Ecuador is a constitutional, multiparty republic with an elected president and unicameral legislature. In 2017 voters elected President Lenin Moreno from the ruling party Alianza PAIS (Proud and Sovereign Fatherland) and chose members of the National Assembly in elections that were generally free and fair.
The National Police maintains internal security and law enforcement and is under the authority of the Ministry of Government. The military is under the supervision of the Ministry of Defense and is responsible for external security. Police and military forces share responsibility for border enforcement, with the military also having limited domestic security responsibilities. The military may complement police operations to maintain and control public order when expressly mandated. Migration officers are civilians and report to the Ministry of Government. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces allegedly committed some abuses.
Significant human rights issues included: reports of torture and abuse by police officers and prison guards; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; the existence of criminal libel laws; serious acts of corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women and children; and the use of child labor.
The government took steps to investigate and prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses.
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 the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
Human rights organizations reported excessive force by security forces who were likely responsible for several of the 11 deaths reported by the comptroller during the October 2019 violent protests against the government’s economic reforms. Ministry of Government officials indicated that only eight deaths were linked to demonstrations, and they argued that the causes of death were either due to force majeure actions of police attempting to control violent crowds or accidents that did not result from direct police action. The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Regional Human Rights Advisory Foundation and other NGOs reported that as of August 17, the Attorney General’s Office had not significantly advanced investigations concerning deaths during the protests. Criminal investigations concerning the entire range of crimes committed during the several weeks of organized violence–including lootings, arson, attacks on public employees and institutions–that accompanied the political protests did not significantly advance before year’s end.
In December 2019 the Provincial Court of Imbabura overturned police officer David Velastegui’s June 2019 sentence for “overreaching in the execution of an act of service.” In 2018 Velastegui shot and killed Andres Padilla, an Afro-Ecuadorian man, during a scuffle. The court, in reversing its ruling, determined Velastegui’s life was in imminent danger, justifying use of his service weapon in self-defense. The court further found “no advance planning or intentionality in Padilla’s death,” and no “criminal responsibility in the accused, since the death did not occur as a consequence of an act of excess of duties.” Padilla’s family appealed the ruling, and a decision on the appeal was pending as of October 19.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
On August 14, after the National Court of Justice sentenced former intelligence officers Raul Chicaiza and Jessica Falcon to one year in prison for the 2012 kidnapping in Bogota, Colombia, of opposition legislator Fernando Balda, the court ruled that government officials used public funds to orchestrate Balda’s kidnapping. The court found former intelligence director Pablo Romero guilty of planning the abduction under the orders of former president Rafael Correa, who was also indicted but remained in Belgium despite extradition requests. The extradition request remained in process as of October 27.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
While the constitution and the law prohibit torture and similar forms of intimidation and punishment, there were reports that police officers and prison guards tortured and abused suspects and prisoners.
In two cases stemming from arrests relating to the violent October 2019 protests, victims reported to NGOs and international organizations alleged police kidnappings and torture or other forms of degrading treatment during police interrogations. Human rights activists asserted that as of August 17, officials had not investigated these claims. On January 14, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) released a preliminary report from its state-sponsored October 2019 visit on reported abuses relating to the 2019 protests. Numerous detainees claimed authorities abused them through verbal threats, beatings with fists and metal truncheons, and forced physical exercises. The IACHR noted that judicial authorities in some cases did not record evidence presented by victims. Local human rights organizations reported that torture continued to occur in prisons, especially at Turi Prison in Azuay Province. On February 27, Azuay Public Prosecutor Leonardo Amoroso stated that contrary to official accounts claiming six prisoners died on February 20 in the prison by suicide, a forensic report (indicating one prisoner whose liver had burst) suggested the prisoners might have died as the result of torture, but he did not speculate who may have been responsible for the deaths. As of October 27, an inquiry request from human rights organizations to the Ombudsman’s Office on the case was pending.
On October 13, media reported a female police officer in Duran, Guayas Province, assaulted a female street vendor with a disability, who was tied to a pole, by placing her hands on the vendor’s buttocks while observers ridiculed the vendor and poured water over her head. The offending officer was dismissed from her duties the same day. On October 14, the public prosecutor launched an investigation and arrested two additional suspects involved in the incident.
