Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1991

Ecuador is a constitutional republic with a president and a
72-member unicameral legislature chosen in free elections.
Members of the Supreme Court, chosen by Congress, preside over
a judiciary that is independent according to the Constitution
but which is susceptible to political pressure. Seventeen
registered political parties, a free press, and active human
rights groups and labor unions are the mainstays of an open and
lively political system. The Congress has important powers to
question and censure executive branch ministers, and such
censure results in automatic dismissal of the minister. While
this power enhances the democratically elected Congress' check
on the Presidency, many Ecuadorians believe it has increased
governmental instability as well.
The Ecuadorian military has significant autonomy, reinforced by
access to revenues from the nation's oil exports, civil
aviation, shipping, and other economic activities. It has
maintained a low profile in domestic politics since the return
to constitutional rule in 1979. The National Police are
responsible for domestic law enforcement and maintenance of
internal order. They also have primary responsibility for
carrying out antinarcotics efforts, although the military is
increasing its role in the war against drugs. The President
controls the police through the Minister of Government, and the
command structure of the National Police is completely separate
from the armed forces joint command. In response to numerous
instances of police mistreatment of criminal suspects,
including the use of physical force against detainees, there
were widespread demands for reform of the National Police to
improve its human rights performance.
The economy is based on private enterprise, although there is
heavy government involvement in such key sectors as petroleum,
utilities, and aviation. Inflation remained high at about 50
percent in 1991 and overall economic conditions remained
difficult for the vast majority of Ecuadorians. Rural poverty
is extensive, and little improvement was evident in 1991. The
combined unemployment and underemployment rate was over 60
Ecuadorians enjoy, both in law and in fact, a wide range of
freedoms and individual rights, but serious human rights
problems remain. Principal among these are torture and other
mistreatment of prisoners and detainees, impunity for human
rights abusers, violence by paramilitary groups in rural areas,
brutal prison conditions, lengthy detention without charge, a
politicized court system, and pervasive discrimination against
women, blacks, and Indians. In September 1991, an
international commission named by the President to investigate
the 1988 disappearance of the Restrepo brothers (see Section
l.b.) concluded that the two boys had disappeared "at the hands
of the police." As a result of the commission's report, the
former commanding general of the police and 12 other active
duty and retired police officials were detained; they remained
in detention as of year's end. No date had been set for their
trial. Although the Administration of President Rodrigo Borfa
abolished the National Police's Criminal Investigative Service
(SIC) in September in response to the Restrepo Commission's
findings, serious problems remain, including the failure to
investigate and prosecute many of those who commit abuses.
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
      a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
Both the physical mistreatment of suspects by the police, which
has sometimes led to deaths of suspects, and the impunity with
which many of these crimes are carried out, were continuing
problems in Ecuador in 1991. According to a report in a
respected Quito newspaper, of 74 cases brought against police
in police courts for the deaths of suspects between 1986 and
1989, 60 were still "pending," and in 4 of the cases the
outcome was unknown; 10 officials had been absolved of criminal
In addition, indigenous groups charge that they are the target
of violent and lethal reprisals by paramilitary groups during
land invasions and other squatter demonstrations. The
paramilitary groups are armed civilian bands and security guard
forces hired by private landowners to protect their property.
These forces often use military-like uniforms and weapons; some
are reportedly operated or trained by former military or police
officials, but there is no evidence of complicity with
active-duty forces or personnel.
During 1991, at least one indigenous activist, Julio
Cabascango, was killed, possibly by paramilitary forces. The
1990 deaths of Oswaldo Cuvi and Cesar Morocho (both indigenous
activists) under suspicious circumstances were still unresolved
at the end of 1991. Human rights activists charge that Cuvi
was killed by Ecuadorian regular military forces on June 6,
1990, during a nationwide indigenous uprising.
