Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were reports that police committed arbitrary or unlawful killings typically involving excessive use of force during routine law enforcement activities. A human rights nonprofit organization reported that on June 15 in Las Lajas, two police officers shot and killed Daniel Elias Jumbo Quizhpe while conducting an antismuggling operation. The two officers are under criminal investigation.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
On March 17, the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances called on the government to treat all pending cases of disappearances as forced disappearances. On June 14, a court held a hearing on the 2003 case known as “Las Dolores” in which 11 police officers were accused of the forced disappearance and extrajudicial killing of eight individuals, including Johnny Gomez Balda and Cesar Mata. The decision to move to trial came after a 14-year investigation; however, the judge decided to prosecute the defendants for the crime of kidnapping, which carries a punishment of five to seven years, instead of treating the crime as forced disappearance, which carries a punishment of 22 to 26 years.
In 2016 the Office of the Attorney General determined that law enforcement officers committed arbitrary detention in all 18 of the forced disappearance cases from 1984-2005 that were reported by the 2008-10 Truth Commission. On October 16, President Moreno signed compensation agreements for 24 of the remaining 119 victims of human rights abuses with pending cases documented by the Truth Commission.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
While the constitution and law prohibit torture and similar forms of intimidation and punishment, there were a few reports that police officers and prison guards reportedly tortured and abused suspects and prisoners. The Ombudsman’s Office conducted random inspections of sites where freedom of movement was restricted, including prisons, mental health facilities, and treatment clinics, among others, and investigated alleged cases of torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment and punishment.
On September 4, local media and human rights organizations reported new allegations of torture involving prisoners in the Turi prison center. Prisoners claimed they were tortured and subjected to other forms of degrading treatment including arbitrary beatings, exposure to extreme temperatures, and electroshock. According to daily newspaper La Hora, in August a doctor stated that an examination of a prisoner confirmed the prisoner’s claims of torture and other forms of degrading treatment. On August 15, Judge Alfredo Serrano acquitted 15 law enforcement officers and dismissed charges against another 32 officers who were under criminal investigation for cruel and degrading treatment of prisoners after conducting a raid in Turi prison center in Cuenca in May 2016. Both the Ombudsman’s Office and the public defender, David Ayala, criticized the judge’s decision. Local human rights organizations, including the Ecumenical Human Rights Commission (CEDHU) and the Regional Human Rights Advisory Foundation, called the prosecutor’s decision unjustified due to the extent of the injuries suffered by the prisoners.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions were harsh due to food shortages, overcrowding, harassment by security guards against prisoners and visitors, physical and sexual abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.
Physical Conditions: The April 2016 earthquake, which damaged the penitentiary facility in the town of Portoviejo, exacerbated overcrowding in some prisons, causing relocation of prisoners to other facilities that were already over capacity. On June 29, the UN Latin American Institute for Crime Prevention and the Treatment of Offenders reported that the prison population was 73.5 percent above the designed capacity. In a July 10 article in the newspaper El Comercio, Minister of Justice, Human Rights, and Worship Rosana Alvarado reported that the country had 10,000 inmates beyond capacity in 37 prisons.
Prisoners and human rights activists complained of a lack of resources for inmates. Relatives of the inmates reported that public officials expected prisoners to buy provisions from the prison centers on a monthly basis and that prison officials did not allow families of inmates to provide basic supplies purchased outside of the prison, including clothing and toiletries.
In some facilities, health measures were sufficient only for emergency care. Prisoners reported that medicines often were not available and they had no access to dental care. Prisoners also complained of harsh living conditions, including sanitary problems, a lack of food, poor nutritional quality of the food, and lack of heating and hot water.
Protecting the health and safety of prisoners remained a problem. Human rights organizations remained concerned about the mixing of prisoners from various criminal gangs in prison units. On January 4 and October 4, local media reported fights between rival groups of prisoners resulted in serious injury to 10 inmates in each instance. CEDHU reported that as of August 25, it had received information concerning the killing of eight prisoners in their cells in the cities of Guayaquil, Santo Domingo, Tulcan, and Latacunga. On October 11, police raided a prison in Guayas as part of a law enforcement investigation called “Fortaleza 145.” During the raid, police arrested 22 prisoners for involvement in ordered killings and drug dealing.