The Internal Affairs Unit of the National Police investigates whether police killings are justifiable and can refer cases to the Attorney General’s Office to pursue prosecutions. An intelligence branch within the military has a role similar to the police internal affairs unit. The law states that the Attorney General’s Office must be involved in all human rights abuse investigations, including unlawful killings and forced disappearance. Although the National Police’s Internal Affairs division is designed to investigate complaints of police abuses, human rights defenders reported these units often failed to conduct investigations adequately. Activists stated follow-up on abuse claims was difficult due to high staff turnover in the Internal Affairs Unit.
Although impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces, human rights NGOs and civil society groups reported the lack of prosecutions against police officers who allegedly used excessive force against demonstrators during October 2019 protests could be interpreted as impunity. The government did not announce further actions taken to address general public concern about alleged human rights abuses during the October 2019 protests.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to gang violence, official corruption, food shortages, gross overcrowding, harassment by security guards against prisoners and visitors, physical and sexual abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.
Physical Conditions: Prisons continued to be overcrowded despite efforts to alleviate the problem. Officials reported a reduction in total prison overpopulation from 36 percent at the end of 2019 to 28 percent through June 1 by releasing 1,525 inmates between April 1 and June 1 in response to COVID-19 contagion concerns. A human rights NGO reported prison conditions were often better for female inmates due to their lower population density.
By law juveniles cannot be tried as adults, and individuals convicted as juveniles serve their full sentence in juvenile prisons. In May 2019 the daily newspaper El Comercio reported 40 percent of the population in the 11 centers for juvenile offenders were juveniles due to reach adulthood during their sentence. Human rights organizations reported no juveniles resided in adult prisons.
Media reports documented 22 violent deaths in prisons nationwide through August 20. Prison officials and human rights organizations agreed most violent deaths in prisons were linked to tension among criminal gangs with links to drug cartels. An August 3 confrontation between armed prison gangs left 11 inmates dead (including two who died from incineration) and 20 injured at Litoral Prison in Guayaquil. An August 11 gang confrontation in the Latacunga Rehabilitation Center in Cotopaxi Province maximum-security block left two inmates dead and five injured. An NGO reported criminal organizations operating within and outside of prisons intimidated prison staff while on and off duty.
On August 8, Israeli citizen Shy Dahan (incarcerated for alleged ties to corruption in acquiring medical equipment and fraudulent COVID-19 testing kits in a scheme allegedly involving former president Abdala Bucaram) was found dead in his cell in Litoral Prison. On October 1, media reported Litoral Prison director Hector Vivar was arrested for alleged involvement in a bribery scheme in which he demanded $30,000 in exchange for Dahan’s protection and safety.
On September 2, seven prisoners were sentenced to 46 total additional years in prison for the June 11 kidnapping and murder–by decapitation and incineration–of a fellow prisoner in the Eighth Rehabilitation Regional Prison in Guayas Province.
On August 11, President Moreno declared a state of emergency for the nationwide penitentiary system to address the escalation of prison violence, similar to a May 2019 declaration. The government also ordered the presence of police inside prison centers and military personnel at security perimeters and entry checkpoints of prisons. The state of emergency remained in effect as of October 27. During the state of emergency, the government reclassified and segregated inmates at facilities according to assessed threat levels.
Access to and quality of food, potable and hot water, heating, sanitation, and medical care were inadequate. Officials verified that inmates did not have safe and permanent access to healthful food. In 2018 government officials detected a deterioration of the water systems at prison facilities with noticeable difficulties in access to drinking water, especially at the Latacunga Rehabilitation Center, and these problems persisted. In some facilities health measures were sufficient only for emergency care. On June 20, national prison officials reported 699 inmate infections and 10 deaths due to COVID-19 in the national detention centers. Prisoners noted inconsistent and generally insufficient protection and isolation measures from COVID-19 infection in prisons.
An NGO reported that prison officials, including medical staff, often failed to screen adequately and segregate prisoners with mental and physical disabilities from the rest of the prison population. On June 26, President Moreno signed a decree pardoning persons with disabilities and commuting their prison sentences. Pardoned inmates were required to comply with alternative measures, including community service and appearing personally before a judge twice a month.
Administration: Authorities sometimes conducted investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment in prisons.