There is credible evidence that public security forces, both
police and military, were responsible in 1991 for
nonpolitically motivated deaths of private citizens under
detention or during investigations. For example, in July,
Mayer Mina of the port town of San Lorenzo was apprehended by
seven marines and brought to the local naval base for allegedly
stealing a scale. Two days later, after the marines failed to
find the scale, Mina's body was returned to his family. He had
been severely beaten and died of cardiac arrest. During a
demonstration in San Lorenzo to protest Mina's death, one
protester was killed by gunfire, allegedly shot by marines
stationed at the naval base. No charges had been filed by
year's end. There are credible reports that other suspects
have died while in police custody. With the exception of the
Restrepo case, previous deaths which occurred at the hands of
the public forces (for example, the 1985 death of Consuelo
Benavides) have not been satisf actionly resolved, nor have any
alleged perpetrators been tried, convicted or sentenced.
      b. Disappearance
There were no known cases of politically motivated
disapperances during 1991.
In September, an international commission named by President
Borja to investigate the 1988 disappearance of two teenaged
brothers, Santiago and Andreas Restrepo, concluded that the
boys had disappeared and later died "at the hands of the
police." Ecuadorian military forces assisted the investigation
by carrying out a well-publicized 1-month search for the bodies
of the two teenagers at a lake south of Quito. The bodies were
never found. The Restrepo Coirunission accused senior police
officials, particularly those associated with the Criminal
Investigative Service (SIC), of engaging in a cover-up and of
obstructing the investigation. In mid-September, a Quito judge
ordered detained 13 police officials, including the
just-retired chief of police and a former head of the
counternarcotics division. The civilian courts will decide
whether sufficient evidence and legal authority exists to try
the officials on criminal charges in regular (nonpolice)
courts. The police officials claim immunity from criminal
charges and procedures for acts committed while on police duty,
which would allow them to be judged by internal police
disciplinary courts. The parents of the Restrepo brothers have
filed a civil suit against two former cabinet officials who
served as Ministers of Government and Police at the time of the
disappearance and during the subsequent cover-up.
In addition to the judicial branch's attempt to prosecute those
deemed responsible by the commission for the Restrepo brothers'
disappearance, and presumed death, in September the Borja
Administration announced the abolishment of the SIC. The SIC
had been accused by many credible human rights activists and
organizations of involvement in torture, mistreatment,
disappearances, and deaths of criminal suspects. Many members
of the SIC have been reassigned to other police units, although
most officers continue to work in the Office of Criminal
Investigation (OID) . With the exception of the Restrepo
brothers 1988 case, no earlier cases of disappearances were
resolved, nor were any of those allegedly responsible punished.
      c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Although torture and similar forms of intimidation and
punishment are prohibited by law, reports in 1991 of physical
mistreatment by police of suspects and prisoners continued to
be persistent, widespread, and credible. Beating a suspect to
obtain a confession is the most common tool used by police to
carry out criminal investigations. The resort to torture and
other physical mistreatment to extract information from
suspects is caused, in part, by police lack of knowledge and
technology to carry out modern, scientific investigations. The
fact that officials are almost never punished for such abuses
is also a significant factor. Nearly every month the
Ecuadorian Ecumenical Human Rights Commission (CEDHU) publishes
detailed reports on suspects claiming to have been tortured by
the police. CEDHU' s reports frequently name police officials
alleged to be responsible for specific torture cases and often
include photographs of the victims with their wounds. Police
immunity and resort to police courts is a major factor in
preventing accountability for abuses by police.
Prison conditions in Ecuador's 20 extremely crowded detention
centers are abysmal. Human rights activists charge that these
detention centers constitute a serious violation of individual
rights. There are no separate facilities for hard-core or
dangerous criminals. A major mutiny and breakout at Quito's
Garcia Moreno prison in September resulted in one death and
several wounded guards. The breakout, which was carried out by
suspected drug traffickers who bribed a number of guards to
assist them, pointed out the urgent need for reform in the
prison system. Prisoners with economic resources are usually
able to secure highly favorable treatment through payments to
prison officials, while the indigent suffer severe deprivation
and generally inhuman conditions.
      d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The Constitution and Penal Code provide that no one may be
deprived of liberty without a written order from a competent
governmental authority, either a police chief or a judge of
instruction. Specific written orders must be signed within 24
hours of detention—even in cases in which a suspect is caught
in the act of committing a crime. The suspect must be charged
with a specific criminal offense within 48 hours of arrest.
