Press Release

IACHR Issues Observations Following Visit to Ecuador

January 14, 2020

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Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) visited Ecuador on October 28–30, 2019, invited by the Ecuadorian State. This visit sought to observe on site the situation of human rights in the country, following the social protests of October 3–13. This press release details the IACHR’s observations about the visit.

First, the Commission thanks the State of Ecuador for its invitation and for the assistance it provided to efforts to organize and conduct a successful visit, including logistical arrangements concerning transportation and security. The Commission also commends the authorities for their open mind and receptiveness to address the issues that were of interest to the IACHR, as well as the State’s commitment to the inter-American system to protect human rights. The IACHR further commends the Ecuadorian State—beyond its invitation and support for this visit—for the constant commitment it has shown in recent years through its participation in hearings and working meetings and through its contributions to drafts of the Inter-American Commission’s annual reports.

According to publicly available reports, Ecuadorian President Lenín Moreno issued Decree 884 in response to the violence and plundering that ran parallel to the protests that followed the government launch of an economic package to suspend fuel subsidies. Based on the serious unrest and disruptions of public order, this decree declared a 60-day national state of emergency and suspended the rights to freedom of assembly and association. The Constitutional Court issued a favorable constitutional verification report on Decree 884, although it reduced to 30 days the duration of the state of emergency. On October 8, the Ecuadorian president issued Decree 888, ordering the seat of government to be moved to Guayaquil; restricting the right to freedom of movement within the country in cases that harm other people’s rights and safeguards; and stressed that all the actions of law enforcement agencies and their officers in cases involving harm to their own rights and those of others would always fully respect human rights and constitutional safeguards and strictly comply with the international human rights instruments ratified by the State of Ecuador.

According to publicly available reports, the State response in this context led to protests that were in some cases repressed with an excessive use of force, particularly against members of indigenous communities who joined demonstrations in Quito and on their own ancestral lands. However, the Commission also notes that, under certain circumstances, some groups of demonstrators caused serious violence during some protests, by throwing stones and other objects at police officers and engaging in plunder, arson, and other types of attacks (in some cases, even against the media). The State said that the state of emergency had been decreed to counter violence, plundering, and other attacks by demonstrators.

During its visit to Ecuador, the IACHR received abundant information and heard many statements concerning acts of violence, the State response to them, and the dialogue that emerged among the various parties involved. To access this information, the IACHR delegation split into four teams. Each team travelled to a different city to visit State facilities, detention centers, and some of the sites where protests had taken place.

The Commission met with officials of the three branches of government and of oversight authorities including the Constitutional Court. It also met with many individuals and organizations representing many sectors of society—including organizations of indigenous peoples—in Quito, Cuenca, Guayaquil, and Latacunga. These efforts led to a large number of statements delivered by individuals who said they had suffered rights violations or otherwise been directly or indirectly affected by the protests and by the containment policy implemented by the State.

Ecuador’s ministries of Foreign Affairs and the Interior and other government institutions provided support for the visit, as did the Ecuadorian Ombudsperson’s Office.

The Commission met with officials from the Ecuadorian Presidency; the Ministries of the Interior, Defense, Foreign Affairs, Human Rights, Culture, Education, Economic and Social Inclusion, Public Health, the Environment and Water, and Energy and Non-Renewable Resources; and the State’s General Audit Office, in that order. The delegation also met with representatives of the Constitutional Court, the Office of the State’s Attorney General, the National Assembly, and the Council for Citizen Engagement and Social Control. At the provincial level, the delegation met with representatives of the Guayaquil Mayor’s Office, the Guayas Prefecture and Governor’s Office, the Latacunga Mayor’s Office, the Tungurahua Prefecture, the Cotopaxi Prefecture, the Cuenca Mayor’s Office, the Prefecture of Zamora Chinchipe, the Azuay Prefecture and Governor’s Office, and the Quito Mayor’s Office. The IACHR delegation also visited the Quito Temporary Detention Center “El Inca” and the Regional Incarceration Center Sierra Centro Norte Cotopaxi; the National Service for Forensic Medicine and Forensic Science; and the site of the General Audit Office building, which had been destroyed by fire in the context of the protests.

Over the course of its mission, the IACHR delegation also met with representatives of civil society organizations, indigenous movements, transport professionals, businesspeople, private-sector trade unions, representatives of universities and hospitals, journalists, and officers of law enforcement agencies. The IACHR delegation also visited the Ecuadorian Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities (CONAIE, by its Spanish acronym).

During this visit, the IACHR interviewed a total of 439 people and collected 380 testimonies provided by individuals who allege that they are victims of human rights violations and other harm inflicted in the context of the protests. The allegations include a lack of consultation and participation ahead of the adoption of measures that affect people’s social rights; irregularities in mechanisms to file complaints and to demand the protection of constitutional safeguards; the failure to keep the families of detainees or dead individuals informed about their whereabouts or fate; hurdles for the provision of medical services in public hospitals; hostility and even assaults against human rights defenders, journalists, and employees of various private, community-run, and online media outlets; and the use of the criminal justice system against demonstrators, social leaders, and opposition activists.

The Commission stresses that it used an intercultural approach to collect statements from indigenous persons. From its initial greetings to farewell conventions, the IACHR’s technical team sought to preserve an atmosphere of trust and respect for each participant’s timing and needs. The Commission also found an open attitude to obtain collective testimonies. With civil society organizations, it set up linguistic consultancy networks to provide any assistance needed, in case interpreters or translators might be required.

The Commission was further informed of various different effects of violent actions committed against officers of the State which may amount to crimes, including firing homemade weapons and firebombs and kidnapping more than 400 officers of law enforcement agencies (many of whom alleged that they had suffered ill-treatment, including sexual violence against female police officers). Stones were reportedly thrown at ambulances, and firefighters were prevented from working normally; shop owners were attacked, amid acts of plundering and vandalism; workers were violently displaced to prevent the operations of industrial facilities; roads were blocked in several provinces around the country, leading to shortages of medication and food that affected thousands of people; the supply of drinking water was sabotaged, which cut off supply for populated areas; public buildings were set ablaze, which put neighboring areas at risk; media outlets were attacked, including attempts to set on fire a TV station’s and a newspaper’s facilities while there were people inside; and journalists were attacked, among others. The Commission was also informed of large financial and material damage caused both to the State and to some of the country’s productive economic sectors. Media outlets, police and military facilities, and ambulances were some of the assets that suffered destruction or other types of damage as a consequence of plundering, arson, and other forms of violence. The Commission was told that these events had caused chaos and anxiety throughout the country.

Concerning the visit in itself, the IACHR notes that its delegation was harassed during its visit to Latacunga jail by security personnel at the facility, who banned IACHR representatives from taking photos and recording videos and prevented them from carrying out their tasks at the site. The IACHR stresses—in accordance with its Rules of Procedure—that any invitation issued by a State for the Commission to conduct an observation visit necessarily includes access to detention centers. The Commission notes the apology issued by the Foreign Ministry, who said that “the Ecuadorian government has made every effort to enable the IACHR mission to do its job with full independence [...] and facilitated transportation, security, and access to all the sites that the Commission requested access to, with no exceptions.” “During the visit to the Social Rehabilitation Center in Cotopaxi (CRS, by its Spanish acronym), there was an unfortunate misunderstanding concerning compliance with security protocols to enter the facility. This will be subjected to a thorough examination, so it does not happen again in case the IACHR wishes to visit the Center again,” the government said.

These observations have been subdivided into those concerning the background of the protests, the protests themselves, and the main human rights violations observed. Finally, the Commission issues a series of recommendations to the State, so it may provide reparations for those violations and ensure that they will not happen again.


A. Timeframe of the economic measures adopted by the State and the start of the protests

On October 1, 2019, the Executive issued Decree 883, adopting a series of measures including changes in regulations concerning the price of hydrocarbons. As noted by the State, these changes adopted a new formula to set the price of hydrocarbon products, which did not take into consideration the subsidy on gasoline. Various social sectors told the IACHR that these measures—nicknamed the “super package” by Ecuadorians—included ending a subsidy on diesel fuel that had been in place in Ecuador for 40 years and cutting benefits for public servants. Several groups within society—including freight transportation workers, public transportation users, small-scale producers, and indigenous peoples and their organizations—rejected the changes.

The State authorities and social groups who provided the IACHR with information on this issue agreed that there had been a lack of social participation and transparency in the adoption of these economic measures. For the sake of comparison, they noted that, on a previous occasion, the government had led a dialogue on the country’s economic situation and anticipated potential measures to reduce the budget deficit, including an increase in VAT. However, they said that the elimination of the gasoline subsidy and cuts in worker benefits had taken them by surprise, since no consultation and participation process had been implemented to engage social groups and citizens in general.

Both publicly available reports and the interviews that the IACHR conducted during its visit indicated that these measures triggered immediate discontent in several sectors within society, despite garnering the support of some corporate stakeholders. The publication of Decree 883 triggered a transport strike and social demonstrations, as well as the gradual arrival in Quito of indigenous movements. There were also occupations and barricades in critical and strategic infrastructure, including oil wells, roads, and water treatment plants. According to information provided by the State, these actions caused major financial damage.

Protests were initially peaceful, although they affected traffic and the supply of products to several cities. However, during the first 48 hours of protests, the National Police and the Interior Ministry reported non-peaceful events and a likely escalation of violence in demonstrations. In that context, the State stressed that “there was no turning back” concerning the measures launched by the decree that triggered the protests.

However, based on the abundant information received during the visit, the police response to various forms of expression during demonstrations appears to have been disproportionate, as stated by scores of demonstrator testimonies collected by the IACHR. Around 30 journalists and camera operators from traditional and community media told the Commission that they had been attacked by police officers as they covered the protests, and that, in some cases, they had been forced to destroy their records of those events. The IACHR delegation was shown videos of some of these attacks. However, there were also several serious acts of violence—including deliberate fires in public buildings and media outlets and other well-coordinated incidents—perpetrated by groups who remain unidentified.

While the IACHR acknowledges and notes that there were some non-peaceful events or incidents during protests (as the Commission has said in the past), some authorities gradually developed a narrative against demonstrators and branded them all as “terrorists,” without distinctions. In their testimony before the IACHR during this visit, indigenous peoples also denounced racist and discriminatory comments made both by political actors and by a portion of the media. The government also told the IACHR delegation that there had been instances of deliberate misinformation that increased discontent with the new measures among Ecuadorians.

