IACHR Files Application Before Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Case Concerning Journalist's Death During a Protest in Ecuador

October 31, 2023

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Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) filed on July 9, 2023, an application before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Case 12,919, with regard to Ecuador. This case concerns the death of photojournalist Julio García Romero during a demonstration in 2005 and the failure to diligently and effectively investigate it.

On April 19, 2005, Julio García Romero attended a demonstration in Quito to do his job as a photojournalist. As noted by the investigating attorney, the police brutally attacked demonstrators and used very large quantities of tear gas against them. According to Ecuador's Truth Commission, García Romero saw that some children were choking due to the tear gas. He reportedly scolded police officers for this repression, and they responded with more tear gas, which made García Romero himself choke and die.

In April 2007, Ecuador's Attorney General dismissed this case, arguing that the photojournalist's death did not amount to intentional homicide. The Ecuadorian Attorney General found that it had not been adequately established that the police officers in question had acted without the foresight and caution due when repressing a popular protest. Ecuador's Supreme Court of Justice upheld the Attorney General's decision and ordered that the case be closed in October 2007.

In its Merits Report, the Commission found that the State had violated Julio García Romero's right to life. In particular, the IACHR established that the use of tear gas had failed to comply with the principles of legality, necessity, and proportionality. The Commission also found that police operations had not been regulated, organized, or overseen with a view to protecting demonstrators.

The IACHR further determined that the lack of a legal framework to regulate the actions of law enforcement forces in mass protests violates Ecuador's obligations on this matter. The Commission also found that the State had violated García Romero's rights to freedom of thought, expression, and assembly, since he had been covering the protest at the time of his death. Concerning the rights to a fair trial and to judicial protection, the Commission concluded that these events had not been subjected to an adequate and effective investigation. The decision to dismiss the criminal complaint was based on a criterion that granted impunity to officers of the State and blamed the victim for exercising his fundamental rights.

In this context, the Commission found that the State was responsible for violations of the rights held in Articles 4 (life), 5.1 (personal integrity), 8.1 (judicial guarantees), 13 (freedom of expression), 15 (assembly), and 25.1 (judicial protection) of the American Convention on Human Rights, in keeping with the obligations held in Articles 1.1 and 2 of the same instrument.

The Commission therefore recommended that the State adopt the following reparation measures:

  1. Provide comprehensive reparations to Julio García Romero's family, including economic compensation and redress measures
  2. Conduct a thorough and impartial investigation into the death of Julio García Romero and establish who was responsible for it
  3. Hold a public event to apologize for these events, mentioning the human rights violations committed against Julio García Romero and paying tribute to the photojournalist
  4. Change domestic regulations to bring them in line with international standards concerning exceptional restrictions of the right to protest
  5. Change domestic regulations to regulate the use of force in social demonstrations, particularly the use of non-lethal weapons and tear gas
  6. Adopt and implement planning, monitoring, oversight, and accountability mechanisms to prevent abuse during protests
  7. Set up permanent training programs for law enforcement agencies, including content about human rights and about the protection of journalists during protests

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. 256/23

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