All prisoners have the right to a review of the legality of
their detention within 48 hours of arrest, a review which is
supposed to be carried out by the senior elected official of
the locality in which the suspect is held. Incommunicado
detention is legally prohibited. In practice, these legal
protections against arbitrary arrest or detention are often
The process of arrest normally begins with an accusation of a
criminal act brought by one or more private citizens against
another. The police often detain suspects without the required
written order. Suspects are freqiaently detained longer than 24
hours before orders are signed, and few are charged within 48
hours of arrest. Preventive detention before sentencing is
legal under certain circumstances. Trial is supposed to begin
within 15 to 60 days of the initial arrest (60 days is the
maximum period a suspect charged with a specific crime is
required to wait before the trial commences). In practice, the
initiation of the trial phase may take several years. Suspects
are frequently held in detention longer than the maximum
sentence imposed for the crime for which they are ultimately
charged. To avoid this long, arduous, and arbitrary process,
families of detainees sometimes seek to secure the prisoner's
freedom through illegal means.
Exile is not generally used as a tool of political control.
      e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The vast majority of civilian defendants are tried by the
regular court system, although some indigenous groups try
members privately for violations of tribal rules. The Congress
elects a 16-member Supreme Court which chooses its president
from within its ranks . The Supreme Court names the
approximately 115 members of the Provincial Superior Courts
which serve as appeals courts for criminal, civil, tax, and
labor cases. The executive branch names the other "first
instance" judges. While the courts are supposed to be
independent by law, political party leaders exercise
significant influence over the selection of judges at all
Minimum due process rights are provided for by law but are
often not observed in practice. In theory, the accused is
presumed to be innocent until proven guilty; defendants have
the right to a public trial, defense attorneys, and appeal;
they may present evidence but have the privilege not to testify
against themselves; and defendants may confront and
cross-examine witnesses. In theory, there is a public defender
system. In practice, there are relatively few attorneys
available to defend the large number of indigent suspects.
f . Arbitrary Interference With Privacy, Family, Home, or
Police are rec[uired to have a warrant to enter a private home
or business, except in the case of hot pursuit. The police
generally respect the sanctity of private homes and
correspondence, although there were continuing cases of illegal
entry in 1991. Police surveillance is permitted, but
wiretapping is prohibited by the Constitution. The naval and
marine authorities who apprehended Mayer Mina in San Lorenzo
(see Section l.a.) entered his home in July without a warrant.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and the Press
The Constitution provides for freedom of speech, and this right
is generally respected in practice. However, the
Guayaquil-based radio station Radio Sucre, owned by an
opposition political party, was closed down in 1990 by the
Government for broadcasting unsubstantiated charges of
corruption by President Borja's brother, and it remained closed
as of the end of 1991. The principal owner, a Congressman from
the opposition Social Christian party, appealed the closure
decision in the judicial system but continued to be denied a
license to reopen. In late 1991, all Radio Sucre network
frequencies were assigned to Quito's Central University in a
well-publicized ceremony.
With the exception of two small government-owned radio
stations, all of the major media outlets—television,
newspapers, and radio—are in private hands. Using a law
promulgated by the last military regime that requires the media
to give the Government free space or air time, the Government
frequently requires television and radio to broadcast
government-produced programs featuring the President and other
top administration officials. It also requires newspapers to
carry a minimum amount of news prepared by the National
Secretariat of Social Communications. The media and opposition
political figures have criticized the Government's use of the
media for its own political ends.
The media represent a wide range of political views and
criticize the Government. However, some degree of
self-censorship in the print media occurs, particularly with
respect to stories about the military or corruption at high
levels of national, provincial, or municipal government.
