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, marking a successful democratic transfer of power.
The National Police maintains internal security and law enforcement and is under the authority of the Ministry of Government (formerly the Ministry of Interior until August 1). The military is under the supervision of the Ministry of Defense and is responsible for external security. Police and military share responsibility for border enforcement. Migration officers are civilians and report to the Ministry of Government. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.
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; violence against women; and the use of child labor.
The government took steps to investigate and prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses, as it engaged in efforts to strengthen democratic governance, fight corruption, and promote respect for human rights.
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.
In 2017 President Moreno issued Decree 193 to replace Decrees 16 and 739 that regulated freedom of association. Domestic and international human rights organizations are subject to the NGO regulations in the decree. Civil society representatives said the new decree was a step in the right direction but noted it enables the government to dissolve organizations for imprecise reasons (see section 2.b.).
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.
On July 3, President Moreno appointed Cecilia Chacon as head of the new Human Rights Secretariat, which is part of the executive branch and reports to the presidency. The secretariat undertook some roles exercised by the former ministry of justice, human rights and religious groups that was dissolved by Executive Decree 560 issued in November 2018.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape and domestic violence. The government enforced these laws, although victims were sometimes reluctant to report these crimes. Rape is punishable with penalties of up to 22 years in prison. The law includes spousal rape under crimes against sexual and reproductive integrity. The penalty for rape where death occurred is 22 to 26 years’ imprisonment. Domestic violence is punishable with penalties ranging from four days to seven years in prison and a fine for “damages, pain, and suffering” ranging from $350 to $5,300, depending on the severity of the crime. The law stipulates penalties for physical, psychological, and sexual violence.
A 2018 law provides reparation to victims of gender-based violence, while advocating for the re-education of aggressors. The law defines rape, including spousal rape or incest, forced prostitution, sexual harassment, and other analogous practices, as forms of sexual violence. It also entitles victims to immediate protective measures designed to prevent or cease violence, such as police surveillance, placement in shelters, and awareness programs for the victim and family.
According to human rights organizations, victims were generally reluctant to press domestic violence charges, and the court system was insufficiently staffed to deal with the caseload. Judges lacked specialized training for dealing with gender-based violence. Rights organizations also reported victims were sometimes discouraged from reporting their aggressors by local protection-board officials.
The NGO monitoring platform Alianza Mapeo reported 62 femicides countrywide as of August 8. Of the femicides, 60 percent were committed by a spouse or partner. According to the local organization Latin American Association for Alternative Development, most victims were either stabbed, strangled, or suffocated. While most victims were between 18 and 30 years old, one minor was also killed. According to local experts, reporting rapes and other forms of violence continued to be a traumatic process, particularly for female minors. For example, a rape victim must file a complaint at the Public Prosecutor’s Office and submit to gynecological evaluations akin to rape kits administered by medical experts. Many individuals did not report cases of rape and sexual assault because of fear of retribution from the perpetrator or social stigma.
On March 9, government officials launched a mobile application to accelerate the law enforcement response to complaints of gender-based violence, including rape. The Ministry of Social and Economic Inclusion, together with local and provincial governments and NGOs, provided psychosocial services to victims of sexual and domestic violence. The ministry subsidized shelters and other initiatives, including medical services at care centers and private clinics.
Sexual Harassment: The law criminalizes sexual harassment and provides for penalties of one to five years in prison. The law defines sexual harassment and other analogous practices as forms of sexual violence and mandates that judges prohibit contact between the aggressor and the victim to prevent revictimization and intimidation. Despite the legal prohibition of sexual harassment and government implementation of the law, women’s rights organizations described a tendency to not report alleged harassment, while harassment remained common in public spaces.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.
Discrimination: The constitution affords women the same legal status and rights as men. Nevertheless, discrimination against women was prevalent, particularly with respect to economic opportunities for older women and for those in the lower economic strata. On March 7, the National Technical Secretariat for Equality and Development told local press the average monthly income of an employed man was 20 percent more than a woman working under the same conditions.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is acquired through birth in the country, birth to an Ecuadorian mother or father abroad, or by naturalization. According to media reports, ethnic minority families and those with limited economic resources continued to show registration rates significantly lower than those of other groups. Government brigades occasionally traveled to remote rural areas to register families and persons with disabilities. While the law prohibits schools from requesting civil registration documents for children to enroll, some schools, mostly public schools, continued to require them. NGOs reported the problem particularly affected refugee and migrant children. Other government services, including welfare payments and free primary health care, require some form of identification.
Education: The lack of schools in some areas specifically affected indigenous and refugee children, who must travel long distances to attend school.
Child Abuse: The law criminalizes child abuse and provides penalties of 30 days to 26 years in prison, depending on the severity of the abuse.
According to the Office of the Public Prosecutor in May, approximately six of 10 rape victims were children and adolescents. Media reported in June that approximately 16 percent of the 7,977 sex-crime complaints tracked by the Ministry of Education between 2014 and May 2019 were directed against minors. Teachers or school staff were alleged as perpetrators in 25 percent of all complaints. NGOs reported that children living in the streets or in rural parts of the country, many of whom came from poor indigenous families, suffered from exploitative conditions. Throughout the year the Ministry of Education sent officials to investigate reported cases of child abuse in educational establishments.
Bullying remained a problem in schools and increasingly occurred on social media. According to UNESCO statistics reported by media outlets, 23 percent of children suffered bullying and 7 percent cyberbullying in 2018. The government’s “Lifetime Plan” program establishes programs addressing different types of violence, including bullying.
Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age of marriage is 18. There were reports of early and forced marriage in indigenous communities, particularly in instances in which girls became pregnant following an instance of rape. A Plan International study cited the testimony of public officials who reported that in many cases sexual aggressors compensated violence with payment or exchange of animals, but in some cases victims were forced to marry their aggressors.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The age of consent is 14. The law prohibits sexual exploitation of children, including child pornography, with penalties of 22 to 26 years’ imprisonment. The penalty for sex trafficking for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation of children younger than age 18 is 13 to 16 years in prison. Child sex trafficking remained a problem, despite government enforcement efforts.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
There is a small Jewish community, including an estimated 250 families in Quito and 82 families in Guayaquil. Jewish community members in Quito reported an online threat from a social media user in May; police and the Attorney General’s Office investigated and determined there was no physical threat to community members. An unknown perpetrator painted a swastika in a Quito school parking lot in June; no arrests were made.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The National Council on Disability Equality oversees government policies regarding persons with disabilities.
President Moreno promoted social initiatives to raise awareness about disability rights. In 2017 the president broadened the defined legal recognition of a disability and increased tax benefits for persons with disabilities; however, human rights activists noted much work remained. Although the law mandates access to buildings and promotes equal access to health, education, social security, employment, transport, and communications for persons with disabilities, the government did not fully enforce it. Media reported that 1,171 persons with disabilities attended undergraduate and graduate school in 2018, which was less than 1 percent of the total student population. A March 18 article in El Telegrafo reported persons with disabilities continued to demand improvements to allow them full access to public transportation. El Telegrafo also reported the government spent nearly $200 million in 2018-19 on assistance programs aimed at persons with disabilities, including social services, home and health care programs, and employment and education incentives.
The law stipulates rights to health facilities and insurance coverage as well as access and inclusion in education, and it mandates a program for scholarships and student loans for persons with disabilities. The law provides for special job security for those with disabilities and requires that 4 percent of employees in all public and private enterprises with more than 25 employees be persons with disabilities. The law also gives the Ombudsman’s Office responsibility for following up on alleged violations of the rights of persons with disabilities and stipulates a series of fines and punishments for lack of compliance with the law.
The law directs the electoral authorities to provide access to voting and to facilitate voting for persons with disabilities.
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. In 2009 the government began implementing a national plan to eradicate racial discrimination and exclusion based on ethnic and cultural differences. On March 1, the National Council for the Equality of Peoples and Nationalities reported the government failed to disclose its expenditures on the implementation of the national agenda and other policies promoting racial equality.
Afro-Ecuadorian citizens, who accounted for approximately 7 percent of the population according to census in 2010, 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. The National Council for the Equality of Peoples and Nationalities reported in February that racial minority groups had less access to managerial positions and other professional opportunities.
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, that is, to participate in decisions about 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 February 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.
On August 24, the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), the largest group representing indigenous peoples’ rights, announced its withdrawal from the dialogue initiated with the Moreno administration in 2017. CONAIE criticized the rushed nature of talks, an atmosphere of mistrust, and the government’s “neoliberal economic policies that affect the most impoverished sectors” in the country. CONAIE added that talks did not produce concrete results on issues of importance to indigenous communities, including environmental rights and extractive industries.
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.
On April 30, an 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. Amnesty International reported these tactics were intended to silence their environmental activism.
The constitution includes the principle of nondiscrimination and the right to decide one’s sexual orientation. The law also prohibits hate crimes. Although the law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons continued to suffer discrimination from both public and private entities, particularly in education, employment, and access to health care. LGBTI organizations reported transgender persons suffered more discrimination because they were more visible.
A June 12 Constitutional Court decision to legalize same-sex marriage went into effect on July 8. The ruling also mandated that same-sex couples be able to marry in Ecuadorian consulates and other diplomatic offices worldwide as long as one partner was an Ecuadorian citizen. The court rewrote Article 81 of the civil code and ordered the National Assembly to reform secondary laws as soon as possible to include equal treatment of same-sex couples.
The government, led by the Ombudsman’s Office, was generally responsive to concerns raised by the LGBTI community. Nevertheless, LGBTI groups claimed police and prosecutors did not thoroughly investigate deaths of LGBTI individuals, including when there was suspicion that the killing was motivated by anti-LGBTI bias.
LGBTI persons continued to report that the government sometimes denied their right of equal access to formal education. LGBTI students, particularly transgender students, sometimes were discouraged from attending classes (particularly in higher education). LGBTI students, particularly transgender individuals, were more susceptible to bullying in schools, and human rights activists argued the Ministry of Education and school administrators were slow to respond to complaints. LGBTI persons involved in the commercial sex trade reported abusive situations, extortion, and mistreatment by security forces.
On July 30, an LGBTI nonprofit organization reported a transgender minor was denied enrollment at 15 schools under her chosen name and gender in 2017. The minor’s parents filed a lawsuit requesting that officials allow her to change her name and gender on identity documents to end discrimination against her. The Office of the Civil Registry allowed changes on her identity card in November 2018. The nonprofit Equidad reported the parents then filed an inquiry with the Constitutional Court to determine the age transgender underage individuals may change their identity information. A court decision on the inquiry was pending as of October 29. The law prohibits LGBTI persons younger than 18 to change gender on their identity documents, even with parental consent.
LGBTI organizations and the government continued to report that private treatment centers confined LGBTI persons against their will to “cure” or “dehomosexualize” them, although such treatment is illegal. The clinics reportedly used cruel treatments, including rape, in an attempt to change LGBTI persons’ sexual orientation.