Ecuador: Protest Workplace Discrimination; Demand Effective Implementation of Constitutional Protection Against Discrimination

SUMMARY

On July 1, 2004, Alex Franco Acebo was fired from Invescol, a private security company in Guayaquil, Ecuador. He had worked for the company for two years. According to Invescol Manager, Mr. Franklin Gallegos, the company’s internal regulations bar the employment of "physically disabled people and gays."

In 1997, Ecuador was the first in Latin America (and the second in the world, following South Africa) to include specific protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation in its Constitution. In this context, the action of Invescol, especially Mr. Acebo’s sexuality, are irrelevant to his job performance and should not, in any context, be compared to a "physical deficiency" that might render him unable to perform his job properly.

Indeed, while Invescol’s position is impossible to justify, the consequences of their policy are dramatic and conclusive: Alex Franco Acebo is currently unemployed, and is thus unable to attend to his basic survival needs, lacking any support if he happens to fall ill. In this context, if the government of Ecuador does not take action against Invescol, they will have failed to protect and fulfil Mr. Acebo's rights to be free from discrimination and his right to work. Fundación Amigos por la Vida (FAMIVIDA), a local LGBT Rights and HIV/AIDS prevention group, has submitted a complaint against Invescol to the Ecuador’s Labour Ministry.

ACTION

IGLHRC joins FAMIVIDA in asking for letters to be addressed to local and federal authorities that protest this discrimination against Alex Franco Acebo and to demand effective implementation of the anti-discrimination provisions of the Ecuadorian Constitution.

Please write to:

Dr. Franklin Moreno Quezada
Defensor del Pueblo (Ombudsman)
Postal address: Lorenzo de Garaycoa y Víctor Manuel Rendón / Guayaquil, Ecuador
Fax: (593) 42561419
Dr. Abdón Sánchez
Subsecretario de Bienestar Social (Public Welfare Undersecretariat)
Postal address: Lizardo García y Maldonado / Guayaquil, Ecuador
Ab. Pedro Cruz Rodríguez
Subsecretario de Trabajo del litoral (Labour Undersecretariat)
Postal address: Lizardo García y Maldonado /Guayaquil - Ecuador
Ab. Jaime Guerrero Cruz
Director Provincial del trabajo (Labour State Department)
Address: Av. Olmedo y Malecón /Guayaquil - Ecuador
Phone and Fax: (593) 2325758 (When someone replies, ask "por favor, déme señal de fax".
Dr. Raúl Vaca Carbo
Ministro de Gobierno, Policía, Cultos y Municipalidades (Minister of Government, Police, Cult and Local Government)
Postal address: Benalcazar y Espejo / Quito, Ecuador
Fax (593) 22580067
Dr.Raúl Izurrieta
Ministro del Trabajo (Labour Minister)
Addres: Clemente Ponce y Piedrahita, - Quito -Ecuador
Fax: (593) 22503122
Doctora Mariana Yépez de Velasco
Ministra Fiscal de la Nación (Public Prosecutor Office – Federal level)
Postal address: Av. Eloy Alfaro y República / Quito, Ecuador
E:mail.fiscalia@uiu.satnet.net
Comisión de Derechos Humanos del Congreso Nacional (Federal Congress – Human Rights Commission)
Phone/fax: (593)22955650
Postal address: Piedahita y 6 de diciembre-Quito Ecuador

And please send a copy to:

Fundación Amigos por la Vida
pais_canela@yahoo.com

MODEL LETTER

In order to make communication with Ecuadorian authorities as effective as possible, we recommend that you send the letter in Spanish. An English translation follows.

Estimado señor/a:

Nos dirigimos a usted para hacerle llegar nuestra preocupación por el despido que sufriera a comienzos de julio el señor Alex Franco Acebo en la empresa de seguridad Invescol, de la ciudad de Guayaquil.

El señor Franco Acebo se desempeñó durante dos años como guardia de seguridad en Invescol, sin que la empresa expresara queja alguna por su conducta y eficiencia. Al anunciarle el despido, el gerente señor Franklin Gallegos le informó que el "reglamento interno" de la compañía les impedía contar con personal que "tuviera deficiencias físicas o fuera gay" – siendo este último el caso del señor Acebo. También le manifestó que temía que la condición de gay del señor Acebo perjudicara a la empresa mediante la pérdida de la clientela o la cancelación del permiso de funcionamiento.