Nevertheless, in 1991, the media gave wide coverage to the
Restrepo disappearance case in which high ranking police
officials were implicated (see Section l.b.). There are 2
major daily newspapers in the capital, Quito, 5 in the
principal commercial center, Guayaquil, and more than 20
additional papers published daily in other regions and cities.
There are 4 national television networks and about 300 radio
stations, as well as cable television programming from the
United States, Canada, Brazil, Spain, and Mexico, all free of
government censorship. Journalists working in the preparation
and reporting of news (as opposed to opinion) must be graduates
of an accredited Ecuadorian university journalism school.
Ecuador has a large university system comprising both
state-subsidized and private universities. The state
universities are active in politics, particularly on the left
of the political spectrum. The Government has scrupulously
avoided interference in issues involving academic freedom.
      b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Constitution provides for the rights of free assembly and
association for peaceful purposes. These rights are generally
respected in practice. Public rallies require prior government
permits, which are generally granted. Numerous political
demonstrations took place in 1991, including a February 6
general strike, student protests against government economic
measures, as well as numerous demonstrations throughout the
country against the war in the Persian Gulf. Generally, the
security forces intervene in demonstrations only when there is
violence against persons or proJ)erty. However, Professor Felix
Preciado died during a demonstration in San Lorenzo protesting
the murder of Mayer Mina at the hands of navy personnel . In
addition, indigenous organizations protested the use of private
paramilitary groups to break up demonstrations and land
invasions. The Minister of Government and the police announced
strengthened controls over private guard forces and other armed
groups that are not properly registered. However, there have
not been any reported charges brought against such groups. In
general, police were restrained in the use of force during
      c. Freedom of Religion
Citizens are free to practice the religion of their choice.
There is no official state religion, although the population is
nominally over 90 percent Roman Catholic. There are active
Protestant and Jewish communities in the major cities and
evangelical movements continue to attract new adherents. The
Constitution prohibits discrimination for religious reasons,
although members of the clergy are barred by the Constitution
from election to the Congress, the Presidency, or Vice
Presidency. Numerous foreign-based religious orders and
missionary groups are active in Ecuador.
      d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
The Constitution assures the right of all citizens to travel
freely throughout the country, to choose their place of
residence, and to depart from and reenter Ecuador. These
rights are respected in practice. Ecuadorian citizens who
return to the country after residing abroad are not harassed or
discriminated against by the Government. No cases of forced
resettlement were reported in 1991.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens
to Change Their Government
Since the return to civilian rule in 1979, Ecuadorian citizens
have exercised their right to change their national and local
governments. Free elections for the Presidency and the
Congress have taken place regularly since 1979, and power has
been transferred peacefully to different parties. The June
1990 congressional election saw significant losses by
progovernment parties, leaving the Government without a
majority in Congress. In 1991 there were 17 legally registered
political parties, spanning the ideological spectrum. Eleven
of the 16 parties, including 4 of the leftist parties, are
represented in the Congress.
Voting is mandatory for literate citizens over the age of 18
and voluntary for illiterate citizens. There are no
restrictions on voting by women or by minority groups.
Active-duty members of the military forces cannot vote although
there was periodic debate on this subject in 1991. All
citizens, regardless of sex, religion, socioeconomic status, or
ethnic origin, have the right to form and join political
parties and to run for local or national office. The
white/mestizo male-dominated elite tends to be
self-perpetuating, and blacks, Indians, and women continue to
be underrepresented in high positions in government.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
Domestic human rights groups such as the Catholic
Church-affiliated Ecumenical Commission on Human Rights (CEDHU)
and the Latin American Human Rights Association (ALDHU) are
independent and actively monitor human rights issues in
Ecuador. These groups, particularly CEDHU, have been outspoken
in their criticism of the Government's record on specific
cases, and CEDHU has taken a particular interest in defending
the human rights of the poor. Following demonstrations and
protests by indigenous groups in 1990 and 1991, the Borja
Administration, besides opening a dialog with the groups,
generally cooperated with international environmental and human
rights groups. In July 1991, four foreigners, who were looking
into environmental and human rights conditions in the Amazon
basin region where significant petroleum development activity
takes place, were detained for a number of days by Ecuadorian
military forces and later detained by police in Quito who
questioned whether the activists had permission to be in the
Foreign and international human rights groups had access to a
wide range of government officials in 1991 and were able to
investigate human rights conditions without government
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Language, or Social Status
The Constitution prohibits discrimination based on race,
religion, sex, or social status. Nevertheless, discrimination
against women, blacks, and Indians is pervasive in Ecuadorian
society, particularly with respect to educational and economic
opportunity. The vast majority of the rural population of
approximately 5 million (slightly less than 50 percent of the
population) are peasants of Indian or Indian-mestizo ancestry.