In this context, on October 3, the Executive issued Executive Decree 884, to declare a 60-day national state of emergency—based on its constitutional powers—to restrict “freedom of association, assembly, and movement.” This was later strengthened through Executive Decree 888, with a curfew and the deployment of the Armed Forces to supplement law enforcement in Quito. The decree to declare a state of emergency suspended freedom of assembly and association and restricted freedom of movement, and it enabled the military to join efforts to keep the protests in check. Based only on the information provided by the State, public forces were deployed to protect individuals in the face of exceptional situations where ordinary measures had proved insufficient to restore law and order and to protect Ecuadorians’ rights.

The Constitutional Court reviewed the state of emergency and noted in its resolution that the National Police and the Armed Forces had to do their duty to protect citizens’ integrity and rights. The IACHR delegation met with the Court’s president, who said a majority of the panel had been convinced with the argument that the violence that was evident in the country justified the state of emergency. However, the Court’s decision restricted the state of emergency to just 30 days, instead of the 60 days mentioned in the decree.

Rejection of Decree 883, along with the events that followed the declaration of a state of emergency, exacerbated the protests. Thousands of indigenous persons traveled to Quito to take part in a strike. According to the testimonies the IACHR heard during its visit, peaceful havens were set up in various universities and in the cultural center known as Casa de la Cultura to support demonstrators and to provide them with food and a place to rest. These groups demanded that the decree be repealed, and also called for an end to repression.

The Commission notes that the indigenous peoples who traveled to Quito and other social movements were exercising their right to protest. In particular, social movements and indigenous organizations told the IACHR that they had intended to demonstrate peacefully. According to information the IACHR had access to during its visit, on October 14—following negotiations with the Ecuadorian Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities (CONAIE, by its Spanish acronym), the Council of Indigenous Peoples and Organizations (FEINE, by its Spanish acronym), and the National Confederation of Peasants, Indigenous Persons, and Black Women (FENOCIN, by its Spanish acronym)—President Moreno issued Decree 894, to repeal Decree 883. He stressed his call for harmony, peace, and social reconciliation. Article 2 in this decree provided for the immediate adoption of “a new decree that enables a fuel-subsidy policy based on a comprehensive approach, with rational, well-focused, and sectorally defined criteria, that ensures these subsidies are not used to benefit fuel smugglers or people with greater access to financial resources.”

According to his own office, President Moreno told the nation that he had signed the repeal of Decree 883 and that the authorities were “ready to further pursue debate on a new and improved [decree],” in line with their commitments. The president further informed the country that dialogue remained “open with all sectors of good will.”

The IACHR and its Special Rapporteurship on Economic, Social, Cultural, and Environmental Rights (SRESCER) observed that the economic measures adopted in Decree 883 were not preceded by a citizen consultation process or an impact assessment in terms of the progressive economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights that might be affected by it, considering Ecuador’s commitments and the applicable international standards, in the context of the inter-American and universal human rights systems.

During the visit, national authorities told the IACHR that the reform sought to address fuel smuggling and included social measures to counter the potential impact of ending fuel subsidies for the most disadvantaged individuals and groups. However, according to the information the Commission received, citizens were not consulted about these measures, which were also not adequately explained. According to these reports, a significant portion of the population considered that these measures harmed their interests and acquired rights and protested against those measures. The IACHR and its SRESCER are pleased that the Ecuadorian Presidency later invited all affected sectors to a process of national dialogue, launched on October 13, 2019 and facilitated by the United Nations and the Ecuadorian Bishops’ Conference. The dialogue is still ongoing, through roundtables involving various stakeholders and chaired by the highest authorities of the State—Ecuador’s president, vice president, and several ministers.

When faced with austerity measures or economic reforms that might affect access to and enjoyment of economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights, the IACHR and its Special Rapporteurship on this matter have issued a special call to States, so they ensure that, “whenever they decide to implement austerity measures or economic reforms that may affect access to economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights and the enjoyment of these rights, they make sure that citizens—particularly the most vulnerable groups—are adequately informed and consulted and take part in the decision-making process.” “These measures and reforms must include an impact analysis concerning human rights and take into consideration the relevant obligations of Member States of the Organization of American States (OAS),” the IACHR and its Special Rapporteurship have said.

In this context, the IACHR and its Special Rapporteurship highlight the United Nations’ Guiding Principles on Human Rights Impact Assessments of Economic Reforms, to direct States and other stakeholders so they respect and comply with their obligations in this matter. The IACHR further notes the Final Observations made to Ecuador on November 14, 2019, following an evaluation of the Fourth Periodic Report on Ecuador issued by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. In this document, the Committee expressed concern about the impact of austerity measures on the enjoyment of economic, social, and cultural rights. It recommended, among others, that the State assess in advance the effects on economic, social, and cultural rights of any measures to respond to economic deterioration, to ensure that they will not have disproportionate effects on disadvantaged groups. The Committee further recommended that Ecuador take into consideration that regressive measures are only compatible with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights when they are necessary and proportionate, to the extent that adopting any other policies or refraining from action would be more harmful for the exercise of economic, social, and cultural rights. Further, the affected groups need to have been consulted on these regressive measures, which must also be subjected to an independent assessment.

According to the statistics issued by the Ecuadorian Ministry of Economic and Social Inclusion, there are approximately 140,000 people who live in moderate or extreme poverty in the country. Based on these data, in December 2018, 23% of all Ecuadorian residents were poor and 8.4% lived in extreme poverty, which led to increased investment in social assistance programs and to a rise in the number of beneficiaries of these programs. According to official Ecuadorian government data, by September 2019, 23.9% of the country’s people lived in moderate poverty and 8.7% lived in extreme poverty. In urban areas, 16.3% of people were moderately poor and 4.6% lived in extreme poverty. In rural areas, 40.3% of the population was moderately poor, while 17.4% lived in extreme poverty.

In this context—in line with the international commitments made by the State when it ratified treaties like the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Protocol of San Salvador and with the goal of meeting the Sustainable Development Goals held in the 2030 Agenda—a rights approach is essential to determine Ecuador’s economic and fiscal policies, particularly austerity measures that might involve suspending or rolling back the progressive development of economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights. As the IACHR said in its report on Poverty and Human Rights, “States should refrain from adopting policies, measures and legal rules that – without adequate and justifiable grounds – worsen the situation of the population’s economic, social and cultural rights. The State has the duty to account for how available resources have been employed to a maximum degree to progressively achieve full effectiveness of these rights.”

The Commission also notes reports that Ecuador’s indigenous organizations submitted a proposal to the government on October 31. The proposal sought to present an alternative economic model and stated “that the wealth that is created by all Ecuadorians be fairly distributed and enable the country to build a fair, just, democratic, and participatory society that resolves its conflicts through dialogue, social peace, and the search for consensus.”

The Presidency said that President Moreno had submitted a bill on economic growth to the National Assembly. The relevant press release stressed that the Executive drafted this bill following a series of talks with various sectors and noted that “the funds that are raised with the Tax Reform plan will go to the people who need them most—65% of all public investment will be devoted to social programs.”

B. Indigenous peoples’ involvement in social protests

According to the information received by the IACHR, a broad dialogue between the State and various civil society groups was ongoing since June 2017, to address economic measures that might counter the difficulties the country was experiencing. The Ecuadorian Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities (CONAIE, by its Spanish acronym) was allegedly involved in that initiative and is said to have taken part in committees on land and territory, education, indigenous justice, farming, water, and amnesties. Following negotiations between Ecuador and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) so the country could access an Extended Fund Facility (EFF), the CONAIE criticized government moves concerning indigenous affairs and, on August 23, 2019, walked out of the talks and launched progressive national protests against the State’s economic policies. These protests had been planned for October 9 or October 14, but they were finally scheduled for October 1, when President Moreno announced a series of measures linked to economic austerity in the country.

In the context of these protests, on October 3, 2019, indigenous organizations said, both individually and through CONAIE, that they rejected the economic measures announced by the State and supported the freight transportation workers who were blocking roads in the country’s main cities. Over the following days, grassroots indigenous communities and representatives of Ecuador’s top indigenous organizations announced they would protest in Quito and other areas.

According to reports heard by the IACHR, officers of the National Police and the Armed Forces allegedly committed serious human rights violations against the indigenous movement during the state of emergency and the curfew declared by the Ecuadorian government. The Commission was told of evictions from peaceful havens and accommodation facilities, as well as of the use of tear gas and firearms. The IACHR was informed about repression against indigenous and social movements, which reportedly persisted until initial talks were launched with the State in areas like the province of Azuay Cuenca/Molleturo, the province of Cotopaxi, Tungurahua, Imbabura, the province of Loja Saraguro, the provinces of Pastaza and Morona Santiago Pastaza, and the province of Pichincha Cayambem, and also in Quito. The State said that, for 11 days in October 2019, Ecuador endured a severe political and security crisis and serious domestic unrest. In this context, the State said, law enforcement agencies sought to preserve law and order and to protect citizens’ safety, and they worked to protect individuals in the face of exceptional situations where ordinary measures are insufficient to restore law and order and to protect Ecuadorians’ rights.

On October 13, 2019, with the United Nations and the Ecuadorian Bishops’ Conference as facilitators, dialogue was relaunched between the indigenous movement and the national government. As noted above, these talks led to an agreement to repeal Decree 883 and to the creation of a working group to draft a new decree, aimed—among other things—at targeting fuel subsidies more specifically. The head of the CONAIE said that protests against the government were to end throughout Ecuador.

C. Plundering, damage caused to the private sector, and impact on the State’s law enforcement officers

The Commission was further informed of various different effects of violent actions committed against officers of the State which may amount to crimes, including firing homemade weapons and firebombs and kidnapping 430 soldiers and 202 police officers (many of whom suffered abuse, including sexual violence against female police officers). During its observation visit, the IACHR heard the testimonies of law enforcement officers and their families. They said, for example, that police officers had been kidnapped and made to walk before a group of 3,000–5,000 people in the Calderón district.

Beyond hostile acts targeting officers of law enforcement agencies, the Commission was informed of financial and material damage caused by violent groups both to the State—particularly strategic infrastructure, police stations, and a military base—and to some of the country’s productive economic sectors and media. The violence led to the destruction of public property (including ambulances and buildings) and also to vandalism (including plundering and arson) to create chaos and anxiety throughout the country.