En un país como Ecuador, el primero de América Latina en incluir en su Constitución la protección específica contra la discriminación por orientación sexual, la conducta de la empresa Invescol resulta particularmente incomprensible. La preferencia sexual del señor Acebo es irrelevante para el desempeño de su actividad laboral, y no puede equipararse de manera alguna con una "deficiencia física" que podría impedirle desempeñar su tarea específica. Los temores de Invescol, expresados por su gerente, son infundados e irreales pero sus consecuencias son dramáticas y contundentes: Alex Franco Acebo está en este momento desempleado, sin poder atender a sus necesidades básicas y sin contar con ningún apoyo en caso de enfermedad.

Las disposiciones antidiscriminatorias de la Constitución ecuatoriana tienen que hacerse realidad para todos y todas –para los homosexuales y lesbianas a quienes protegen y para la sociedad en general, que debe cumplirlas. Las autoridades ecuatorianas tienen el deber ineludible de educar a la ciudadanía sobre el contenido de dichas normas y de actuar en forma inmediata cuando se han violado las mismas, como en el caso de Invescol.

Esperamos que intervengan ustedes a la mayor brevedad posible para reparar la injusticia que se ha cometido con Alex Franco Acebo.

Cordialmente,


ENGLISH TRANSLATION

Dear Sir or Madam:

We write to you to express our concern for the dismissal of Mr. Alex Franco Acebo from the security company Invescol, in Guayaquil, on last July.

Mr. Acebo worked for two years as a security guard for Invescol. In this time, the company never expressed any complaints about his behaviour and performance. When informing Mr Acebo of his dismissal, manager Mr. Franklin Gallegos stated that the company’s internal regulations forbade hiring of staff who were "physically disabled or gay" – the latter being the case with Mr. Acebo. Mr. Gallegos also expressed the company’s fear that the company might lose customers, or risk their license to operate, simply because Mr. Acebo is gay.

In a country like Ecuador –the first in Latin America to include specific protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation in its Constitution - the actions of Invescol is particularly incomprehensible. Mr. Acebo’s sexual preferences are irrelevant to his job performance and can in any way be compared to a "physical deficiency" that might render him unable to perform his job properly. As expressed by its manager, Invescol’s fears are groundless and unreal, but their consequences are dramatic and conclusive: Alex Franco Acebo is currently unemployed, and thus unable to attend to his basic survival needs and lacking any support if he happens to fall ill.

It is a basic tenet of human rights that all governments are obligated to respect, protect and fulfill all the human rights of all its citizens, including in cases when companies and other non-governmental actors are responsible for violating human rights. In the case of Ecuador, the responsibility is even more explicit: anti-discrimination provisions in the Ecuadorean Constitution need to become a reality for everybody in order for the government to meet its obligation to fulfill the rights of all Ecuadorian, including gay and lesbian Ecuadorians who are supposed to be protected by them, and for the broader society that must adhere to them. It is the unavoidable duty of Ecuadorian authorities to educate people about the content of those provisions and also to act immediately when they have been violated, as it is the case with Invescol.

We hope you will intervene as soon as possible to provide effective remedy for the injustice committed against Mr. Alex Franco Acebo.

Sincerely,

(your name, organization and address)

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

Alex Franco Acebo, FAMIVIDA and a local human rights organization called "Comité por la defensa de los Derechos Humanos" had submitted a complaint before the Guayaquil Labour Authorities on July 14, 2004, to denounce Mr. Acebo's discriminatory dismissal and to demand support from the State. As yet, there has been no answer. In the coming weeks, FAMIVIDA will launch a national campaign to make the case public and enlist the help of other organizations.

FAMIVIDA considers that this case "is exceptional due to the courage shown by Alex Franco Acebo, as the usual attitude among those who are discriminated for being gays or lesbians is to keep silent, for fear of provoking further acts of discrimination and violence and refuse to fight for their rights".

