IACHR Files Application Before Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Case Concerning Ecuador

June 1, 2023

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Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) filed on November 23, 2022, an application before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, with regard to Ecuador, in the case involving the unlawful and arbitrary arrest of Walter Ernesto Reyes Mantilla, Vicente Hipólito Arce Ronquillo, and José Frank Serrano Barrera, as well as violations of the rights of the three men while in detention and criminal-law proceedings.

The victims were arrested in several antinarcotics police raids in 1995. These raids involved an excessive use of force and lacked the required arrest warrants, although the victims had not been caught in the act. The legislation that enabled these arrests is incompatible with the legality principle regarding personal liberty. Concerning José Frank Serrano, a foreigner, the State violated his right to contact his country's consulate.

Pretrial detention was sustained for too long, because there were criminal-law regulations in place—since declared unconstitutional—that precluded requests for a release from prison to await trial for crimes linked to drug trafficking. The Commission noted that rules that provide for mandatory pretrial detention or ban the release from prison to await trial for certain types of crimes violate the right to personal liberty and the principle of equality before the law. In this sense, the pretrial detention of Reyes, Serrano, and Arce was arbitrary and discriminatory and went on for an unreasonable period of time.

The victims also denounced that they had been subjected to torture while in pretrial detention, and that they had been held incommunicado and deprived of medical care. The State failed to investigate these allegations. The victims were also forced to confess and coerced to provide, in the absence of their lawyers, statements that were later used in criminal proceedings.

The Commission noted that the victims had not been granted effective judicial remedies, since the only available instrument to contest their deprivation of liberty was a habeas corpus appeal and this proved particularly ineffective for victims charged with crimes under antinarcotics legislation.

Concerning the presumption of innocence, the IACHR noted that regulations were applied to these victims that imposed on them the task of reversing a "serious presumption of responsibility," which has been declared incompatible with the American Convention.

Finally, in the arrest of Walter Reyes, the authorities seized the car he was travelling in and have to date failed to return the vehicle (even after he was cleared of responsibility), which entails a violation of his right to property.

The Commission further concluded that the State had violated the right to humane treatment of the victims' families in this case, taking into account the suffering and the anxiety they were subjected to in connection with the case.

The IACHR therefore concluded that the State of Ecuador was liable for violations of the rights to humane treatment, personal liberty, judicial guarantees, and judicial protection, as well as the rights to property and equal protection, held in Articles 5.1, 5.2, 7.1, 7.2, 7.3, 7.4, 7.5, 7.6, 8.1, 8.2, 8.2(d), 8.3, 21, 24, 25.1, and 25.2(c) of the American Convention on Human Rights, concerning the obligations held in Article 1.1 and 2 of that instrument. The IACHR further concluded that the State was liable for violating Articles 1, 6, and 8 of the Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture.

In its Merits Report, the Commission recommended that the State:

  1. Provide comprehensive reparations to the victims mentioned in the report, both material and immaterial.
  2. Provide any physical and mental healthcare necessary for the rehabilitation of the victims and their families who request it, in agreement with them.
  3. Launch a diligent, effective, and timely ex-officio criminal investigation to establish events surrounding allegations of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment and to identify and punish anyone responsible for them.
  4. Take measures to prevent similar events from happening again in the future (particularly through training for law enforcement officers, judges, and public prosecutors concerning the complete ban on torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment and the need to strengthen accountability mechanisms).

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. 107/23

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