Ecuador rejects IACHR report on human rights violations and Ombudsman receives death threats

Peaceful Assembly

Excessive use of force during October 2019 protests

On 14th January 2020, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) published a report on their mission to Ecuador between 28th and 30th October 2019 to observe the human rights situation in the country in light of the massive protests against austerity which took place earlier that month. In this report, the IACHR stated that protests “in certain cases, were repressed by the government through the excessive use of force, mainly against members of Indigenous communities who joined the demonstrations in Quito and in their ancestral territories”.

IACHR delegates interviewed 439 people and recorded a total of 380 testimonies of people reporting serious human rights violations. According to information from the Ecuadorian Ombudsman, 1340 people were injured during the protests between 3rd and 13th October 2019, including 458 security agents. 1228 people were detained during the demonstrations. The IACHR also received information of around 120 attacks against journalists and media outlets, as well as restrictions on journalistic work. In addition, IACHR pointed out that their delegates faced hostility from some security agents when trying to interview prisoners.

Based on its observations and in the light of the Inter-American Human Rights System rules, and the American Convention on Human Rights in particular, the IACHR presented eleven recommendations urging Ecuador to thoroughly investigate and address these violations.

According to news reports, Ecuador’s government reacted by stating that the IACHR's report is "partial and biased", arguing that the organisation objected to the State's response to isolated events, which are still under investigation, and minimised the responsibility of non-state actors and groups for the violence. "For those of us in the country, who saw it with our eyes, who know what happened, the report has a sad bias”, expressed Minister María Paula Romo to the media.

In a related development, on 10th December 2019, the Confederación de Nacionalidades Indígenas del Ecuador (Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador - CONAIE) announced the creation of an association for victims of the national strikes, Asociación de Víctimas del Paro Nacional “Inocencio Tucumbi”, and stated that the government has hidden information and the truth from victims of state repression during protests.


Ombudsman threatened

In February 2020, Ecuador’s Ombudsman, Freddy Vinicio Carrión Intriago reported receiving death threats, including a bomb threat on his house. On 14th February 2020, he published an open letter stating that, in addition to the personal attacks he has received, the Ombudsman’s office has suffered a series of attacks in an attempt to affect the credibility of the institution, along with administrative obstacles attempting to undermine the effective realisation of its work.

Amnesty International released a statement urging Ecuador to protect the defender and his family. Erika Guevara-Rosas, the organisation’s Americas director, said:

“It is ironic that the human rights defenders and organisations that played a key role in reporting human rights violations throughout the crisis are those who now find themselves at risk and without adequate protection. The case of the Ombudsman and Ombudsman’s Office is clear evidence of this situation. The Ecuadorian authorities must immediately take the measures necessary in order to guarantee his safety in light of the serious threats he faces.”


Journalist attacked

On 8th February 2020, an explosive device detonated in the home of journalist Víctor Aguirre in the city of Naranjal, in the Guayas province. The explosion did not harm the reporter or his wife, who were at home at the time, but damaged some of the reporter’s utilities and the floor of his garage. Aguirre told the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) that a one gallon container of gasoline connected to the device did not explode. The journalist covers politics in Naranjal for web-based VA Televisión. Aguirre had previously reported threats after covering a confrontation between Naranjal Mayor Luigi Rivera and anti-government protesters.

Broadcasting licence revoked for public radio station

On 23rd January 2020, the Ecuadoran Telecommunications Regulation and Control Agency (ARCOTEL) issued a decision revoking the broadcast license of Radio Pichincha Universal, a public radio station run by the Pichincha provincial government. ARCOTEL stated that Pichincha Universal acted against national security in the context of the nation-wide demonstrations that took place in October 2019 reported previously by the Monitor. The station’s general manager Washington Yépez denied having broadcast any illegal content and told the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) that the outlet is known for broadcasting information “that is not aligned with Lenín Moreno’s regime.” Yépez told the CPJ that the station would appeal the decision.

The radio station’s offices had previously been raided in October 2019 on charges of “inciting discord against citizens,” according to a report from CPJ at the time. Edison Lanza, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, stated that the revocation of licensing and closure of a media outlet is a very grave measure, expressed concern with this resolution and called for continued judicial protective measures for the radio station.