Ecuador is a constitutional republic. In November 2006 citizens elected Rafael Correa president in a runoff election that was considered generally free and fair. Correa took office on January 15, 2007. Civilian authorities basically maintained effective control of the security forces. While the government generally respected the human rights of its citizens, there remained problems in the following areas: isolated unlawful killings and excessive use of force by security forces; killing and abuse of suspects and prisoners by security forces; poor prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; a high number of pretrial detainees; corruption; denial of due process; violence and discrimination against women; discrimination against indigenous persons, Afro-Ecuadorians, and homosexuals; trafficking in persons; sexual exploitation of minors; and child labor. Members of the National Police were accused of murder, attempted murder, rape, extortion, kidnapping, and human trafficking.
The U.S. strategy for advancing democracy and human rights is directed at strengthening democratic stability and institutions through promoting an independent judicial branch and greater citizen participation in government decision-making. In developing strategy priorities, U.S. officials work closely with government institutions, NGOs, labor unions, and other organizations to encourage reforms and discuss human rights and democracy topics. The United States uses diplomatic engagement, public outreach, foreign assistance programs, and related initiatives to advance strategy objectives. In its public outreach with the government and civil society, the United States underscores democratic themes and the importance of strong government institutions. U.S. officials actively respond to government requests for technical assistance regarding judicial reform, combating corruption, and other governance topics.
To help civil society participate in electoral processes, the United States regularly funds domestic NGO observation of municipal and national elections. The United States also has an active outreach program with the journalistic community. The U.S. government sponsors the Responsible Media lecture series attended by journalists from throughout the country, hosts presentations on freedom of the press, and gives annual seminars that address journalistic professionalism.
To bolster justice sector institution building, U.S. programs concentrate on: strengthening criminal justice professionals' knowledge and skills regarding the accusatorial trial system; training judicial police in criminal investigation techniques; assisting in drafting new laws; and supporting the development of automated criminal case registries and tracking systems. In 2007 approximately 654 officials from the National Council for the Judiciary, the Public Ministry, and the Judicial Police participated in U.S.-sponsored national training programs, and 220 government officials participated in mission-sponsored training at the local level. U.S. government programs and technical assistance in Cuenca are helping forge significant reforms in the Office of the Prosecutor and the Public Defense Unit. The United States also has been supporting a government program in Quito and Guayaquil to provide a public defender and other legal services for prisoners awaiting sentencing. In similar fashion, U.S. efforts foster capacity building for civil society to provide legal defense services to approximately 2,500 indigent persons.
To assist government efforts in combating corruption, the United States offers technical assistance to the customs authority, the Office of the Comptroller General, the Office of the Attorney General, and the Anticorruption Secretariat.
The United States provides substantial support for promoting good governance, political transparency, and respect for the rule of law within the country's security forces. To strengthen democratic practices within the Ministry of Defense and the armed forces, the United States government sends participants from the military to the United States for training regarding respect for the rule of law. U.S. officials also conduct background checks of all members of the national police and the coast guard who are being considered for training in U.S. programs.
To assist government efforts to combat trafficking in persons, the United States provides significant support in the areas of prevention, protection, and prosecution. U.S. assistance focuses on enhancing shelter services for victims, promoting reintegration of victims into society, raising awareness, and helping the government and civil society organizations implement a national antitrafficking plan. The United States is also working with indigenous federations in the northwestern and Amazonian parts of the country to strengthen their capacity to secure land tenure rights, manage their natural resources, and develop alternative conflict resolution techniques.