On March 15, President Moreno ordered the suspension of visits to inmates and curtailed recreational activities at all prison centers as a measure to prevent COVID-19 contagion. Human rights organizations continued to report that the few visitors allowed before the pandemic faced degrading treatment during check-in at prison facilities, including the removal of clothing and illumination of genitalia by flashlights while forced to jump naked. Such treatment dissuaded relatives and religious officials from visiting prisons. An NGO reported that access to inmates had been limited during the May-August 2019 emergency declaration, as inmates continued living in almost complete isolation from their relatives.
Independent Monitoring: Civil society representatives continued to report restrictions to monitoring by independent NGO observers. According to the NGO Permanent Committee (CDH) for the Defense of Human Rights, authorities failed to respond to many independent observers’ requests to visit prisons. Prison officials explained that monitoring groups’ safety could not be guaranteed, especially during the state of emergency in the penitentiary system.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, but there were reports that provincial and local authorities did not always observe these provisions. According to NGOs, illegal detentions continued to occur.
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. Judges at times ordered a detainee’s release pending trial with the use of ankle-monitoring bracelets.
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 Public Defenders’ Office. Although there were many available court-appointed defenders, the number of cases and limited time to prepare for the defense continued to present a disadvantage during trials.
The law entitles detainees to prompt access to lawyers and family members, but NGOs continued to report delays depending on the circumstances and the willingness of local courts and prison guards to enforce the law.
Arbitrary Arrest: Several NGOs and international organizations reported that security forces arbitrarily detained protesters during the October 2019 violent antigovernment demonstrations. In its January 14 report, the IACHR highlighted information received indicating that “a large number of arrests were allegedly carried out arbitrarily or illegally,” underlining the comptroller’s October 2019 claim that up to 76 percent of the government’s reported 1,192 detentions during the demonstrations were arbitrary or illegal.
Pretrial Detention: Corruption and general judicial inefficiency caused trial delays. Police, prosecutors, public defenders, and judges did not receive adequate training. The length of pretrial detention did not usually exceed the maximum sentence for the alleged crime.
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 NGOs reported on the susceptibility of the judiciary to bribes for favorable decisions and faster resolution of legal cases. No updates were available through September 18 on the selection of permanent replacement of Judicial Council members after 23 of 36 evaluated judges were deemed not to have met the minimum qualification threshold in November 2019 and were replaced by temporary judges from lower courts appointed by the council.
On January 29, six former police officials convicted for “paralyzing a public service” during a 2010 police protest known as 30-S were released from prison on appeal. All of the officers declared they would seek to reintegrate into the police force. On June 29, four other former police officials sentenced to 12 years in prison in the same incident presented a revision appeal to the National Court of Justice. The appellants, after serving nearly six years in prison, were released as they awaited the court’s ruling, which was pending as of October 27.
The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, although delays occurred frequently. The law presumes a defendant 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. Defendants 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. Foreigners also often faced a language barrier with their public defenders, which impaired their ability to present a defense. Defendants 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 fear in some cases. 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 faster resolution of cases. Prisoners reported that after cases reached a higher court, however, lengthy delays ensued in setting dates for preliminary hearings.
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, as provided under the constitution.
The court system slowed considerably due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with all courts initially moving to remote working conditions. Defendants’ counsels complained this format inhibited their ability to represent their clients adequately, and several noted that new procedural rules were inconsistently and sometimes arbitrarily applied. By June some courts had returned to in-person appearances, but judges in at-risk health or demographic categories continued to telework.
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
On July 30, the National Assembly approved a resolution granting amnesty to 20 indigenous leaders charged and convicted in 2015 for kidnapping and extortion after participating in mobilizations against the former Correa administration. Aside from ordering the immediate release of four leaders still in detention, the resolution expunged all criminal records related to the charges, revoked any outstanding arrest warrants against any individuals, and removed any precautionary measures or prison alternatives that had been previously issued. Human rights organizations reported that 150 abused and detained demonstrators continued to face legal processes for the same alleged 2015 acts.
Civil courts and the Administrative Conflicts Tribunal, generally considered independent and impartial, handle lawsuits seeking damages for, or immediate ending of, human rights violations. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse decisions domestically and to regional human rights bodies.
The law prohibits such actions, and there were no reports the government failed to respect these prohibitions.