Ecuador

Executive Summary

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.

b. Disappearance

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.

Trial Procedures

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.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

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 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. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse decisions domestically and to regional human rights bodies.

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The law prohibits such actions, and there were no reports the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but other laws restrict this right. Experts cautioned that restrictive provisions to journalistic work found in a 2013 communication law, reformed in February 2019, remained in effect, including Article 5, which characterizes media and communications as a public service, not a right, and a provision requiring all journalists to hold university degrees. Restrictive provisions found in other laws, such as punishing opinions as slander, which carries a prison term of six months to two years, also remained in force.

Human rights activists noted that national curfews and movement restrictions enacted during the October 2019 protests, and in place to varying degrees since March 17 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, meant for security and public health reasons, in effect set a series of de facto restrictions on freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and association, and freedom of movement (see section 2.b.).

Freedom of Speech: Individuals could usually discuss matters of general interest publicly or privately without reprisal. The law prohibits citizens from using “discrediting expressions,” treated as a misdemeanor with a 15- to 30-day prison term. There were no reports the government invoked this law to restrict freedom of speech during the year.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, including those critical of the government.

The domestic freedom of expression monitoring group Fundamedios reported that due to the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, public and private media companies in July reduced staff, including journalists, press support, and administrative staff, among others. According to Fundamedios, the staffing cuts adversely affected press freedom because critical views of the government decreased as a result of the reductions.

The law limits media’s ability to provide election coverage during the official campaign period, with no coverage allowed in the 48 hours preceding a national election. A constitutional court ruling affirmed the right of the press to conduct interviews and file special reports on candidates and issues during the campaign period, but the ruling left in place restrictions on “direct or indirect” promotion of candidates or specific political views.

The law includes the offense of inciting “financial panic” with a penalty of imprisonment from five to seven years for any person who divulges false information that causes alarm in the population and provokes massive withdrawals of deposits from a financial institution that put the institution’s stability at risk.

The law mandates television and radio broadcast of messages and reports by the president and his cabinet are to be free of charge. After taking office in 2017, President Moreno reduced the amount of time required for presidential broadcasts to one 15-minute weekly program, compared with the three- to four-hour weekly program by his predecessor.

Reforms to the 2013 communications law enacted in 2019 on spectrum allocations addressed past concerns about the potential excessive allocation of spectrum to state media. The reforms call for the redistribution of broadcast frequencies to divide media ownership between community media (up to 34 percent) and private and public media (up to 66 percent combined). Maximum figures under the reform are subject to demand and availability. The reforms limit the allocation of radio frequencies to the public sector to no more than 10 percent of the spectrum.

On May 15, the Agency for the Regulation and Control of Telecommunications (ARCOTEL) began a competitive public tender to allocate 3,196 radio frequencies. Fundamedios and other civil society groups criticized the bidding process as lacking transparency and allowing a small number of bidders to accumulate a disproportionate number of frequencies. These groups noted the potential agglomeration of radio frequencies under one domain threatened freedom of expression by reinstalling self-censorship among media outlets. On September 18, the National Assembly initiated an audit of the bidding process. On October 5, ARCOTEL director Xavier Aguirre announced postponement of the bidding process for 25 days to review bidders’ qualifications and review government and civil society inquiries about the process. On November 13, ARCOTEL stated on its website 70 percent of participants (of a total of 621) for the radio frequencies tender complied with all the requisites to obtain their qualifying title, which are valid for 15 years. The remaining 30 percent may ask for a second review of their application.

Violence and Harassment: Human Rights Watch reported police in Guayaquil used apparent excessive force to break up a May 14 peaceful protest against the government’s COVID-19 response and education budget cuts. According to Fundamedios, police attacked two journalists from the daily newspaper Diario Expreso and a photographer for the CDH.

In a December 2019 report, Fundamedios stated the October 2019 violent antigovernment protests led to a resurgence in stigmatization and hateful speech against journalists and media last experienced during former president Correa’s administration. This speech was broadly attributed to the protesters and their supporters, rather than to the Moreno government. Phrases such as “corrupt press” and “sold-out press” were frequently replicated across broad sectors and on social media during the October 2019 protests and carried forward throughout the year. Verbal attacks instilled “a mistrust by the citizenry towards reporters, especially those who belong to some traditional media outlets.” Some journalists said they avoided covering politically charged protests due to fear of suffering physical attacks, as seen during the October 2019 protests.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: There were reports government officials tried to penalize those who published items critical of the government. Fundamedios reported five potential censorship cases involving government officials through August 11. While four cases did not involve legal action or penalties, in one instance a Chimborazo provincial council official filed a criminal complaint against two journalists for publishing a report on corrupt acts in Riobamba, capital of Chimborazo Province.