On March 8, police detained 51 individuals in connection with the extortion of 67 inmates. The then minister of interior, Diego Fuentes, stated a criminal network extorted relatives of inmates by demanding payments between $200 and $800 (country’s official currency is U.S. dollar) in exchange for the inmates’ physical safety. According to local human rights organizations, prison authorities threatened family members of prisoners who died or suffered serious injuries to prevent them from making public complaints. On July 10, Minister Alvarado noted that searches and raids in prisons were necessary because “mafias” continued to operate in prison centers.
On September 20, a member of the National Assembly’s Justice Committee, Lourdes Cuesta, reported that she had received information of rape cases, the transmission of HIV, and beatings of prisoners in detention centers.
Administration: Public defenders assisted inmates in filing complaints and other motions. Some prisoners remained incarcerated after completing their sentences due to bureaucratic inefficiencies and corruption. It was extremely difficult to obtain a firm release date from prison authorities, and the onus was often on inmates to schedule their own review boards.
Independent Monitoring: Independent nongovernmental monitors complained that their access to prisoners was limited. According to the human rights nonprofit Permanent Committee for the Defense of Human Rights (CDH), prison authorities placed strict limits on who could visit prisoners and monitor prison conditions, which led to a “progressive isolation of prisoners.” Independent observers must submit in writing their reasons for visiting a prison, specifying general and specific objectives of the visit, as well as other information required by an administrative order. The CDH reported that many requests never received a response, which effectively prevented independent monitors from accessing prisons.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution and other laws prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his/her arrest or detention in court, but there were reports that national, provincial, and local authorities in some cases did not observe these provisions.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The National Police maintain internal security and law enforcement. The military is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities, including combating organized crime. Both police and military are in charge of border enforcement. Migration officers are civilians and report to the Ministry of Interior. The National Police are under the authority of the Ministry of Interior, and the military is under the supervision of the Ministry of Defense. The National Police’s internal affairs unit investigates killings by police and examines whether they were justified. The unit can refer cases to the courts. An intelligence branch within the military has a role similar to the police internal affairs unit. The law states that the State Prosecutor’s Office must be involved in all investigations concerning human rights abuses, including unlawful killings and forced disappearance.
Insufficient training, poor supervision, and a lack of resources continued to impair the effectiveness of the National Police. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over police and the armed forces. The government has mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption, although not all cases were fully investigated.
Police receive required human rights instruction in basic training and in training academies for specialized units. In the police academy, human rights training is integrated throughout a cadet’s four-year instruction. Additionally, there is a mandatory human rights training regimen concerning preservation of life and human rights, along with a human rights handbook. Authorities offered other human rights training intermittently.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
The law requires authorities to issue specific written arrest orders prior to detention and a judge must charge a suspect with a specific criminal offense within 24 hours of arrest. Authorities generally observed this time limit, although in some provinces initial detention was often considerably longer. Detainees have the right to be informed of the charges against them. By law if the initial investigation report is incriminating, the judge, upon the prosecutor’s request, may order pretrial detention.
Detainees have a constitutional right to an attorney. Those without financial means to pay for an attorney have the right to request a court-appointed attorney from the independent Public Defenders’ Office. Although the number of available court-appointed defenders was higher than in previous years, the high number of cases and limited time they had to prepare for the defense of the detainees continued to represent a disadvantage during trials.
Although the law entitles detainees prompt access to lawyers and family members, human rights organizations continued to report delays depending on the circumstances and officials’ willingness to enforce the law.
Arbitrary Arrest: On April 27, public officials released indigenous leader Jimpikit Agustin Wachapa after four months of arbitrary detention. In December 2016 police officers and military officials entered Wachapa’s house without a judicial order and transferred him to a maximum-security prison in the town of Latacunga. The Office of the Public Prosecutor later charged Wachapa with “instigation of discord,” and then deputy interior minister Diego Fuentes reported that the leader was seeking to incite public discord through a message posted on Facebook.
Pretrial Detention: Corruption and general judicial inefficiency caused trial delays. The country also lacked resources to train police, prosecutors, public defenders, and judges. On September 20, Justice and Human Rights Minister Alvarado reported to the National Assembly’s Justice Committee that 36 percent of inmates had not yet been sentenced.
