Press Release

IACHR Brings Ecuador Case before the IA Court

February 24, 2020

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Washington, D.C. - On September 16, 2019, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) filed an application with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IA Court) over the case of Emilio Palacio Urrutia and others, concerning Ecuador.

The case relates to a series of violations of the right to freedom of thought and expression arising from criminal proceedings brought by former president Rafael Correa, which gave rise to a sentence of three years’ imprisonment and a fine of US$30 million for the crime of serious defamation for the journalist Emilio Palacios Urrutia and three executives from El Universo newspaper, Mr. Carlos Nicolás Pérez Lapentti, Mr. César Enrique Pérez Barriga, and Mr. Carlos Eduardo Pérez Barriga over the publication of an opinion piece on a matter of great public interest. The legal entity that published El Universo was also fined US$10 million.

In its Merits Report, the IACHR deemed that the state violated the rights to freedom of thought and expression and the principal of legality and retroactivity of the journalist and three executives in question, due to the ambiguity and broad scope of the article of the Criminal Code that was applied, the severity of the criminal sentence, and the exorbitant amount (US$40 million) that the victims were fined, which were unnecessary and manifestly disproportionate sanctions due to their excessiveness. The IACHR deemed that the fine of US$40 million in civil compensation was in itself a disproportionate sanction that clearly intimidated or jeopardized the exercise of freedom of expression as much as the criminal sentences in question, if not more. The Merits Report also concluded that the state had other, less restrictive, channels and alternatives courses of action for protecting honor and reputation than pressing criminal charges.

In its Merits Report, the IACHR also deemed that convicting the newspaper’s executives as accomplices affected the functioning of the media and journalism in Ecuador by effectively assigning those in this position the task of censoring journalists and columnists. It also concluded that imposing objective civil liability on these intermediaries for publishing a newspaper column by pressing criminal charges against them was an obstacle to the exercise of freedom of expression. In its Merits Report, the IACHR stressed that these liabilities should not be objective nor should they be criminal charges, and that any civil sanctions should be necessary and proportionate.

Similarly, in the Merits Report, the IACHR concluded that the state violated the rights to a fair trial and judicial protection as the criminal proceedings which were brought against the victims entailed procedural irregularities that demonstrated the lack of guarantee on the part of the state to be tried by an independent, impartial judge or court and the right to a defense as part of an effective trial.

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. 048/20