INTERNATIONAL AND DOMESTIC LAW

International law

Right to equality before the law and to be free from discrimination are protected by the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR) in its Articles 2 and 7, by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in its Articles 2 and 26, by the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) in its Article 2and by the Interamerican Convention on Human Rights (IACHR) in its Articles 1 and 24.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee affirmed in its decision in Toonen v. Australia (1994) that existing protections against discrimination in Articles 2 and 26 of the ICCPR should be understood to include sexual orientation as a protected status. The UN Committee on Economic and Social Rights has made a similar observation, in its General Comment 14 on the right to health- to be applied to all economic, social and cultural rights.

Numerous other human rights mechanisms of the United Nations have subsequently condemned discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Right to work is protected by the UDHR in its Article 23, ICESCR in Article 6. Article 26 of the IAHRC affirms that "State Parties undertake to adopt measures ... with a view to achieving progressively, by legislation or other appropriate means, the full realization of the rights implicit in the economic, social, educational, scientific and cultural standards set forth in the Charter of the Organization of American States" (that includes the right to work).

Ecuador has ratified the ICCPR and ICESCR in 1969, and the IAHRC in 1977. The UDHR is considered customary law for all Member States of the United Nations, including Ecuador.

Respect, protect, and fulfill:

A state's human rights obligations can be explained by the tripartite notion of respect, protect and fulfill. First, states are required to respect rights, that is, to refrain from committing a human rights violation. In other words, government officials, or those acting with the authorization of the state must not engage in such acts as arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, physical, verbal and sexual abuse, among other human rights abuses. Moreover, states are also required to protect rights, that is, they much not only ensure that their agents do not violate rights, but they must also work meticulously to prevent and punish such acts, even when the acts are committed by private actors (including private businesses, individuals, religious institutions, private schools and hospitals, etc.). Finally, the government of Ecuador is also required to fulfill rights. This means that the government must ensure that an infrastructure exists that enables people to exercise and enjoy their rights to the fullest possible extent, including through widespread and gender-sensitive human rights education.
If a state fails to act meticulously to prevent human rights violations and bring the perpetrators to justice, it can itself be held responsible. This is known as the standard of due diligence, which requires that states take action to the fullest of their capacity to prevent, investigate and punish acts which impair any of the rights recognized under international human rights law.

Comparative legislation

In Latin America, the Mercosur countries (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay) issued a Declaration on Labour (SGT No.10) in 1998 that guarantees, "Effective equality in rights, treatment and opportunities for workers without discrimination or exclusion based on... sex or sexual orientation...". Venezuela has an Organic Labour Law (1999) that includes "no arbitrary discrimination based on gender or sexual preference" among the principles for workers’ protection (Article 8.e). In Colombia, the Constitutional Court declared unconstitutional a law that allowed dismissals of homosexuals from the Armed Forces (1999 – C-507-99) and a similar one applied to teachers (1998 – C-481-98).

Around the world, the following countries have laws that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation by public or private employers: Czech Republic, 2000; Denmark, 1996; France, 2001; Ireland, 1998 (does not apply to religious institutions); Israel, 1992; Luxembourg, 1997; Namibia, 1992; the Netherlands, 1994; Norway, 1998; Slovenia, 1998; South Africa, 1998; Spain, 1996; Sweden, 1999; and the USA, 1998(applies only to the public sector). Australia provides protection against discriminatory dismissals, based on sexual orientation (1996). And the Council of Europe established a "general framework for equal treatment in employment or occupation" in 2002 that includes sexual orientation as a category protected against discrimination.

Domestic law

Since 1998, Article 23.3 of the Ecuadorian Constitution states that "All persons are considered equal and will enjoy the same rights, freedoms and opportunities, without discrimination whatsoever on the grounds of birth, age, sex, ethnicity, colour, social origin, language, religion, political affiliation, economic status, sexual orientation, health status, disability or any other sort of difference".

ABOUT IGLHRC

The mission of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) is to secure the full enjoyment of the human rights of all people and communities subject to discrimination or abuse on the basis of sexual orientation or expression, gender identity or expression, and/or HIV status. A US-based non-profit, non-governmental organization (NGO), IGLHRC effects this mission through advocacy, documentation, coalition building, public education, and technical assistance.

IGLHRC
The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission
c/o HRW
350 Fifth Avenue, 34th Floor
NY, NY 10118
t. 1-212-216-1278
f. 1-212-216-1876
Email: iglhrc@iglhrc.org
http://www.iglhrc.org

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