Press Release

IACHR Brings Ecuador Case before the IA Court

February 14, 2020

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Washington, D.C. - On September 13, 2019, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) filed an application with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IA Court) over case 12.985, Jorge Villarroel and others, concerning Ecuador.

The case concerns the illegal, arbitrary detention in May 2003 of the following individuals, who were officers in the National Police Force at the time: Jorge Villarroel Merino, Mario Rommel Cevallos Moreno, Jorge Coloma Gaybor, Fernando López Ortiz, Amílcar Ascazubi Albán, and Patricio Vinuesa Pánchez. The case also relates to violations of judicial guarantees that took place during the criminal proceedings against them for the crime of embezzlement.

In Merits Reports 113/18, the IACHR concluded that due to the way in which the legal concept of “detención en firme” was regulated and applied in this specific case, it constituted a form of mandatory, automatic pretrial detention based exclusively on the seriousness of the punishment associated with the crime, how the crime was allegedly committed, and the procedural stage, in other words, the fact that it was at the trial stage. However, the regulations did not require the respective authorities to analyze or justify whether this fulfilled any procedural purposes, in accordance with their obligations under the American Convention. The IACHR also deemed that the concept in question implied a violation of the principle of equality before the law because it established differential treatment based on the punishment that would be imposed, how the crime was allegedly committed, and the procedural stage in question. The IACHR added that the detention period associated with the concept (eight months with no periodic review) was unreasonable.

The IACHR also noted that the victims were arbitrarily placed in pretrial detention between January 2004 and May 2004. The IACHR deemed that, in practice, the regulation in question reversed the exceptional nature of pretrial detention and instead made it the rule in cases involving offenses that are punishable by prison sentences, since the only grounds needed to invoke it were the existence of an offense of this type and serious indications of responsibility or the presumption of this. The IACHR also concluded that the legal remedies presented by the victims to appeal their detention proved unsuitable and ineffective for obtaining due judicial protection.

The IACHR also identified the following violations of judicial guarantees during the trial for the crime of embezzlement: (i) the victims did not have detailed, prior information on the prosecution and the defense; (ii) the right to a competent authority was affected given the multiple indications of lack of competence on the part of the person who presided over the court; (iii) no appeal to a higher court was allowed; and (iv) the trial was unreasonably long.

In its Merits Report, the IACHR made the following recommendations to the state of Ecuador:

1. Provide full reparation to Jorge Villarroel Merino, Mario Rommel Cevallos Moreno, Jorge Coloma Gaybor, Fernando López Ortiz, Amílcar Ascazubi Albán, and Patricio Vinuesa Pánchez through measures of compensation and satisfaction that contemplate both the tangible and intangible damages they were caused as a result of the human rights violations described in Merits Report 113/18.

2. Implement the necessary nonrepetition measures to ensure that both the regulations that apply to pretrial detention and police criminal offenses and the practices around these are compatible with the standards set out in Merits Report No. 113/18. In particular, the state of Ecuador should ensure that, in both the regulations and in practice, pretrial detention is only applied in exceptional circumstances, for procedural purposes, and is subject to periodic review; that the composition of police criminal justice authorities complies with guarantees of independence and impartiality in terms of both their members and their practices; and that all people who are convicted through the police criminal justice system have access to an appeal mechanism that allows their convictions to be reviewed before a higher legal authority.

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. 039/20