IACHR Press Office
Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has published its thematic report Situation of Persons Who Are Deprived of Liberty in Ecuador. The report pulls together the findings of the IACHR's working visit to the country over the period December 1–3, 2021, and addresses the challenges faced by the State.
This report describes the challenges facing the State in the face of the serious structural penitentiary crisis facing the country, and the imminent risk to life and integrity faced by persons deprived of liberty. In this regard, the prevailing prison crisis is characterized by unprecedented high levels of violence and corruption within prisons, and responds to the state's neglect of the prison system for years, as well as the absence of a comprehensive criminal policy.
In 2021, a total of 316 persons who were deprived of liberty at the time died while in State custody in Ecuador, while hundreds were injured in a series of inmate-perpetrated attacks. This figure amounts to a 587% increase relative to 2020, when 46 detainees had been killed in similar circumstances. Most of the inmates who died were young men in pretrial detention for minor offenses, some of whom were even set to be released after having obtained the necessary court warrants.
The IACHR has identified as the main causes of this prison violence the lack of effective State control of the facilities where the most serious violence happened, which allegedly meant that detainees controlled penitentiaries.
In particular, the IACHR report notes the prevalence of a policy that favors incarceration as a way to solve crime problems (which has led to an exponential rise in inmate numbers in recent years), an excessive use of pretrial detention, legal and administrative hurdles to grant pardons and other benefits, and the inability to ensure detainees' social reintegration. The report further warns that prison system institutions have been weakened by shrinking budgets, technical staff and guard shortages, and the lack of a suitable penitentiary policy.
The IACHR also notes deplorable conditions of detention in overcrowded facilities, a failure to keep convicts separate from individuals who are yet to be tried, deficient infrastructure, negligent medical care, and inadequate food. The report stresses the risk of violence faced by female inmates, made worse by the fact that women's and men's facilities tend to be close to each other.
The report's recommendations reflect the applicable inter-American and international standards. These include the need to implement a comprehensive, cross-sectional penitentiary and criminal justice policy, taking effective action to prevent and control violence of any kind; reduce prison populations by ensuring that pretrial detention is only an exceptional measure; and ensure social reintegration for individuals who were formerly deprived of liberty. The IACHR further calls on the State to strengthen the institutions of Ecuador's penitentiary system and to ensure conditions of detention that respect human dignity.
These measures need to be adopted with a gender perspective and an awareness of the historical discrimination of vulnerable groups. The Commission urges the three branches of the Ecuadorian government to take a common path that enables the participation of detainees, their families, and civil society organizations in any measures that are adopted.
Finally, the Inter-American Commission stresses that it will continue to closely monitor the situation of persons who are deprived of liberty in Ecuador. The IACHR notes that it will provide the technical assistance that has been requested by the Ecuadorian president, to support the State in its efforts to overcome this serious penitentiary system crisis and implement recommendations.
A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region, based on the Charter of the OAS and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.