Press Release

IACHR refers case on Ecuador to the Inter-American Court

November 18, 2020

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Washington, D.C. - On November 6, 2020, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) referred the case of Joffre Antonio Aroca Palma and family, regarding Ecuador, before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The case refers to the illegal and arbitrary detention and extrajudicial execution of Joffre Antonio Aroca Palma in February 2001, as well as the situation of impunity in which the facts remain.

In its Report on the Merits, the IACHR observed that it was not a disputed fact that Mr. Aroca died on February 27, 2001, because of a shot fired by a police officer who was on duty. The Commission concluded that the Ecuadorian State did not provide an explanation that would allow it to consider that Mr. Aroca's death constituted a legitimate use of force, nor did such information appear in the file. On the contrary, the State acknowledged that officer Rivera shot and that an investigation was initiated to investigate and punish what happened, which culminated in a conviction in the police jurisdiction against the police officer who shot Mr. Aroca. Likewise, based on the evidence indicated, the two contradictory versions provided by the police officer were ruled out: i) that Mr. Aroca had run away; and ii) that due to Mr. Aroca's attempt to snatch the weapon, both men struggled and the shot was fired accidentally.

Consequently, the IACHR considered that the use of lethal force employed by Officer Carlos Eduardo Rivera was unjustified, unnecessary, disproportionate and lacking a legitimate purpose, and therefore constituted an extrajudicial execution and a violation of his right to life.

On the basis of the evidence mentioned above, the two contradictory versions provided by Officer Rivera regarding: i) that Mr. Aroca had run away; and ii) that due to Mr. Aroca's attempt to snatch the weapon, both men struggled and the shot was fired accidentally, were dismissed. This ruling was subsequently confirmed by the higher courts in November 2002 and February 2003, respectively, without the parties having challenged the factual determinations of these rulings.

In addition, the Commission considered that it was uncontroversial that Mr. Aroca was with a group of friends and that, upon asking four police officers who approached them why they were required to show their identity cards, he was detained. The IACHR considered that this detention violated his right to personal liberty because: i) it was illegal and arbitrary, inasmuch as the State did not indicate the existence of objective reasons or parameters that could potentially justify it; ii) Mr. Aroca was not informed of the reasons for his detention; and iii) the detention was not intended to bring him before a competent authority to determine the legality of the detention and to protect his personal safety.

The Commission also concluded that, in applying police criminal justice to the present case, the Ecuadorian State violated the rights to judicial guarantees and judicial protection, specifically the right to a competent, independent, and impartial authority, as well as to an adequate and effective judicial remedy. Moreover, although a conviction was handed down against a police officer in the criminal police jurisdiction, it was not executed, since, according to the information available at the time of the merits report, that person was on the run. For its part, in the context of the proceedings before the ordinary criminal jurisdiction, the IACHR noted that, according to the documentation presented, the case is still open more than 18 years after the events. For this reason, the Commission considered that to date there continues to be a situation of impunity for the facts of the case and that the State has failed in its duty to guarantee an adequate investigation for the purpose of identifying and, if necessary, punishing all of the persons responsible for Mr. Aroca's death. Finally, the IACHR concluded that the State violated the right to personal integrity of Mr. Aroca's family members, since his extrajudicial execution and situation of impunity caused suffering to his relatives.

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

1. Make comprehensive reparations for the violations of human rights declared herein, including fair compensation for material and immaterial damages, as well as measures of satisfaction duly agreed upon with the victim’s family.

2. Provide the necessary physical and mental health care to Joffre Antonio Aroca Palma’s relatives. These measures are to be implemented if the victims so desire and, in a manner, agreed upon with them and their representatives.

3. Conduct a thorough and effective investigation of the human rights violations stated herein. This should entail: (i) deploying all efforts needed to apprehend Carlos Eduardo Rivera so that he serves the sentence imposed; and (ii) investigating all other responsibilities in the ordinary criminal justice system.

4. Provide for non-repetition mechanisms that include: (i) ongoing training programs for police officers on use of force, including the use of lethal force, in keeping with the standards set forth herein; (ii) measures to ensure the effective accountability of criminal, disciplinary, or administrative courts in cases of alleged abuse of power by agents of the State responsible for public security in the context of detentions like the one that occurred in this case; and (iii) measures to build capacity to investigate, with due diligence and in keeping with relevant international standards, suspected extrajudicial executions in the framework of police officers’ use of lethal force so there are effective protocols to conduct such investigations.

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. 277/20