The Commission notes the information provided by the State concerning the impact on firms, sectors, and consumers, as well as the major financial damage incurred by the State from the loss of income in exports and oil. The authorities told the IACHR that 1.7 billion barrels of oil failed to be produced, to cause an estimated loss of 94 million dollars. The flower industry said its losses were as high as 20 million dollars, counting bribes paid to prevent destruction of their loads and air transportation where needed (beyond the impact on workers who allegedly had to walk to work from their homes).

The IACHR was told about destruction and vandalism in governors’ offices in the provinces of Imbabura and Cañar. According to the State, the governors’ offices in Napo, Tungurahua, Bolívar, Pastaza, Chimborazo, and Morona-Santiago were occupied by demonstrators. In Cotopaxi, there was plundering and several plantations were destroyed. In Quito, the General Audit Office building was deliberately set ablaze and several floors were destroyed, while there were other well-coordinated attacks against strategic State facilities including oil wells, sources of drinking water used by cities, and communications antennas.

The Commission salutes interinstitutional coordination efforts implemented to prevent acts of violence in Latacunga, in the province of Cotopaxi. The IACHR was told of damage to property caused by demonstrators, and also of calls issued by various local authorities—including the chairs of parish boards, district councilors, mayors, provincial prefects, and governors—to hold assemblies and prior coordination sessions and make proposals to the central government on how to counter the challenges posed by social protests.

The Inter-American Commission condemns all forms of violence and reminds the State that it has a duty to investigate any unrest, intentional fires, acts of plundering, kidnappings, and acts of destruction perpetrated by private individuals—particularly those that have caused injuries—by identifying, prosecuting, and punishing anyone responsible for them. The State noted that, through Resolution 055 FGE 2019 of October 16, 2019, the Office of the State’s Attorney General built a “team of technical experts including public prosecutors in the Department of Human Rights and Citizen Participation and the National Specialized Unit to Investigate Transnational Organized Crime (UNIDOT) with the aim of providing an effective and timely response to any complaints filed before the Office of the State’s Attorney General concerning allegations of serious human rights violations, crimes against international humanitarian law, and crimes against public security that might have been committed over the period October 3–13, 2019.”


A. Assaults and other forms of attack on the media during protests

The escalation of violence obstructed the work the press, given a series of attacks against journalists and the media committed both by officers of law enforcement agencies and by demonstrators. These incidents were allegedly encouraged by stigmatizing comments against journalists and the media made by radical groups during protests.

The Commission and its Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression have voiced their rejection and concern regarding acts of violence perpetrated against the media in the protest context. According to reports received by the IACHR, there were more than 100 attacks on journalists, community media workers, photographers, camera operators, and media outlets. These attacks allegedly included threats, harassment, arbitrary arrests, physical assault, obstruction of coverage, equipment confiscations, indiscriminate use of chemical substances, surveillance, broadcast cancellations and raids on media facilities, and website and social media blocking, among other effects on freedom of expression.

According to information provided by civil society organizations, the Ombudsperson’s Office, and other Ecuadorian State institutions, there were approximately 120 attacks against journalists (including photographers, camera operators, and community media workers) and media outlets, while 20 media outlets were allegedly attacked, in the provinces of Pichincha, Guayas, Tungurahua, Chimborazo, Morona Santiago, Manabí, Azuay, Pastaza, and Sucumbíos.

Among allegations of attacks on journalists, some were particularly serious. Juan Carlos González, a reporter for the online news outlet Wambra, was allegedly hit in the face with a tear gas cannister in Quito. An officer of a motorized unit of the National Police in Guayaquil reportedly ran over Ronald Cedeño, a reporter for the newspaper Universal. Radio Tomebamba reporter Juan Francisco Beltrán, El Comercio photographer Julio Estrella, and a photographer for the API news agency, among others, were allegedly thrown pepper spray directly in the face while they were working. At least 12 riot police officers allegedly prevented Adriana Noboa, reporter for the Primicias website, and Yadira Trujillo, of the newspaper El Comercio, from recording repression against demonstrators on their cell phones. These reporters said police officers beat them with their batons. Journalists Charlie Granda, Luis Granda, and Wilson, of the radio station #Periférik, were attacked by a water cannon truck. On October 5, David Aguiar, a camera operator for the website Guarmillas, was injured with a rubber bullet in the top-right portion of his upper body. The State said it was investigating the allegations involving media workers to establish who might have been responsible for any attacks.

Demonstrators and members of trade unions and social movements taking part in protests also attacked media workers. Among many allegations of attacks and other incidents, TVC reporter Andrea Orbe and Tito Correa, the camera operator who was working with her, were said to have been physically and verbally attacked while they covered a roadblock on the Panamericana Norte. On the same day, TC Televisión journalist Mauricio Ceballos and the Camera operator who was working with him were allegedly attacked with sticks and stones by demonstrators in the town of Santa Lucía (Guayas). Red Informativa journalists in Quito, and William Rivadeneira of Cable Mágico, Carlos López of Macas News, and César Correa of Radio Shalom all said they had been physically assaulted and harassed by demonstrators in Morona-Santiago while they were broadcasting live.

Along similar lines, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and its Special Rapporteurship noted that a group of communication professionals were “held” at the Ágora, site within the Casa de la Cultura where indigenous leaders were meeting. Some of these professionals said they had been held against their will. According to reports heard by the IACHR, some indigenous leaders demanded that several reporting teams broadcast live an instance of the implementation of “indigenous justice” against eight police officers, who were also being “held” as a reaction to the deaths of several demonstrators during protests. According to information provided by the State, the national government asked the United Nations to “negotiate” the release of the eight police officers kidnapped inside the Casa de la Cultura and immediately summoned the Interinstitutional Committee for the Protection of Journalists and Communication Workers to address the kidnapping. The United Nations and the Ecuadorian Bishops’ Conference acted as facilitators for dialogue between indigenous organizations and the State. That dialogue meant that all 27 communication workers were released by 3 p.m. that day.

In this context, the Special Rapporteurship condemned the attack against Teleamazonas journalist Freddy Paredes, who was brutally hit with a rock as he walked along a street near the Casa de la Cultura and suffered a broken collarbone and a concussion, with an open wound in the head. Paredes filed a complaint for attempted murder before the Public Prosecutor’s Office. The man who attacked him had allegedly been identified but remained on the run. The indigenous activists who walked Paredes out of the Casa de la Cultura said they had nothing to do with the attack.

During the Commission’s visit to Ecuador to establish what had happened, the social movements who were allegedly involved in these events acknowledged that tensions were rife. While some journalists admitted that they had not been held against their will, others interviewed by the IACHR delegation insisted that they had interpreted the request to broadcast live from the site as a form of detention. They also complained that they had suffered constant Internet cutoffs by cell phone companies Claro and Movistar.

There were also allegations of attacks against journalists, community media workers, and workers covering events all around the country. This is what happened to Jose Diego Delgado—a reporter for Ediasa in Manabí—who was attacked with stones by demonstrators who destroyed his tripod, and to Elvis Nantip—Teleamazonas correspondent in Mora Santiago—who said he had been beaten up and had his camera destroyed. The Special Rapporteurship was also informed of the arbitrary detention suffered by a group of journalists at a parking lot in the San Blas neighborhood in Quito. The affected journalists said that a group of demonstrators had prevented them from leaving for at least two hours.

Hindering coverage and failing to provide safeguards for journalists’ work were both rife over the course of the conflict. On October 7, Ecuadorian law enforcement agencies evicted journalists from the Presidential Palace after President Moreno left Quito for Guayaquil, and journalists were left unprotected from protestors approaching the palace. In this context, several journalists were attacked, including Teleamazonas reporter Fausto Yepez, camera operator Alexander Herrera, and camera assistant Darío Zapata, who complained live about the harassment of media workers, and the team working for Colombia’s Noticias Caracol, who said they had been insulted and accused of misinforming their audience. The car where Ecuavisa journalist Paúl Romero was traveling was attacked by demonstrators with stones, which caused serious damage to his equipment. According to publicly available reports, the CONAIE and other social organizations complained that unknown attackers had infiltrated the protests to perpetrate acts of vandalism and attack the media.

Finally, on October 12, serious, well-coordinated attacks were perpetrated against facilities of several media outlets in Quito. A mob allegedly threw Molotov cocktails and set an antenna and two vehicles ablaze before the building where the TV channel Teleamazonas operates, with 25 workers hiding in the safe room. Outside, attackers were throwing stones and hitting with sticks and trying to prevent the fire department from making its way to put out the fires. The police eventually arrived and rescued the workers, but the broadcast had to be cut off. Something similar happened at El Comercio’s facilities. “They are entering the newspaper building, where some of us are working,” a reporter said in a voice message sent to a media workers chat group. Her colleagues asked the Interior and Defense ministries and the emergency service ECU911 for help.

The IACHR stresses that the State has a duty to protect the safety of journalists and communications professionals who are reporting in the context of public demonstrations, and to ensure that they will not be arrested, threatened, or attacked, or have their rights restricted in any other way for doing their job. Attacking journalists and destroying or seizing equipment from anyone covering such events violates freedom of expression, both individually and collectively.

In a press release issued on October 9, the Commission and its Special Rapporteurship urged the authorities to promptly and comprehensively investigate all allegations of violence and to punish anyone responsible for that violence. This is true both for allegations of an excessive use of force by officers of the police and other law enforcement agencies and for attacks and plunder committed by private individuals.

B. Violations of the right to freedom of expression and the right to freedom of association

Also in the context of the protests, there were reports that eight media workers had been arrested and that community media worker Camila Martínez, of the Ecuadorian Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities (CONAIE, by its Spanish acronym), had been sentenced to five days in prison for a second-degree misdemeanor, according to Article 394 of Ecuador’s Comprehensive Criminal Code (COIP, by its Spanish acronym). This article states that anyone who mistreats, insults, or assaults a law enforcement officer will be sent to jail. Seven other journalists were allegedly also apprehended without due process, although they were later released.

Principle 11 of the IACHR’s Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression says: “Public officials are subject to greater scrutiny by society. Laws that penalize offensive expressions directed at public officials, generally known as ‘desacato laws,’ restrict freedom of expression and the right to information.” The IACHR has repeatedly said that applying criminal law to punish comments concerning public officials is disproportionate when it refers to protected comments—like news reports and comments about issues of public interest—and violates the right to freedom of expression. Given the arrests that were carried out, the IACHR stresses the importance of supervision by the Ombudsperson’s Office, to verify detainees’ condition and to protect their rights to safety, integrity, and due process.