On September 2, the Constitutional Court overturned a 2012 decision issued by the Contentious Electoral Tribunal (TCE) that fined Vistazo news magazine $80,000 for publishing an editorial rejecting the 2011 government-led referendum on proposed reforms to the judiciary branch three days before the vote was held. After initially ruling in the magazine’s favor, stating an opinion editorial cannot be considered “political propaganda,” the TCE reversed its decision after the then president Correa replaced the TCE’s judges. In its September ruling, the Constitutional Court found the TCE responsible for violating the rights of due process and freedom of expression. The ruling also exhorted government officials to emphasize freedom of expression around the electoral process. A Vistazo legal representative told local media, “This decision sets a precedent that media outlets must express their opinions without self-censorship.”

The law imposes local content quotas on media, including a requirement that a minimum of 60 percent of content on television and 50 percent of radio content be produced domestically. Additionally, the law requires that advertising be produced domestically and prohibits any advertising deemed by a judge to be sexist, racist, or discriminatory in nature. Furthermore, the Ministry of Public Health must approve all advertising for food or health products.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel is a criminal offense under the law, with penalties of up to three years in prison, plus fines. The law assigns responsibility to media owners, who are liable for opinion pieces or statements by reporters or others, including readers, using their media platforms. The February 2019 reforms to the 2013 communications law repealed a prohibition of “media lynching,” described as the “coordinated and repetitive dissemination of information, directly or by third parties through media, intended to discredit a person or company or reduce its public credibility.” Monitoring organizations reported that as of August 17, the government had not used libel laws against journalists.

On July 13, an attorney representing the Brazilian conglomerate Odebrecht sued the investigative journalist and director of Investigative Journalism online portal, Fernando Villavicencio, for defamation after Villavicencio published an August 2019 report on the private company’s return to the country in 2010 after its 2008 expulsion. The report alleged the company paid $20 million to the Correa government in exchange for generous debt forgiveness terms and cessation of investigations. The Moreno government barred Odebrecht from further operations in the country in January 2019, weeks after Odebrecht officials confessed to U.S. authorities of orchestrating an international corruption network for many years.

In 2019 the Constitutional Court overturned a 2012 ruling against the newspaper Diario La Hora. The National Secretary of Public Administration successfully argued in 2012 that the outlet published information about the then government’s propaganda expenses that damaged the secretariat’s reputation. The court’s decision highlighted that only humans, not institutions, have rights. Legal experts argued the decision set a precedent in favor of free speech.

Actions to Expand Freedom of Expression, including for Media: The National Committee for the Protection of Journalists, a joint government-civil society committee formed in 2019, reconvened on August 11 to discuss ways to protect journalists from threats for reporting on corruption and other sensitive issues. The committee agreed to integrate representatives from the Attorney General’s Office and Judicial Council and, if applicable, activate police intervention to provide protection and support for affected journalists.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet, but human rights organizations and media outlets reported cases of online content censorship.

On February 4, a presidency employee denounced the digital media outlet 4 Pelagatos for alleged intellectual property violations for using a photograph of President Moreno, which was taken by the government, in an online article. According to the complaint, 4 Pelagatos violated the government’s intellectual property for using a government image without authorization. On the same day, the Communications Secretariat stated the presidency employee had been dismissed for “taking unauthorized decisions.” The press release reiterated the government’s respect for the freedom of expression but justified restrictions on imagery use based on copyright standards, saying, “in (our) fight against disinformation, (the national government) has copyright over images and information it generates.”

