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.
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.
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.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups
The constitution declares the state to be plurinational and affirms the principle of nondiscrimination by recognizing the rights of indigenous, Afro-Ecuadorian, and Montubio (an independent ethnic group of persons with a mixture of Afro-Ecuadorian, indigenous, and Spanish ancestry) communities. It also mandates affirmative action policies to provide for the representation of minorities.
A November 2019 report by the National Council for the Equality of Peoples and Nationalities reiterated that racism and discrimination continued against indigenous peoples and Afro-descendants despite government policies promoting equality. The report reiterated that ethnic minorities continued to struggle with education and job opportunities and often earned less in comparison with their nonindigenous counterparts. Less than 4 percent of the indigenous population entered higher education, according to the most recent census, carried out in 2010. The same agency in February 2019 reported racial minority groups had less access to managerial positions and other professional opportunities.
Afro-Ecuadorian citizens, who accounted for approximately 7 percent of the population according to the 2010 census, suffered pervasive discrimination, particularly with regard to educational and economic opportunity. Afro-Ecuadorian organizations noted that, despite the absence of official discrimination, societal discrimination and stereotyping in media continued to result in barriers to employment, education, and housing. A National Gender Survey published in November 2019 found Afro-Ecuadorian women were particularly vulnerable to gender-based violence and harassment based on racial and sexual stereotypes.
There were no reports of restrictions placed on indigenous persons and their institutions in decisions affecting their property or way of life. The law provides indigenous persons the same civil and political rights as other citizens. The constitution strengthens the rights of indigenous persons and recognizes Kichwa and Shuar as “official languages of intercultural relations.” The constitution grants indigenous persons and communities the right to prior consultation, which is to participate in decisions on the exploitation of nonrenewable resources located on their lands that could affect their culture or environment, although indigenous peoples’ organizations noted public- and private-sector actors often ignored prior consultation. The constitution also allows indigenous persons to participate in the economic benefits natural resource extraction projects may bring and to receive compensation for any damages that result.
In the case of environmental damage, the law mandates immediate corrective government action and full restitution from the responsible company, although some indigenous organizations asserted a lack of consultation and remedial action. The law recognizes the rights of indigenous communities to hold property communally, although the titling process remained incomplete in parts of the country. During the 2018 national referendum, voters approved two constitutional amendments relevant to indigenous communities, prohibiting mining in urban and protected areas and limiting oil drilling in Yasuni National Park.
A June 1 report by various environmental and indigenous monitoring groups warned that because the mining sector was considered of “strategic importance” during the pandemic and a disproportionate number of indigenous miners were deemed essential employees, the mining sites were “hot spots for contagion” and put neighboring indigenous communities at serious risk of COVID-19 infection. Although confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths among indigenous communities were lower than the national average, indigenous leaders and international organizations asserted indigenous communities, like other rural low-income communities, were particularly vulnerable to the pandemic’s environmental, medical, and economic effects. On July 1, Amnesty International joined two local indigenous umbrella groups, the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador and the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities in the Amazon, in calling on the national government to assemble a national action plan to protect indigenous communities.
The National Council on the Equality of Peoples and Nationalities reported in 2018 that almost 23 percent of indigenous women were underemployed, 36 percent were illiterate, and political participation of indigenous women continued to lag behind the rest of the population.
An April 2019 Amnesty International report faulted the government for a lack of will to adequately provide protection and conduct serious criminal investigations into the 2018 attacks and threats against the female Amazonian environmental defenders Patricia Gualinga, Nema Grefa, Salome Aranda, and Margoth Escobar. Human rights organizations expressed concern about intimidation tactics used against these activists from unidentified sources, including death threats and physical assault. On March 12, Amnesty International reported these tactics were intended to silence their environmental activism and denounced the lack of progress in the case.