On October 9, the Presidency’s Communications Department ordered the radio station Pichincha Universal to indefinitely broadcast the public radio signal. That order was later replaced with a request for the radio station to stop broadcasting, filed before the courts by the Agency to Regulate and Control Telecommunications (ARCOTEL, by its Spanish acronym), through investigation number 170101819100814, as a temporary precautionary measure. According to the available reports, Radio Pichincha Universal’s facilities were also raided, for an alleged crime of “inciting discord among citizens.”

Concerning the temporary suspension of Radio Pichincha Universal’s signal, a supervising judge charged with addressing constitutional incompatibilities admitted the request for protection filed by the station’s defense and granted a precautionary measure in favor of Radio Pichincha Universal, which was off the air for 16 days. The radio station denounced a “judicial harassment campaign” involving the launch of criminal investigations by the Ecuadorian government. This happened in a context where the Office of the State’s Attorney General—through the relevant public prosecutors at the Office of the Public Prosecutor for Organized, Transnational, and International Crime—officially requested information about the station’s staff. The radio station’s website was allegedly reported for violating copyright for some of the photographs posted on it.

Along similar lines, according to publicly available reports, the TeleSUR TV channel’s cable and satellite signals were taken off the air in Ecuador for three days. The TV network’s chair, Patricia Villegas, said that no justification was given for this cutoff and that the signal was then restored. The State said that TeleSUR is privately licensed on cable and that it is therefore beyond the scope of the State’s telecommunications control.

Through a public statement, several alternative media outlets who covered demonstrations in Ecuador complained about technological and digital censorship allegedly exercised by the government—they denounced that their signal had been tampered with and their rights had been violated. The State said that it kept communications open with citizens through its Communications Department and asked that private individuals seek official information there.

According to allegations made by various media outlets, several radio stations and networks broadcasting over FM in the provinces of Tungurahua, Cotopaxi, and Chimborazo were taken off the air. These allegations were made after the indigenous movement occupied Pilisurco mountain, where some of the required antennas are located.

According to information received by the IACHR, several community, digital, and alternative media outlets in Ecuador denounced violations of their right to freedom of expression and access to information, as well as physical attacks and hurdles for coverage like the ones suffered on October 3 by journalists Luisa Aguilar and José Mosquera, of Wambra Digital. There were also allegations that Radio Kimsakocha journalist Diana Narváez had been hit in the right heel with a tear gas cannister. The digital community media outlet Wambra complained that officials at the Interior Ministry had referred to it as “important to spread fake news,” after saying that such fake news were partly responsible for violence during the national strike.

According to information that was provided to the Special Rapporteurship during the IACHR mission’s working visit to Ecuador, the Convergence of Alternative, Community-Based, Indigenous, and Independent Media—created by 23 media outlets following the national strike—said that there had been several different violations of the right to freedom of expression, including prior restraint through a technological attack that involved blocking their phone and Internet signal near El Arbolito Park and the Casa de la Cultura in Quito and different attacks on the official accounts of community radio stations.

According to information provided by the NetBlocks organization, over the period October 9–12, there were several serious Internet cutoffs at various times, each lasting several hours, precisely when repression and violence peaked during protests and demonstrations in Ecuador.

According to various organizations, several media outlets reported having difficulties in their communications and Internet connection during the unrest. There were reports that signal jammers had been used over the 11 days the unrest lasted—as journalists approached conflict areas or areas where demonstrators were clashing with police, the cell phone signal got worse and made it impossible to make calls or send SMS or Internet messages, which prevented coverage. However, as reporters moved away from conflict areas, the signal was restored and went back to normal.

Along similar lines, the Special Rapporteurship was informed of a DDoS attack allegedly perpetrated against the website of the community media outlet Wambra Digital, which was said to have prevented access to email, as well as efforts to post materials and to broadcast on its website the daily news bulletin concerning the national strike. According to reports, the attack happened just a few hours after publication of an interview with the brother of Marco Otto, one of the young men who died after falling off a bridge in the Quito neighborhood of San Roque, as demonstrators were being dispersed by police officers.

The Special Rapporteurship was also told of deliberate misinformation campaigns staged by unidentified actors, allegedly with the goal of angering individuals involved in the conflict, as documented by several civil society organizations.

The IACHR and its Special Rapporteurship stress that the Internet is a unique tool for human rights—and freedom of expression in particular—to unleash their full potential over large portions of the population. The relevance of the Internet as a platform for the enjoyment and exercise of human rights is directly linked to network architecture and to the principles that govern it, including the principles of openness, decentralization, and neutrality.

In the Joint Declaration on Freedom of Expression and the Internet of 2011, the Special Rapporteurship said that freedom of expression applies to the Internet just as it applies to all media. Restrictions and forced blocking of whole websites, IP addresses, ports, network protocols, or certain forms of usage (such as social media) are therefore extreme measures, analogous to banning a newspaper, a radio station, or a TV channel, the Special Rapporteurship said. These restrictions and blocks cannot be justified—even based on the need to preserve law and order or national security—and they must not be used as censorship or as mechanisms to prevent citizens from accessing information. Further, given freedom of expression’s right-enabling nature, these restrictions also affect the exercise of other rights and impact the economy in major ways.

The Special Rapporteurship has said that “net neutrality is a necessary condition to exercise freedom of expression […]. This principle seeks to ensure that users’ freedom of access and choice to use, send, receive, or offer any legal content, application, or service through the Internet will not be conditional, directed, or restricted through blocks, filters or interference.”

C. Impact on personal integrity in the context of social protests

During its working visit, the Inter-American Commission obtained documents and audiovisual materials and heard hundreds of testimonies concerning how the social protest context affected personal integrity in Ecuador. According to this analysis, this information mainly shows a series of repeated violations of the right to personal integrity, allegedly as a consequence of the disproportionate use of force by officers of the State against demonstrators and individuals who were not involved in the protests. Children and adolescents, indigenous persons, older adults, journalists, and medical staff and volunteers providing humanitarian assistance were some of the main groups affected by these rights violations. According to information provided by the Ombudsperson’s Office, at least 1,340 people—including 458 police officers—were injured in the context of the events that happened in Ecuador on October 3–13.

Based on the information and the testimonies obtained during the visit, the IACHR found that operations from October 3 and throughout the curfew that was decreed in the country affected personal integrity. These effects were allegedly caused by the violent actions of law enforcement officers, including charges by mounted police officers, kicks and other beatings, verbal abuse, and even close-range shots with pellets and/or tear gas cannisters aimed directly at demonstrators or individuals who were standing nearby. This allegedly left scores of people injured—some of them seriously—due to the impact of pellets and other projectiles on various parts of their bodies. One person with physical disabilities who was injured during demonstrations provided the following testimony to the IACHR:

“On Tuesday [October 8] I was by the insurance company office. The trucutú [riot police armored vehicle] was driving at high speed through 10 de Agosto Street. As I was in the flower beds, I stood in the middle of the street with my hands held high and the Ecuadorian flag hanging from my neck. I saw that the tank was not stopping, so I went down on my knees on the street to try to get it to stop, which it did. That was when they opened the tank doors and three police officers got down, beat me up and kicked me in the face, and I lost four natural teeth. They covered my face, dragged me to [El Ejido] Park, and hit me in the head with a baton. I walked up to a tree, stood up, and saw these police officers walking off to the trucutú. As they walked off, two police officers with shields were hiding another police officer, who had a rifle. He shot me three times [two rubber bullets hit the chest to the left of the heart and another hit the side of the groin]. I then realized they were rubber bullets and picked them up off the ground. […] After that, I ran to El Arbolito Park and police motorcycles started to follow me. […] These motorcycles caught up with me and surrounded me. There were no names, and numbers had been covered up. They hit me again, they pushed me with the motorbike, they were kicking me, and they told me to go away. My daughter immediately arrived. They wanted to take her phone, and she wouldn’t let them. They hit her. They threw tear gas at both of us. At that point they threw two cannisters at us. We then walked for approximately one block and I fainted and fell on the ground and my daughter called 911 to say one person had been injured. They asked her who had injured the person and my daughter said it was the police. They replied that there were no ambulances available and cut her off. A volunteer took me to the Carlos Andrade Marín Hospital of the IESS [Ecuadorian Social Security System]. [I was discharged] at approximately 10:30 p.m. that same day.

Then, on Saturday [October 12], I went to the protest. I arrived at El Arbolito Park, found a fridge box and took it with me toward the National Assembly. That was when the police were shooting from the bridge on Yaguachi Street. They hit me at the front of my head, which made me lose consciousness immediately. I regained consciousness in a Fire Department ambulance that was taking me to Eugenio Espejo Hospital. After a few hours, they performed surgery, and I later found out they had diagnosed me with head trauma and a skull fracture. I was hospitalized for 12 days at the Neurosurgery Unit at Eugenio Espejo Hospital. I asked the nurses for my clinical records concerning the reason for admission, and one replied, ‘We cannot give them to you, because the minister ordered us not to provide information about people injured in demonstrations’.”

The IACHR obtained at least 19 other testimonies of individuals who had allegedly lost vision—fully or partially—after losing one eye or both due to the impact of tear gas cannisters or pellets used to disperse protests, both by police officers and by the military. The Commission denounces the use of these devices as projectiles to neutralize demonstrators, as well as the serious permanent consequences they caused to the integrity of injured persons. The IACHR heard the testimony of one woman who had been hit point-blank in her left eye with a projectile when she was taking part in the national pot-banging protest:

“On Saturday they went shopping at a store that was the only one that had something to eat in their neighborhood, where they only had tomatoes, pasta and soft drinks and three cans of tuna […]. They then headed home, because they started to see clashes. She asked her neighbors to stock up on water and shut their homes, because there were already clashes in the higher part of La Tola. At 3 p.m., they went out with her whole family, with pots of water to hand out to the neighbors who had not picked it up. Since the curfew was on, they gathered in the neighborhood for the pot-banging protest. About 60–70 people gathered there, including children and adolescents, older adults, all of them residents of the area.

