Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
Human rights organizations, however, reported excessive force by security forces was likely responsible for several of the 11 deaths reported by the comptroller during October 2019 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. A March 17 report from the ombudsman-created Special Commission for Truth and Justice alleged that up to six of the deaths during the protests could constitute extrajudicial killings and called on judicial authorities to further investigate the actions of security forces. 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.
On August 30, a judge accepted a prosecutor’s request to indict two former police officers accused of attempted murder (constituting an attempted extrajudicial killing) in 2010 of taxi driver Aldo Zambrano in Guayaquil. The judge found the former officers had acted arbitrarily and negligently in shooting Zambrano.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
Regarding the 2012 kidnapping in Colombia of opposition legislator Fernando Balda, in August 2020 the National Court of Justice 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. Romero appealed the ruling, with a subsequent ruling pending as of October 27. The National Court confirmed that Ecuador’s extradition request remained in process as of October 27.
On January 28, the country’s representative to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights accepted the state’s responsibility for the forced disappearance in Quito in 1990 of writer Cesar Gustavo Garzon Guzman. The agents responsible for Garzon’s disappearance remained unknown.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
While the law prohibits torture and similar forms of intimidation and punishment, there were reports that police officers and prison guards tortured and abused suspects and prisoners.
Human rights activists asserted that as of September 28, officials had not investigated claims alleging police kidnappings and torture or other forms of degrading treatment during police interrogations related to the October 2019 protests. Human rights advocates said prosecutors could potentially request the cases be closed starting in October, since the law stipulates the statute of limitations is two years for some crimes, although longer for more egregious ones.
A hearing on the case concerning the February 2020 deaths of six prisoners in Turi Prison was scheduled for January 2022 to identify which prison officials or inmates may be responsible for the speculated torture resulting in the deaths.
On November 14, a court in Azuay Province sentenced 37 police officers to 106 days in prison each for excessive use of force in a 2016 operation to confiscate contraband from inmates in Turi Prison. In the operation, officers beat and forced alleged violators to perform exercises in stressful positions while nude. The prosecutor’s office, which sought convictions for torture, said it would appeal the ruling.
On February 10, the Attorney General’s Office announced a 12-year, seven-month prison sentence for a police officer in Pillaro, Tungurahua Province, for raping a 24-year-old woman in September 2020 after taking her on a date in his patrol car.
Although impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces, human rights nongovernmental organizations (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 public concern regarding alleged human rights abuses during the protests.
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 disappearances. Human rights defenders reported the National Police Internal Affairs Unit and Attorney General’s Office 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.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to escalating 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. As of March 19, the official overpopulation estimate was 29 percent. 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. A 2019 report in the daily newspaper El Comercio said 40 percent of the population in the 11 centers for juvenile offenders were due to reach adulthood during their sentence.
Prison officials and human rights organizations agreed most violent deaths in prisons were linked to tension among criminal gangs with links to drug cartels. Fighting between drug-trafficking gangs in prisons led to 331 violent deaths through October 27, the highest-ever recorded annual total, with gangs employing increasingly brutal and sophisticated tactics. As of October prison deaths were more than six times the 2020 total (52) and more than 10 times the 2019 total (32). On February 23, coordinated attacks across four prisons between armed prison gangs resulted in a total of 79 inmates dead. The July 22 prison riots in the Latacunga Rehabilitation Center in Cotopaxi Province and the Litoral Prison in Guayaquil left 22 inmates dead. On September 28, a record 118 inmates died after continued fighting in Litoral Prison, and an additional 65 inmates died in November 12 clashes in the same facility. Other prison disturbances throughout the year included four inmates killed by hanging, also at Litoral Prison, on October 13 and seven on October 23. Police and prison authorities continued investigations into the incidents as of December 1.
During the July 22 riot, prison gangs injured eight police officers and sexually assaulted one female police officer as police attempted to retake control. Further, in the July 22 riots, inmates reportedly fired on prison staff and police reinforcements with high-caliber rifles, complicating government efforts to re-establish control. Government and media sources pointed out that gangs employed more gruesome tactics than in the past, including beheadings, dismemberment, live incineration, and torture. These events were captured on video and shared widely on commercial messaging services, presumably to intimidate rival gangs and the government.
NGOs reported that criminal organizations operating within and outside of prisons intimidated prison staff while on and off duty and inmates enlisted visitors and prison staff to help smuggle contraband into prisons. On July 13, the Attorney General’s Office placed in pretrial detention a suspect arrested while attempting to smuggle two rifles, four handguns, more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition, and four explosive grenades into Litoral Prison. On June 30, a Venezuelan national was arrested outside Litoral Prison and placed into pretrial detention for attempting to smuggle more than six pounds of cocaine and marijuana, a shotgun, three handguns, ammunition of various calibers, and other prohibited items.
In August 2020 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 March 9, media reported former Litoral Prison director Hector Vivar was sentenced to 20 months in prison for extortion and ordered to pay a fine. Vivar was convicted for his involvement in a bribery scheme in which he demanded $30,000 in exchange for Dahan’s protection and safety. According to media Vivar had two other cases against him, one for illicit association, the other for delinquency, linked to his time as prison director pending as of September 18.
On August 25, the Attorney General’s Office announced three inmates were sentenced to 34 years and eight months each for the murder of two other inmates in Litoral Prison in July 2020.
President Lasso declared a state of emergency following the July 22 prison riots and replaced the prison system director to help re-establish control. Minister of Government Alexandra Vela proposed to decrease prison violence by reducing overcrowding through the release of approximately 5,200 nonviolent offenders, foreigners, and elderly inmates. Law enforcement experts noted that such a plan was unlikely to reduce violence in the short term because power disputes between gangs dominating the prisons remained unresolved. On August 18, new prison system director Fausto Cobo announced an additional $75 million in funding over four years to improve prison infrastructure, upgrade surveillance technology, and hire and train additional prison staff. After the first state of emergency expired September 20, President Lasso declared a second state of emergency on September 29 in response to the September 28 prison killings and announced an additional $24 million to improve security and conditions specifically in Guayaquil area prisons. Lasso renewed the state of emergency in the prison system for 30 days on November 29.
On November 15, the president announced a comprehensive, seven-point “national agreement” to curb prison violence and confront drug-trafficking gangs. The plan included elements such as continued police and military efforts to provide order and security inside and outside prisons, legislative changes to reform use of force protocols, accelerated judicial processes to reduce overcrowding, and civil society support for conflict resolution between prison gangs.
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. A November 2020 media report highlighted that potable water would be brought into the Latacunga prison via truck “permanently.”
Prisoners noted inconsistent and generally insufficient protection and isolation measures from COVID-19 infection in prisons. On February 1, media reported that 124 inmates had died nationwide of COVID-19-related complications and noted 17,042 (of 37,676 total) inmates in prisons nationwide tested positive for COVID-19 in 2020. The same media report highlighted the August 2020 ombudsman report, which stated that despite the stresses the COVID-19 pandemic placed on the prison health-care system – most prominently, inadequate staffing – prisons continued to provide adequate care overall for other illnesses among inmates including diabetes, HIV, and hypertension. 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.
Administration: Authorities sometimes conducted investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment in prisons.
Human rights organizations continued to report that visitors 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.
Independent Monitoring: Civil society representatives continued to report restrictions to monitoring by independent NGO observers. According to the NGO Permanent Committee 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.