Amnesty: On June 14, President Moreno pardoned environmentalist Patricio Marcelo Meza, who was arrested on June 6 and sentenced to six months in prison for assault and resistance during the 2015 indigenous demonstrations.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
While the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, outside pressure and corruption impaired the judicial process. Legal experts, bar associations, and human rights organizations reported on the susceptibility of the judiciary to bribes for favorable decisions and faster resolution of legal cases. Some judges reached decisions based on media influence or political and economic pressures in cases where the government expressed interest. Delays often occurred in cases brought against the government, whereas cases brought by the government moved quickly through the courts. There were credible reports that the outcome of many trials appeared predetermined. According to human rights lawyers, the government also ordered judges to deny all “protective measures,” i.e., legal motions that argued the government had violated an individual’s constitutional rights to free movement, due process, and equal treatment before the law. Lawyers and human rights activists stated the government initiated disciplinary action based on “inexcusable error” against judges who allowed protective measures against the government. On August 21, 40 judges filed a complaint against their removal from office as ordered by the Judicial Council, the governmental oversight entity for the judicial branch. The Judicial Council declared the dismissals were based on charges leveled by private parties. The affected former judges claimed they were removed from office for unjust cause. On August 22, private defense attorney Hernan Ulloa representing the affected judges alleged that the Judicial Council committed “crimes of influence peddling, illicit enrichment, and organized crime, following interference in the independence of the judicial branch.” The former judges demanded the resignation of the Judicial Council’s president Gustavo Jalkh, through the National Committee of Judges against Corruption. On August 28, Jalkh told media outlets the initiative was an attempt to destabilize the judicial branch before the partial renewal of the National Court of Justice.
The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, although delays occurred frequently. The law presumes defendants innocent until proven guilty. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly of the charges in detail. The accused have the right to consult with an attorney or to have one provided and to appeal. Defendants have the right to free assistance from an interpreter, but some defendants complained about the lack of an interpreter at court hearings. They have the right to adequate time and resources to prepare their defense, although in practice this was not always the case, and delays in providing translation services made this difficult for some foreign defendants. They also have the right to be present at their trial. The accused may also present evidence and call witnesses, invoke the right against self-incrimination, and confront and cross-examine witnesses.
Judges reportedly rendered decisions more quickly or more slowly due to political pressure or, in some cases, the payment of bribes. There were reported delays of up to one year in scheduling some trials.
Criminal justice reforms aimed at reducing congested dockets in criminal cases produced “simplified” proceedings in pretrial stages, resulting in summary proceedings against defendants with few, if any, due process protections.
The regular court system tried most defendants, although some indigenous groups judged members independently under their own community rules for violations that occurred in indigenous territory. On September 12, members of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) and officials from the Judicial Council discussed the application of indigenous justice and expressed willingness to work together in strengthening the administration of justice in all spheres.
On July 13, media outlets reported that 121 Cuban citizens deported from Ecuador in June and July 2016 suffered mistreatment, illegal detention, and rushed deportation proceedings, allegations the government denied.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
Civil courts and the Administrative Conflicts Tribunal, generally considered independent and impartial, handle lawsuits seeking damages for, or immediate ending of, human rights violations. Civil lawsuits seeking damages for alleged wrongdoings by the government rarely were filed, since such suits were difficult to prosecute and time-consuming, with some judges taking up to a decade to rule on the merits of a case.
Human rights groups denounced forced evictions by government authorities without due process or timely relocation to other housing. The evictions mostly affected Afro-Ecuadorian families in urban areas or indigenous families living near natural resource extraction projects. The government claimed that many of those evicted either were squatters or had purchased their land illegally. On October 12, local media reported that a joint operation by police and the Technical Secretariat for the Prevention of Irregular Human Settlements could result in the eviction of up to 200 families from their homes in southern Guayaquil within 48 hours if they could not produce proof of ownership. On July 7, indigenous organizations appeared before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to report human rights violations that led to forced displacement of their communities in 2016. According to human rights organizations, in some cases the government failed to provide timely restitution or compensation to evicted families.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The constitution and the law prohibit such actions, but there were reports the government failed to respect these prohibitions.
Human rights, environmental, and labor activists and opposition politicians reported physical surveillance by authorities, including monitoring of their private movements and homes. According to some human rights activists, the physical surveillance was an act of intimidation intended to silence any potential criticism of the government. In the two weeks before the April presidential elections, representatives of a Catholic church reported detecting surveillance of their facility and religious services and receiving threatening telephone messages from unidentified callers warning the parish priest there would be consequences if he continued to politicize his sermons. In September, local media sources reported they obtained documents dating from 2010-14 detailing efforts by the National Intelligence Secretariat to spy on opposition parties, businesspersons, journalists, social movements, ecological groups, and indigenous organizations. The media sources claimed that public funds were used to record persons of interest and hack into personal email accounts in direct contravention of the penal code.