She went down with a pot and a wooden spoon, shouting slogans for peace. At 9 p.m., a small military truck went by with a larger police truck. The police truck stopped and they started to throw tear gas cannisters with a special gas that automatically made them vomit. She stood in front of the truck to ask that they stop throwing cannisters. A motorized police officer stared at her and shot a tear gas cannister straight at her. Once she was able to breathe again, the police officer stood there, waiting for her to collapse, but she could walk. Her neighbors shouted when they saw her. She went up Remigio Crespo Street and heard her mother’s voice. Her mother and a journalist asked the driver of a van to take her to a health facility, because of the loss of blood. The driver took her to the military hospital, but the police prevented them from driving through the Coliseo Ruminahui. Her mother and sister begged for her to be admitted into hospital, and she was admitted.

The doctor saw that she had lost her eye. They did a CT scan, and the ultrasound specialist could not do it because her eye was hanging out... They asked a surgeon at Eugenio Espejo Hospital to come over because he was an eye lid specialist, and two doctors performed the surgery. The operation lasted eight hours. They performed the surgery on Sunday at 9 a.m. and she left hospital for fear of a bacterial infection that was ongoing at the hospital. By noon on Monday she was at home. Since then, she has been constantly subjected to check-ups for her injuries around the eye, eight fractures, and eye cushion detachment.”

The information the IACHR has had access to showed that attacks and point-blank shots by police officers and the military also targeted individuals who were providing medical assistance to demonstrators. One medical brigade volunteer who was injured after being hit with a tear gas cannister when he was performing first aid told the delegation:

“[On October 11] as I was coordinating with groups, police launched a raid with tear gas and silence bombs. Since 10 a.m. injured persons were coming to the El Arbolito area. With the groups, I went round looking for injured persons. We had 40–60 in less than half an hour. The team of doctors was overwhelmed. We left to seek refuge behind the metal ball in El Arbolito, given how many people were being hit, to see what was happening, because everything was already dark. [...] We heard, ‘Child down.’ We lifted a white flag to signal peace, and we moved to the 12 de Octubre area. Demonstrators there were putting up shields. The child was there. He had been hit in the abdomen with a cannister. We assisted him and we immobilized him with the medical team. As I was leaving, I was hit in my left eye with a tear gas projectile. […] I crossed the street to the other end of the sidewalk. People were able to assist me, and so were my colleagues. They performed first aid and took me to the Bambú house. They took me to Carlos Andrade Marín Hospital. I had lost my left eye. It was completely shattered. I never lost consciousness. I underwent CT scans and X-rays to check the state of my skull. I underwent surgery for eight hours. The doctor said they removed my whole eye. They could not save it. The projectile came from the trucutú, fired from a distance of 4–6 meters. They did not respect the white flag for healthcare. They did not respect the injured person who was receiving assistance. They were shooting directly at demonstrators who were shielding themselves with cans on the sidewalk.”

The IACHR found that the State’s tough response allegedly had a disproportionate impact on the integrity of children and adolescents, older adults, and indigenous women who were supporting the demonstrations. In particular, according to the information obtained by the Commission, the police and the military allegedly attacked whole indigenous families—kicking them, hitting them with batons and other objects, and throwing tear gas at them—in the context of the protests, as described by this testimony:

“We arrived at the Casa de la Cultura on Monday evening. On Tuesday [October 8] we launched a peaceful march to the Assembly building, and the people at the front said they were already inside. We were outside. Twenty minutes later, they started to throw bombs from inside and outside the Assembly building. They did not respect women or anyone else.

I could no longer walk, so I sat in a corner by the gate of the Assembly building. The horses and the anti-riot vehicles arrived. After an hour, I was feeling better, and we left there at about 5 p.m. and we arrived at El Arbolito Park. That was where they hit me. They arrived with horses. They shot at me although I told them I was pregnant. I lost consciousness, and my friends helped me and took me to the medical dispensary in the center of El Arbolito. I regained consciousness at about 9 p.m. I went to the Salesian University. The doctors had me under control.

Our culture is different. As indigenous people, we cannot leave our brother and our father alone.”

The Commission was also informed of the attacks perpetrated against people who were in peaceful havens or in areas for humanitarian assistance that had been set up in Quito during demonstrations. The IACHR was informed of an attack perpetrated on October 9 at the Salesian Polytechnic University and the Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador (PUCE, by its Spanish acronym). Police officers and soldiers threw tear gas cannisters inside these facilities, which had been set up as humanitarian and accommodation centers for demonstrators, injured persons, and indigenous persons from outside Quito:

“I was there on the day the PUCE was attacked with tear gas cannisters during the night. In the afternoon of October 9, at approximately 6 p.m., people had gathered in the eating area and the medical assistance area. Suddenly, police officers started to throw tear gas inside the PUCE. This forced us to move the injured inside the Coliseo. There was widespread panic, because the children were inside the Coliseo. Everyone present was affected by the tear gas, including the children.”

The IACHR stresses that the right to personal integrity not only involves the negative obligation of the State not to cause suffering to people under its jurisdiction, but also demands that the State protect and preserve the right to personal integrity. In this context, while complying with its security and law and order duties, the State must minimize any risks for this right by taking adequate care and ensuring strict compliance with international principles and standards. The IACHR further stresses that personal integrity is part of the irrevocable core of rights that cannot be suspended, listed in Article 27.2 of the Convention.

According to the information provided by the State, Article 66, Paragraph 3 of Ecuador’s Constitution ensures the right to personal integrity. Article 165, Paragraph 1 of this Constitution says: “During a state of emergency, the President of the Republic can only suspend or restrict the exercise of the rights to the inviolability of the home, the inviolability of correspondence, freedom of movement, freedom of association and assembly, and freedom of information, in the terms stated in the Constitution.” As stated, states of emergency suspend and restrict specific rights and do not in any way affect fundamental rights, including the rights to life and personal integrity, in compliance with international regulations governing states of emergency.

However, given that the consequences that might stem from the use of force are irreversible, the IACHR considers that it is “a measure of last resort that, within qualitative and quantitative limits, seeks to prevent a more serious event than the one that triggered the State’s reaction.” In this exceptional context, both the Commission and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights have agreed that, for the use of force to be justified, the principles of legality, absolute necessity, and proportionality need to be met. This largely means that the use of force must be prescribed by law and seek legitimate ends; that an assessment needs to be made to check the existence and availability of less harmful instruments; and that the degree of force used suits the real risks posed by the person and their resistance, which implies a balance between the situation faced by a given law enforcement officer and their response, considering the potential harm they might cause. This is based on the international obligations acquired by States concerning human rights, in light of international instruments like the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials and the Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials.

In compliance with the exceptionality principle mentioned above, States must therefore use non-violent means before resorting to the use of force, including firearms. However, as one might presume, these restrictions on the use of force do not refer to lethal weapons alone—the use of “non-lethal” and “less-lethal” weapons must be kept in check too. This category includes different kinds of rubber bullets, tear gas, electroshock projectiles, water cannon trucks, plastic bullets, and other sound and electroshock devices. As the Commission has noted on other occasions, virtually all use of force can cause serious injuries and even death. This means that, under certain circumstances, whether a weapon is lethal will depend on its use and on adequate oversight.

In this context, the Inter-American Commission concludes that the violent reaction and the disproportionate use of force by police officers and soldiers during operations to disperse demonstrators was the main cause of the large number of injured persons. Consequently, the IACHR notes that the State appears to have failed to comply with its obligations to respect and enforce the right to personal integrity, enshrined in the American Convention.

D. Impact on life in the context of social protests

The IACHR believes that the right to life is the essential platform for the exercise of all other rights. Along similar lines, the Inter-American Court has said that the right to life plays a fundamental role in the American Convention, because it is the essential corollary to enforce all other rights. Like personal integrity, the right to life is—according to Article 27.2 of the American Convention on Human Rights—part of the irrevocable core of rights that cannot be suspended in case of war, public danger, or any other threat.

Based on the fundamental role that the Convention assigns to the right to life, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has said that States have an obligation to ensure the conditions necessary to prevent violations of this inalienable right, as well as the duty to prevent their officers and any private parties from violating this right. In particular, the Court has said that compliance with the obligations established in Article 4 of the American Convention and in keeping with Article 1.1 of the same document requires not only that no one be arbitrarily deprived of life, but also that States take all measures necessary to protect and preserve the right to life of individuals under their jurisdiction. Specifically, States must ensure that officers of their security forces—who have the right to legitimately use force—respect the right to life of individuals under their jurisdiction.

In the context of its working visit to Ecuador, the IACHR heard reports from the Ombudsperson’s Office and from civil society organizations and testimonies from victims’ families concerning 11 individuals who allegedly died in the context of social protests in the country. Of these—according to the information obtained by the Commission—at least eight suffered violent deaths and/or died as a consequence of the disproportionate use of force by officers of the State, and three allegedly died of injuries they sustained in falls or after being run over. The State said that the Office of the Attorney General continued to conduct the relevant investigations to determine any responsibilities.

The Ecuadorian State initially told the IACHR that nine people had died in accidents linked to the riots and that two of those cases were being “investigated as violent deaths.” On October 30, 2019, during its working visit to Ecuador, the Commission met with officials of the country’s National Service for Forensic Medicine and Forensic Science. At the time, the IACHR was not given free access to examine the specific information and records concerning these cases. Later, on November 22, the IACHR asked the State for information about any investigations that were ongoing to establish the circumstances of the deaths of these 11 known victims and anyone else who might have died in the context of these social protests. In a response dated January 3, 2020, the State said that “the dead lost their lives in the context of the protests, but not necessarily as a consequence of excessive police action.” The Ecuadorian State also said that two people who had been identified as dead—José Rodrigo Chaluisa and Edwin Bolaños—were not in the database of the Office of the State’s Attorney General’s Integrated System of Recorded Actions (SIAF, by its Spanish Acronym) with a death certificate officially issued by the Office or as alleged cases of forced disappearance reported to the authorities.

According to the testimony provided to the IACHR by a brother of Edwin Bolaños, Bolaños died on October 18 as a consequence of the impact of a projectile on October 11, 2019, while he was taking part in demonstrations in Quito. Based on this report, “the impact of the projectile, a pellet, had affected a main artery going to the heart, and they could not remove the pieces because it was very dangerous.” The IACHR notes that, in this case, a soldier was allegedly identified as the perpetrator, according to this report. However, as noted above, the State said that, “after verifying the details of 30 individuals who go by that name, databases in the David 20i2 system have no record of the removal of a body for anyone by that name.” In the same statement, the State said that “after inquires in healthcare facilities and morgues conducted around the country by DINASED staff, no one by that name was found dead either.”

