Inhabitants and the strong leadership of Patricia Sánchez Gallegos. Patricia, an architect, a leader for more than 40 years in the struggle for housing and the main artifact of the 2016 ITE, was elected to Congress a few months ago with Pachakutik, the indigenous party supported by CONAIE that came close to reaching the second round of the presidential elections this year. She has succeeded in amplifying popular struggles by bringing to Parliament an innovative bill on the right to housing and habitat for the legalisation and improvement of irregular settlements.
The recommendations of the International Tribunal on Evictions are now operational and give the authorities of Guayaquil and Ecuador one month to present their counter-arguments, after which they will be forwarded for the follow-up to the judicial authorities and to UN bodies, including the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing. Social organisations, as well as the International Alliance of Inhabitants, have the task of periodically monitoring the implementation of the recommendations sent to the ITE.
The ITE Guayaquil session, a landmark case: or how a People's Tribunal can have the power to enforce human rights that the Courts have, until now, ignored.