A government regulation requires that internet service providers comply with all information requests from the superintendent of telecommunications, allowing access to client addresses and information without a judicial order. The law holds a media outlet responsible for online comments from readers if the outlet has not established mechanisms for commenters to register their personal data (including national identification number) or created a system to delete offensive comments. The law also prohibits media from using information obtained from social media unless they can verify the author of the information.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights, although the government imposed some restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Human rights defenders reported a state of emergency enacted on March 17 to control the spread of COVID-19 included de facto restrictions on freedom of assembly and association, as well as freedom of movement. The government instituted nationwide curfews effective seven days a week. Restrictions on freedom of assembly and association limited the number of persons in public places and private residences. President Moreno extended the state of emergency in 60- and 30-day increments through September 12. In an August 25 decision, the Constitutional Court prohibited the president from renewing the state of emergency using the same grounds as the previous requests, ruling the state of emergency “cannot be extended indefinitely through decrees that extend the state of exception or that declare new ones,” as the state needed to transition to a condition allowing “the enjoyment and exercise of constitutional rights threatened (under a state of emergency).”

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected this right. Public rallies require prior government permits, which authorities usually granted.

Human Rights Watch, the Alliance of Human Rights Organizations, and the CDH reported that police in Guayaquil allegedly arbitrarily detained four demonstrators during a May 14 protest in which police beat and injured demonstrators. According to the CDH, the police report declared the four detainees had verbally assaulted police officers. At a May 15 judicial hearing, a judge ruled police lacked sufficient evidence that the detained protesters had committed a crime and ordered them released.

On June 17, the Constitutional Court struck down Ministerial Agreement 179, issued on May 26 by the minister of defense, in response to complaints by several human rights organizations that argued such a protocol was unnecessary. The agreement governed a May 29 protocol on the use of force formulated in response to state-sponsored visits by missions from the United Nations and the IACHR, which concluded state security forces used excessive force to contain the October 2019 violent antigovernment protests. The NGOs that challenged the protocol argued the constitution grants the power to reestablish public order only to police and not the armed forces. They argued the armed forces’ role is limited to the protection of national sovereignty and territorial integrity. Further, they claimed the protocol, as written, poses a threat to the full exercise of human rights by providing the military wide latitude to intervene in future protests.

Freedom of Association

The law provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. Civil society representatives noted that some policies enacted during the Correa administration remained in place and could enable the government to dissolve independent organizations for poorly defined reasons.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration, and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other vulnerable persons of concern. In addition the law codifies protections granted to migrants in the constitution, advances the protection of refugees and asylum seekers, and establishes provisions such as equal treatment before the law for migrants, nonrefoulement, and noncriminalization of irregular migration.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Migrants and refugees, especially women and children, sometimes experienced sexual and gender-based violence. UNHCR and local NGOs reported that refugee women and children were susceptible to violence and trafficking in persons for the purposes of sex trafficking and forced labor. They also reported the forced recruitment of adolescents into criminal activity, such as drug trafficking and robbery, on the northern border, particularly by organized-crime gangs that also operated in Colombia. Government authorities provided basic protection for vulnerable populations; however, the influx of migrants and refugees during the year continued to place a significant strain on the government’s capacity to address and prevent abuses against migrants and refugees.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees.

Following the institution of a visa entry requirement in August 2019, a significant number of Venezuelan citizens began to enter through informal border-crossing points. International organizations expressed concern that the increased number of informal crossings placed more migrants in vulnerable conditions. The organizations also stated the new policy initially did not allow for exceptions to the visa requirement for some vulnerable populations. International organizations reported an increase in Colombian and Venezuelan asylum seekers during the year.

Access to Basic Services: The law provides for access to education, health care, and other services to all individuals irrespective of their legal status. According to UN agencies and NGOs, refugees encountered discrimination in employment and housing. Recognized refugees received national identification cards that facilitated access to education, employment, banking, and other public services. A 2016 agreement between UNHCR and the Civil Registry allows UNHCR to provide financial aid to refugees who cannot afford to pay the identification card fee and travel expenses to the three cities where the cards are issued. The Civil Registry also requires a refugee enrollment order from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Human Mobility, and sometimes refugees were required to return to the ministry if the information on their records contained errors.

Durable Solutions: The government accepted refugees for resettlement and offered naturalization to refugees, but discrimination and limited access to formal employment and housing affected refugees’ ability to assimilate into the local population.

Temporary Protection: The government implemented a special humanitarian visa process for Venezuelans in September 2019. As of August 31, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Human Mobility had issued more than 40,000 two-year humanitarian visas and continued to adjudicate visa applications filed prior to the special regularization period’s August 13 conclusion.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were often cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Ombudsman’s Office is an administratively and financially independent body under the Transparency and Social Control Branch of government focused on human rights. The Ombudsman’s Office regularly presented cases to the Public Prosecutor’s Office.

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