Further, on January 3, 2020, the State told the IACHR of the death of Mónica Patricia Castro Sánchez and her daughter Kelly Gisella Flores Sánchez, “who died in a fire at their home on October 9, 2019.” According to this report, “the fire allegedly started at a barricade that demonstrators set ablaze to block a public road, and spread to the victims’ house. Mrs. Mónica Patricia Castro Sánchez burned to death inside her home. Days later, her daughter Kelly Gissella Flores Sánchez died of pulmonary embolism and multiple organ failure caused by the many second-degree burns she suffered in the fire.”

In its visit to Ecuador, the IACHR also learned with dismay the testimony of relatives of Gabriel Antonio Angulo Bone, 15, who was shot at close range by a police officer on October 7 in the municipality of Durán, Guayas. According to the information obtained by the IACHR, Gabriel Antonio was with six other youngsters on the Unidad Nacional Bridge to watch demonstrators go by. After half an hour, a group of people allegedly started plundering stores in the area, which triggered police action and the use of tear gas:

“[In the context of the police raid] Gabriel fell into a hole, so he sat on the sidewalk to rub his leg. Two police officers drove by on a motorbike, and the one riding at the back shot his tear-gas gun point-blank, insulted him, and said, ‘You’re dead’.” Gabriel initially stood up, but he collapsed after a short run. “[At that point] we started to ask police officers for help, and they did not help us. At one point we noticed that he showed some reaction, so we started to rub his chest, but it was not working. A man who identified himself as a nurse passed by and performed first aid on him, and he told us that he had no vital signs and that we should call for a vehicle to take him to hospital. After that, his vital signs came back and we took him to Oramas González Hospital on a motorcycle, but when he was admitted doctors said that he had no pulse, that he was dead. The causes of his death were severe internal bleeding (hemopericardium), cardiac laceration, and closed thoracic trauma, according to the death certificate.” In its letter dated January 3, 2020, the State told the IACHR that preliminary investigations were ongoing in this case at the office of Durán’s third public prosecutor. The main line of investigation was “Blow with a hard object.”

The Commission has repeatedly said that, when dealing with an adolescent, the State has additional obligations that stem from Article 19 of the American Convention, beyond the obligations that apply to all people. The State must therefore be more cautious and responsible in its role of enforcing the child’s rights and it must take special measures based on the principle of the child’s best interests. In this context, the IACHR strongly condemns the alleged abuse in the use of force against the adolescent by officers of the State. The Commission also urges the State to investigate these events with due diligence—particularly considering the accounts provided both by eyewitnesses and by relatives of the victim, as well as photographic evidence and scientific and technical evidence—to establish the truth, identify the perpetrators and masterminds, try them, and impose any criminal and administrative sanctions that may apply.

Also on October 7, Edison Eduardo Mosquera Amagua, 29, was hit in the head with a projectile shot by police officers in the area known as La Recoleta, in Quito’s historic center, while he was taking part in demonstrations:

“[Edison Mosquera] demonstrated to support the indigenous uprising and to oppose the economic measures adopted by the regime. In the area of La Recoleta, according to what we have been able to see on videos made by the security cameras of nearby hotels, [Edison Mosquera] fell on the ground in the middle of the repression and three police officers started to kick him, punch him, and beat him with their batons, as seen in the video. He was left unconscious. According to someone who was with him, one of the police officers who hit him then shot him in the head from close range with a weapon that looked like a rifle, and then continued to shoot indiscriminately at the crowd. People nearby managed to take him away in the direction of the trolleybus’ Cumandá stop. There, he was laid on a door, to improvise a stretcher, and since the ambulance did not arrive, he was evacuated to the IESS’ Hospital del Sur in a private vehicle. At night, at around 11:30 p.m., we got a call as the family, and we were told that he had been seriously injured with a shot. When we arrived at the hospital, he was immediately taken to Carlos Andrade Marín Hospital because his wounds were very serious, and he remained there for six days. After that, he died of two strokes and a heart attack caused by the wound, which made him lose 50% of his brain and left him with very few chances of surviving.” According to the information provided by the Ecuadorian State on January 3, this case was under preliminary investigation at the office of the fourth public prosecutor for individuals and safeguards (Roca), with “Impact of a projectile in a demonstration during the national strike” as the line of investigation.

The IACHR was also informed of the death of two indigenous leaders who had been taking part in demonstrations. According to testimonies heard by the IACHR delegation, Segundo Inocencio Tucumbi Vega, 50, was hit in the head during a police raid on October 9 in the area around the Salesian University, which had been designated as a resting site for demonstrators, women, and children. In public comments, the Interior minister cited a fall as the cause of death. On January 3, 2020, the State said that this case was under preliminary investigation, with “Brain hemorrhage, skull fracture, indirect trauma, fall” as the line of investigation. Second, the CONAIE told the IACHR that, on October 9, José Rodrigo Chaluisa, the leader of the Yanahurco-Cotopaxi community, allegedly died near El Arbolito Park in Quito of suffocation and the consequences of having been run over. The Interior Ministry said it had been unable to find this person’s name in any institution, so it could be “a name that appears twice on the list,” since it shares the first and last name with one of the dead on San Roque Bridge. On October 30, 2019, officials of the country’s National Service for Forensic Medicine and Forensic Science confirmed to the IACHR that this case did not correspond “to the details of any of the dead bodies” that had arrived at that institution. Similarly, on January 3, 2020, the Ecuadorian State said that —based on the executive report issued by the National Department of Crimes Against Life, Violent Deaths, Disappearances, Extortion, and Kidnappings (DINASED) of the National Police—“in databases in the David 20i2 system (the module to record violent deaths), there are no records of the removal of José Rodrigo Chaluisa’s body. Further, an inquiry conducted by DINASED staff in healthcare facilities and morgues around the country also delivered no results.”

On October 29, the IACHR recorded the death of Edgar Yucailla Álvarez, who had allegedly been injured with a firearm on October 12, while he was demonstrating near El Arbolito. The cause of death was allegedly traumatic brain injury. According to the testimony that was collected by the IACHR:

“On October 12, Mr. Edgar woke up at the Casa de la Cultura and he then went out to march with everyone else. When he was sitting on the corner by Eugenio Espejo [Hospital], police officers and soldiers started to throw projectiles. At that point, Mr. Edgar got up and tried to escape the shots, and he was hit in the head with a pellet. Other people could not take him to hospital because of the shots. When the shooting stopped, paramedics picked him up and took him to hospital, unconscious. They admitted him with a diagnosis of severe, penetrating traumatic brain injury, and they performed surgery and removed the bullet, but not all pellets—they stayed in the skull. The family does not know how many pellets hit him. He was in intensive care. When he was in the recovery ward, he recovered 40%, because he could remember things, recognize people, eat. And on the next day his health condition got worse and then became serious. He then went back to intensive care. His relatives requested surgery again, and doctors did not perform it, arguing that the skull was swollen. They took him back to intensive care and said that the bullet that remained lodged in the skull had damaged half the brain and that they could not perform surgery again. Mr. Edgar was peacefully taking part in the protest. He chairs an organization that brings together nine communities. Beyond the family’s pain, nine communities are being deprived of their leader.”

According to the State, this case is under preliminary investigation before the office of the sixth public prosecutor for individuals and safeguards (Roca), with “Projectile impact in a demonstration during the national strike” as the line of investigation.

The IACHR also received substantial information about the cases of Marco Humberto Otto Rivera and José Daniel Chaluisa Cusco, who allegedly died as a consequence of the wounds they sustained when they fell off a pedestrian bridge during a police raid in Quito. According to the testimonies obtained by the IACHR, on October 7, Marco Humberto was caught in between when police officers were chasing demonstrators and residents of the San Roque area. These reports appear to suggest that the police cornered these people against a fence in the middle of a pedestrian bridge. When they realized they were stuck, they allegedly tried to climb over the fence. At that point, Marco Humberto allegedly fell off the bridge. His family told the IACHR that Marco had not been involved in the protests and that he had disabilities:

“He had a 46% disability for muscle atrophy. He did walk, but he could not control his movements. He did not know that there were demonstrations. We don’t know how he got to the bridge, because he could not run. He had rights. They called the family at 11:30 p.m. from Carlos Andrade Marín Hospital, to tell us that his condition was serious. I want to make it clear that he was not a criminal. Justice should be done for the people who were thrown off.” Marco Humberto died on October 8. The cause of death was recorded as “Brain hemorrhage and cerebral laceration, basilar skull fracture, traumatic brain injury by falling” by the National Service for Forensic Medicine and Forensic Science.

Similarly, José Daniel Chaluisa Cusco, 40, allegedly also fell off the bridge during the police chase. Based on publicly available reports, José Daniel died on October 9, after three days in hospital. His family said that José Daniel’s hand had allegedly been beaten up, which might indicate that the fall was caused by someone else. According to the information provided by the authorities at the National Service for Forensic Medicine and Forensic Science, José Daniel Chaluisa died on October 10, with “Multiple injuries (traumatic head injury and chest trauma)” as the official cause of death.

On October 8, 2019, in an official statement, the Interior Ministry said that the two people who fell off the bridge had been taken to Carlos Andrade Marín Hospital. The transfer “was very difficult, given the refusal by demonstrators in the area to let the ambulance go through.” The Interior Ministry addressed videos of these events that were circulating on social media and said: “We cannot see either the reason or the cause of the fall, but the National Police will in any case investigate what happened.” Later, in a statement released on January 3, 2020, the Ecuadorian State said both cases were being subjected to preliminary investigations by the office of the third public prosecutor for human rights and citizen engagement, with “Fall from a pedestrian bridge in the city of Quito” as the line of investigation.

However, both the IACHR and the Inter-American Court have said that, in cases linked to extrajudicial killings, the State has a duty to launch a prompt, serious, impartial, and effective ex officio investigation. Similarly in terms of jurisprudence, concerning suspicious deaths involving officers of the State, “[the] investigation needs to be conducted using all the judicial means available to establish the truth and to ensure investigation, prosecution, and punishment for anyone responsible for the events in question, especially when officers of the State are or might be involved.”

