Press Release

IACHR Laments Deaths in Fire at Ecuadorian Drug Rehabilitation Center

January 24, 2019

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) laments the fire that killed 18 people and left a further eight injured at a drug rehabilitation center in Ecuador. The IACHR urges the Ecuadorian State to adopt any measures necessary to prevent such events from happening again in the future, and to investigate what happened and punish anyone responsible.

According to publicly available reports, a fire ravaged the private rehabilitation clinic for alcohol and drug users Por Una Nueva Vida, in Guayaquil, on January 11. The fire was allegedly caused by residents, during a riot that involved burning mattresses. According to the Governor’s Office in the province of Guayas, several people suffered “highly complex burns” and had to be taken to various hospitals for treatment. Other inmates were reportedly sent to “foster homes” after undergoing medical examinations.

The Guayas provincial government said that an investigation was ongoing and that various authorities—including the National Police—had collected information and evidence at the site. In that context, the Commission calls on the Ecuadorian State to ensure due diligence in such investigations. Beyond trying to establish who is responsible for events at the rehabilitation center, investigations must also seek out any authorities who might be to blame based on their actions or omissions. The Ecuadorian government informed the IACHR that through the Ministry of the Interior it is conducting investigations into the case, "which are aimed at determining the responsibility of the perpetrators of the facts and the authorities who may be responsible by action or omission, in order to overcome structural shortcomings".

Further, according to official reports, this private rehabilitation clinic was operating illegally, since its operating permit had not been renewed as required. In particular, the Commission observes that these regrettable events happened in a context where many such clinics are operating illegally in Ecuador, without the necessary permits. Considering that human rights violations are frequent in rehabilitation facilities that are not subjected to adequate audits and that people who receive such health treatment are particularly vulnerable, the IACHR insists on States’ obligation to regulate and audit all healthcare services provided to these patients under its jurisdiction. That obligation is linked to States’ special duty to protect patients’ life and integrity, whether such services are provided by public or private institutions. In this regard, the Ecuadorian State reported that the Agency for Quality Assurance of Health Services and Prepaid Medicine (ACESS) applies the "Regulations for the Control and Operation of Establishments that provide Treatment Services with Problematic Alcohol and Drug Consumption", and the "Regulations for the Application of the Licensing Process in Establishments of the National Health System". It also informed that through ACESS, the Ecuadorian State carries out actions of supervision and control of both public and private health centers.

“States must audit and regulate all healthcare services—whether private or public—provided under its jurisdiction, especially to institutionalized persons,” said Commissioner Joel Hernández, IACHR Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty. “In this context, regarding treatment for people with a problematic drug use, it is essential for States to prioritize and invest in outpatient care that prevents such patients from being institutionalized,” Hernández added.

"I express my deep concern for the health of people who consume drugs and highlight the urgent need to adopt measures to provide comprehensive care to this population group," said Commissioner Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño, IACHR Rapporteur for Ecuador. The IACHR received information from the State of Ecuador indicating that the Ministry of Public Health has begun the process of implementing a Comprehensive Mental and Community Health Care Complex in the city of Guayaquil, where care will be provided to people with problematic consumption of alcohol and other drugs.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 013/19