Rights group: Correa seeks to trample NGOs

QUITO, Ecuador (AP) — Human Rights Watch called on Ecuador Monday to revoke a new decree that gives President Rafael Correa’s government broad powers to intervene in the operations of non-governmental groups, including to dissolve them.

The U.S.-based rights watchdog likens Correa’s decree to measures taken by the governments of Russia, Venezuela, Uganda and Bahrain that have stifled critical voices.

The June 4 decree will limit the ability of nongovernmental groups to choose their own members while giving government ministries oversight over them, including the power to decide whether they can even exist, Human Rights Watch said.

“Officials can now essentially decide what groups may say or do, seriously undermining their role as a check on the government,” the group’s Americas director, Jose Miguel Vivanco, said in a statement.

He said Correa’s government has already “damaged free speech” by repressing independent news media “and now it is trying to trample on independent groups.”

The measure takes effect in June 2012 and will require international nongovernmental groups obtain approval by a special government agency to operate.

Ecuador’s leading independent news media NGO, Fundamedios, sued the government challenging the decree’s constitutionality, but a judge threw out the case on Aug. 7. Fundamedios is appealing the ruling to a higher court.

The group’s director, Cesar Ricuarte, said the decree amounts to a ban on free assembly and will put the fate of organizations such as Fundamedios in the hands of government officials.

Ricuarte said the decree effectively “eliminates the power of civil society to monitor the actions of the state.”

The Associated Press called the Interior Ministry seeking government reaction, but a spokesman had no immediate comment.

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