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has also said that, beyond the collection of evidence, in cases where there are contradictory accounts concerning a deprivation of the right to life, “due diligence in the investigation needs to be assessed with reference to the need to establish whether any accounts considered in proceedings about what happened are indeed true—that is, whether they have enabled the events in question to be judicially solved and to be eventually assigned a legal status that reflects what actually happened.” In order to ensure due diligence and to conduct a thorough and impartial investigation of a death in suspicious circumstances that involves officers of the State, the Commission has stressed some standards of the Minnesota Protocol, including the following: identifying the victim; collecting and preserving evidence linked to the death, in order to assist the potential prosecution of anyone responsible for it; identifying likely witnesses and collecting their statements concerning the death; establishing the cause, mode, place, and time of death, and any patterns or practices that may have led to the death; differentiating between natural death, suicide, and homicide; identifying and apprehending any person or persons involved in the death; taking the alleged perpetrators before a competent, legally constituted court.

The IACHR strongly condemns the violation of the right to life of the victims mentioned above, allegedly as a consequence of the excessive and arbitrary use of force and of other acts of violence targeting individuals who were not an imminent threat for the State’s security officers, or in the context of protests. In particular, the IACHR notes that the falls of two people from San Roque Bridge allegedly happened during a police raid where the circumstances suggest repressive, violent actions by officers of the State in a context that would have enabled them to take alternative conflict-resolution measures.

The Inter-American Commission stresses that the State has a duty to ensure that officers of its security forces—who have the right to legitimately use force—respect the right to life of individuals under their jurisdiction. The IACHR stresses that dispersing a demonstration can only be justified by the duty to protect individuals. All decisions linked to the use of force in these contexts therefore require consideration of the risks incurred in efforts that may contribute to an escalation of tensions and must focus on promoting mediation rather than containment or confrontation. Therefore, given the events that have been described, the Ecuadorian State has a duty to conduct prompt, serious, impartial, and effective ex officio investigations based on international standards to establish any relevant criminal and administrative responsibilities.

Finally, the IACHR notes the information it has received concerning the deaths of three people of the injuries they sustained when they fell or were run over during social protests. On October 6, 2019, Ángel Raúl Chilpe was allegedly run over by a private vehicle in the context of protests on the road between Cuenca and Molleturo. According to official accounts, the incident was reported to the ECU911 Integrated Security Service approximately at 12:10 p.m. and an ambulance was immediately sent to the site. The ambulance was unable to get through, given the “roadblocks and demonstrators’ refusal [to let it go through].” Eventually, medical staff walked to the site, where they confirmed Mr. Chilpe’s death. On October 10, 2019, Abelardo Vega Chisaguano allegedly died after being run over by a police vehicle. The cause of death was cited as “Severe internal bleeding, pulmonary contusion and laceration, rib fractures, traffic incident.” On October 11, Silvia Marlene Mera Navarrete allegedly died in a motorcycle accident caused by roadblocks in the Malchinguí area. According to information that the State provided to the IACHR, these cases were also being investigated with “Alleged traffic accident” as the line of investigation.

The IACHR calls on the Ecuadorian State to investigate these cases in strict compliance with international standards. The IACHR reminds the State of its duty to take any measures necessary to develop an appropriate normative framework to discourage threats to the right to life; to set up an effective justice system that is able to investigate and punish killings perpetrated by officers of the State or by private individuals; and to provide adequate reparations for them. Further, given discrepancies in the number of fatalities, the IACHR stresses that it is the State who has the obligation to ensure that victims’ families have access to information concerning the circumstances where these serious human rights violations happened. In these cases, the right to be informed of what happened and to access the relevant information also includes society as a whole, since this is essential for the development of democratic systems.

E. Arrests, criminalization, and stigmatization in the context of social protests

Concerning arrests, the Commission notes that—according to the public comments made by the Interior minister on October 15—a total of 1,228 people were arrested over the period that went from the start of the protests on October 2 until October 13, 2019. Most of them were released within 24 hours of their arrest. According to the Ombudsperson’s Office, the largest number of arrests (376) happened on October 5, once the state of emergency had been declared, followed by October 3 (283 arrests), precisely the day when the state of emergency was declared.

The Commission is concerned about the information it has received, which suggests that a large number of these arrests were allegedly arbitrary or illegal. In particular, the Commission notes that the Ombudsperson has said that 76% of these arrests were arbitrary or illegal. In this context, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said that mass detentions included a large number of arrests with no concrete evidence against the suspects. The Ecuadorian State said that the fact that certain individuals who had been arrested were later released does not in itself mean that their arrests had been illegal and arbitrary.

During its visit to Ecuador, in meetings with autonomous agencies of the State, civil society organizations, and lawyers, the IACHR obtained varied information about many arrests where due process had allegedly been violated. Among others, the IACHR was informed about cases where there were allegedly irregularities in filing formal complaints; collective arrests for flagrant crimes, without adequately singling out the individuals involved; illegal obtention of signatures; police reports with contradictory information about the circumstances of the arrest; transfers to unauthorized sites without notifying lawyers; and cases where injuries suffered by detainees were allegedly not recorded.

The Commission also heard several testimonies of people who said they had suffered this arbitrariness in the context of their arrests. Among others, the IACHR heard the testimony of a demonstrator who took part in protests near the National Assembly on October 8, during which protestors stormed the legislature. These events led to the arrests of 83 people, who were allegedly held in the basement of the National Assembly building for seven hours and who—when the curfew started—were transferred by bus to facilities operated by the National Police’s Rescue and Intervention Group (GIR, by its Spanish acronym) in Pomasqui. On the following day, they were taken before court. In a testimony that was collected on October 29, an alleged victim of arbitrary detention told the IACHR:

“We heard that no one wanted to take responsibility for our arrest. So they designated certain police officers as responsible, at random. I got a captain, but she was not the person who had arrested me. At midday, they took me to the hearing. I did not know what unit it was, they only told me it involved flagrancy. The whole group was taken to one room, and each public defender was allocated about nine people. Each lawyer asked to be told what had happened to each person, and they filled in some forms with times and events. The judge found that the arrest was irregular and absolved us, arguing that police officers had failed to identify themselves, that they had resorted to the use of force, and that no crimes had been perpetrated.”

The IACHR observes that civil society organizations had denounced that the procedure in detentions at the National Assembly had been irregular, because they happened at a police facility in the outskirts of the city and because detainees had not been directly taken to the Pichincha Flagrancy Judicial Unit. The IACHR obtained reports that said that, during these detentions, individuals deprived of liberty had not had access to legal assistance, that they had been kept incommunicado, and that they had allegedly not been informed of the charges that were to be pressed against them until just before their hearing at the Flagrancy Judicial Unit.

The IACHR further notes that it received many testimonies concerning detentions at General Audit Office facilities on October 12. According to the testimonies provided by relatives of some of the indigenous persons detained at the General Audit Office, many of them were in Quito for the first time and had entered the facility to seek refuge.

The IACHR is alarmed about reports that say torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment were perpetrated in the context of these detentions. Based on information provided by civil society organizations and also on testimonies, many detainees were subjected to serious verbal and physical abuse; they were threatened, punched, kicked, and beaten with metal batons; they had pepper spray applied on their faces; and they were forced to do physical exercise. The IACHR notes that, according to this information, judicial authorities in some cases failed to record the physical signs of having been beaten in the head and other body parts, and that they also failed to record allegations of detentions in unauthorized facilities.

Concerning criminalization, the IACHR was informed of the use of the criminal justice system against demonstrators and against social and opposition leaders. According to the information received in several meetings with indigenous and civil society organizations, several indigenous authorities who led the protests were called to testify before public prosecutors for several crimes, including terrorism, inciting crime, sabotage, and rebellion. In this context, the Ecuadorian State told the IACHR that it protects the rights to protest, peaceful assembly, and freedom of expression. However, the State noted that this does not imply that the judicial system should refrain from investigating people who committed acts of violence during social demonstrations. The State further stressed that due process had been enforced.

The IACHR observes, among other cases, that the Interior Ministry submitted to the Office of the State’s Attorney General the comments made on October 19 by CONAIE president Jaime Vargas in the municipality of Macas. Vargas called Ecuadorians to “build their own army, one that defends the people and its security and springs from their own communities.” According to these events, on October 22, the Office of the State’s Attorney General said in a public statement that, given these comments made by the CONAIE president, it had launched a preliminary investigation based on Article 349 of the Comprehensive Organic Criminal Code. This article says that anyone who “promotes, leads, or is otherwise involved in armed organizations, commandos, combat groups, terrorist groups, or cells who seek to disturb public order, replace the Armed Forces and the National Police, attack them, or interfere with their normal actions” will be committing the crime of belonging to a subversive group. The IACHR observes that, according to publicly available reports, the Office of the State’s Attorney General admitted five complaints against Jaime Vargas for crimes of terrorism, hate speech, promoting subversive groups, kidnapping, and inciting sabotage.

The IACHR observes that the CONAIE said in a public statement that creating the indigenous guard stems from its right to self-determination and that it is a component of the judicial pluralism that is constitutionally recognized in Ecuador. Further, the CONAIE said the guard sought to pursue the oversight, control, alert, protection, and defense of indigenous territories and that such guards were already in place in several organizations and territories.

According to information that was provided to the IACHR, the head of the Legal Sponsorship Department at the Interior Ministry has allegedly filed a complaint for kidnapping members of the National Police on October 11 at the Ágora area in the Casa de la Cultura. The complaint was filed against Agustín Casiqueando (chair of the Confederation of the Kayambi People), Leonidas Iza (chair of the Cotopaxi Indigenous Movement), Jaime Vargas (CONAIE president), Carlos Sucuzhañay (ECUARUNARI president), Manuel Chugchilán (former president of FEINE), Mesías Tatamuez (FUT president), and Luis Alfonso Morales Cushcagua (chair of the Union of Peasant Indigenous Organizations of the Cotacachi Canton).

The IACHR observes that, according to information obtained by civil society organizations, 28% of all cases involving a criminalization of demonstrators concerned the crimes of assault or resistance; 17% concerned damage to property; 16% concerned obstructing a public service; and 5% concerned terrorism. Regarding the crime of terrorism, the Commission notes that 27 people were initially charged with terrorism for allegedly setting the General Audit Office building ablaze on October 12. However, at a court hearing on November 15, the charges were changed to sabotage, obstructing a public service, and destroying public records, because the authorities found insufficient evidence to charge the suspects with the crime of terrorism. Further, although public prosecutors asked that the suspects remain in pretrial detention, the court ordered alternative measures to the deprivation of liberty. The IACHR notes that previously, on November 13, the public prosecutor had changed the charges against six adolescents who had been released on October 31 to obstructing a public service, due to a writ of habeas corpus filed by the public defender. These minors had been arrested near the General Audit Office building and had also initially been charged with terrorism.

Finally, the IACHR observes that, on several occasions, these criminalization processes are preceded by stigmatization campaigns and go hand in hand with such campaigns. The Commission notes the constant use of traditional and social media by State and non-State authorities to spread stigmatizing and delegitimizing messages, where the leaders of indigenous and opposition organizations are discredited or associated with crimes.

In many meetings with civil society, the IACHR was informed of several comments made by the Defense minister, who allegedly linked the organizations and movements who took part in the protests with illegal groups. In particular, the Commission was informed of the October 21 speech in which the Defense minister stressed the need to counter “insurgent forces” in Ecuador, while speaking of the strategy needed to handle demonstrations in the country and the role of the Armed Forces in preserving national security. Later, when he addressed the National Assembly’s Sovereignty Commission on October 23, the Defense minister said—concerning the role of the education centers who sheltered demonstrators—that there was an involvement by “universities and facilities that have been called peaceful havens but were in fact logistics centers to resupply demonstrators and groups who engaged in vandalism.” On October 29, the head of operations at the Armed Forces’ Joint Chiefs of Staff said—referring to demonstrations—that, given this “new threat by criminals, by terrorists,” the Armed Forces were on a mission to “identify them, isolate them, and neutralize them, in order to hand them over to the relevant authorities.”

On December 6, the Commission granted precautionary measures in favor of Paola Verenice Pabón Caranqui, prefect of Pichincha; Virgilio Hernández, executive secretary of the Movement for Social Commitment to a Citizen Revolution; and Christian Fabián González Narváez. The IACHR said that, in deciding whether to grant these precautionary measures, it took into consideration allegedly stigmatizing comments made by high authorities, who directly pointed to these individuals as people responsible for acts of violence. At the time, the IACHR noted that the proposed beneficiaries had already been subjected to threats and harassment linked to their role as leaders of the political opposition. Concerning compliance with these precautionary measures, the State said that a meeting was held on December 10, 2019 that brought together several State institutions to examine the situation of these three beneficiaries. On December 18, there were meetings with representatives of these three individuals where adequate measures were agreed to ensure compliance with IACHR dispositions. The State also said that it adequately assessed beneficiaries’ health conditions and that Christian González and Paola Pabón were transferred to penitentiaries where they faced lower risks. Further, a complaint was filed to ask the Office of the State’s Attorney General to investigate the events addressed in the resolution to grant precautionary measures. The State confirmed that the three beneficiaries had been released.


The Commission was also informed that, after Pichincha prefect Paola Verenice Pabón Caranqui was put in pretrial detention for the crime of rebellion, Luis Fernando Molina, Soledad Buendía, Edwin Jarrín, Carlos Viteri, Tania Pauker, Leonidas Aníbal Moreno Ordóñez, Gabriela Rivadeneira, and Luis Flores requested diplomatic asylum at the Mexican Embassy in Ecuador. According to publicly available reports, these individuals who had received protection and shelter from the Mexican government—amid investigations and threats of the implementation of arrest warrants issued against them in the aftermath of social protests—finally traveled to Mexico on January 9, 2020.

According to the American Convention on Human Rights, every person has the right to seek and be granted asylum in a foreign territory when they are being persecuted for political offenses or related common crimes, in compliance with domestic legislation and international agreements. Given the State response to a request for information submitted by the IACHR, the Mexican government granted diplomatic asylum to several Ecuadorian nationals. During the visit, the Commission recommended that the Ecuadorian State hand over letters of safe passage to individuals who have been granted asylum by the Mexican embassy and other diplomatic authorities, so these individuals can enjoy their human right to be granted asylum and refugee status in a way that preserves their family structures. The Commission welcomes the Ecuadorian State’s decision to enable these individuals to leave the country, in compliance with its international obligations concerning asylum.


During its visit to Ecuador, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights was able to observe the various effects of social protests in the country. The IACHR received information showing that certain groups of demonstrators caused serious violence during some protests, by attacking crucial infrastructure, holding police officers against their will, throwing stones and other objects at police officers, and engaging in plunder and other types of attacks, in some cases against the media. The IACHR also notes with concern the actions of the security forces, who did not take into consideration inter-American and international protocols for actions in such circumstances, as shown by their indiscriminate use of tear gas—even in sites where mothers had gathered with their children—and by the circumstances of various deaths over this period.

The Commission notes that the State’s security operations need to be carefully planned, with clear protocols that guarantee adequate, gradual, and proportionate use of non-lethal weapons, ensure full respect for human rights, and promote dialogue between the parties. The Commission stresses that the fact that some groups or individuals exercise violence during a demonstration does not make that whole protest violent, and it does not warrant actions by the security forces to disperse protestors using force or to conduct mass arrests. The IACHR warns that the actions of the police and the security forces must focus only on preventing violence and on ensuring the right to protest, without subjecting peaceful demonstrators to any kind of direct repression or arbitrary arrests.

The IACHR urges the authorities to promptly and comprehensively investigate all allegations of violence and to punish anyone responsible for that violence. This is true both for allegations of an excessive use of force by officers of the police and other law enforcement agencies and for attacks and plunder committed by private individuals.

Further, the IACHR strongly condemns all violence and stresses that social protest is legitimate as long as it is peaceful. The Commission further reminds the State that the security forces have the obligation to allow demonstrations and protests to take place and to isolate and adequately prosecute any demonstrators who resort to violence.

The IACHR has recorded a large number of arrests conducted in circumstances whose legality might be questioned under a democratic concept of the rule of law. The IACHR and its Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression stress that the State must act based on the legality of all public protests or demonstrations and assume they are not a threat to law and order. The Commission further urges the State to enforce the rights to safety, integrity, and due process for all individuals under arrest, ensuring they have access to private and public defenders.

Concerning the economic measures taken by Ecuador through Decree 883, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights was able to verify that they lacked a prior citizen consultation process that was transparent and participatory, as well as an impact assessment concerning their progressive nature. The IACHR and its Special Rapporteurship on Economic, Social, Cultural, and Environmental Rights (SRESCER) issue a special call to Ecuador, so it ensures that, whenever it implements austerity measures or economic and tax reforms that may affect access to economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights and the enjoyment of these rights, it makes sure that citizens—particularly the most vulnerable groups—are adequately informed and consulted and take part in the process to make decisions, implement policies, and assess the impact of any measures taken. The Inter-American Commission and its Special Rapporteurship on Economic, Social, Cultural, and Environmental Rights once again offer their assistance to Ecuador, to help the country implement international standards in this field.

Concerning the rights of indigenous and native peoples, the IACHR acknowledges the importance of addressing contextual phenomena marked by tension as expressions of the structural violence faced by indigenous peoples. It therefore calls on the State to promote active participation and an exchange of ideas involving various groups in Ecuadorian society, to encourage permanent intercultural dialogue among indigenous organizations and the State.

The Commission considers that, to ensure it is compatible with the American Convention on Human Rights, any way out of the ongoing situation marked by social and political discord must prioritize respect for human rights and advance a broad and respectful national dialogue. Finally, the IACHR stresses its commitment to cooperating with the Ecuadorian State to monitor the overall situation of human rights in the country and, more specifically, to implement and follow up on the recommendations that are issued below.


Based on its observations and in light of the regulations in force in the Inter-American Human Rights System, particularly the American Convention on Human Rights, the IACHR issues the following recommendations to the State of Ecuador:

a. Respecting and ensuring the full enjoyment of the population’s rights to protest, to freedom of expression, to peaceful assembly, and to political participation. The State must also ensure that security operations concerning protests and demonstrations follow protocols that are consistent with international standards on the use of force by law enforcement officers.

b. Drawing up a plan to immediately assist victims of protests and their families, and to provide comprehensive reparations for them.

c. Ensuring the exercise of freedom of expression, in compliance with inter-American standards—particularly by protecting journalists, communications specialists, and media workers from persecution, intimidation, harassment, and attacks of any kind, and by ending State actions that interfere with the free operations of the media. Concerning the latter, the State needs to ensure respect for media independence and refrain from applying any direct or indirect forms of censorship.

d. Ensuring that journalists and communicators who are reporting in the context of public demonstrations will not be arrested, threatened, attacked, or have their rights restricted in any other way for doing their job. The equipment and tools they use to do their work must not be destroyed nor confiscated by public authorities. Protecting the right to freedom of expression requires that the authorities enforce the conditions necessary for journalists to be able to cover events that are clearly of interest to the public, such as those linked to social protests.

e. Promoting, from the highest levels of the State, a national process of dialogue that enables consultation and provides information to individuals affected by the authorities’ economic decisions.

f. Strengthening measures adopted to diligently investigate, prosecute, and punish the people responsible for all acts of violence committed during the protests.

g. Designing institutions that promote (rather than inhibit or hinder) public deliberation, including the development of protection and security protocols with an intercultural approach, to ensure law enforcement agencies and other State institutions do their work without violating the law.

h. Taking any measures necessary to ensure the right of children, adolescents, women, and older adults to take part in social demonstrations with adequate protection for their rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. The IACHR stresses that ties and support between different generations and age groups is an element of indigenous peoples’ worldview that is necessary for the transfer of their cultural heritage and for the group’s identity as a people.

i. Insisting on the call for peace and dialogue, to prevent stigmatization and enable a receptive scenario for talks with all sectors in society; and refraining from making comments that stigmatize, criminalize, or otherwise encourage intimidation toward indigenous leaders. The IACHR warns that the criminalization and stigmatization of indigenous leaders may have negative consequences for the values, customs, and traditions of the communities where they exercise their leadership, given their economic, social, and cultural characteristics.

j. Supporting investigations into the deaths of indigenous persons in the demonstration context, in a diligent, effective, and independent way that leads to the prosecution and punishment of anyone responsible for them, and securing any individual and collective reparation measures for victims and their families, communities, and indigenous nationalities;

k. Training public servants in charge of law enforcement tasks on issues concerning human rights and intercultural approaches, with the participation of indigenous organizations.

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. 008/20