The population of the rural, northern coastal area of Ecuador
includes large numbers of black citizens. Most peasants live
in varying degrees of poverty. Land is scarce, infant
mortality, malnutrition, and epidemic disease are common, and
potable water and electricity are often unavailable. The rural
education system is seriously deficient, even while the
Government continues to heavily subsidize the state
universities' largely white or white/mestizo students from the
middle and upper classes.
Efforts to improve living standards for Indian and black
peasants were hampered in 1991, as in previous years, by the
Government's reluctance to change traditional spending
patterns, especially those favoreing the cities. The
long-simmering frustration of Ecuador's largest minority group,
the Indians, over these socioeconomic issues exploded in
nationwide protest demonstrations in 1990, and sporadic
demonstrations continued in 1991. The Borja Administration
pursued a dialog with indigenous groups to attempt to resolve
some of the key issues they raised, but the dialog was broken
off on a number of occasions by both sides during 1991.
There was little improvement in the status of women in 1991.
The Ecuadorian women's liberation movement believes that in
practice culture and tradition inhibit achievement of full
equality for women. While no current data on salaries or
occupation by sex are available, anecdotal evidence suggests
that the number of women in the professions or working as
skilled laborers is substantially fewer than men, and salary
discrimination is common. Although violence against women,
including within marriage, is prohibited by law, it is a common
practice. Many rapes go unreported because of the victims'
reluctance to confront the perpetrator. To date the Government
has not addressed this cjuestion as a serious public policy
 Section 6 Worker Rights
      a. The Right of Association
Under the Constitution and Labor Code, most workers enjoy the
right to form trade unions. In November the Legislature passed
Labor Code reforms which seek to boost employment without
significantly limiting workers' rights. Workers not free to
form trade xinions include public security and military
officials, and public sector employees in nonrevenue earning
entities. The Labor Code reforms raised the number of workers
required for an establishment to be unionized from 14 to 30.
While employees of stated-owned organizations enjoy full rights
similar to that of the private sector, the majority of public
sector employees are prevented from joining unions and lack
collective bargaining rights. The International Labor
Organization Committee of Experts (COE) reiterated in 1991 that
the prohibition on establishment of trade unions by public
servants in nonrevenue earning entities is incompatible with
Ecuador's ratification of Convention 87 on freedom of
Approximately 12 to 15 percent of the work force is organized.
There are four large labor centrals or confederations, three of
which maintain strong international affiliation. Ecuador also
has numerous unaffiliated labor federations, such as the
drivers union, the teachers' organization, the national
artisans and mechanics confederation, and numerous peasant
Workers by law have the right to strike. There are few
restrictions on this right, except for workers in some
state-owned enterprises involved in basic services or products
such as hospitals, petroleum, telephones, water, and
electricity. A 20-day cooling-off period is required before
declaring a strike. The new Labor Code limits solidarity
strikes or boycotts to 3 days, provided that they are approved
by the Labor Ministry. Many legal strikes occurred in 1991.
In addition to the large number declared legal, there were
numerous illegal strikes, such as those by medical workers,
doctors, teachers, and provincial workers. In a legal strike,
workers take possession of the factory or workplace, thus
ending production at the site, and receive police protection
during the takeover. All salaries and benefits continue to be
paid by the employer during a legal strike. There were no
reports of use of police to control strikes in 1991, although
police were called out during the national strike of February
6, 1991.
A Maquila (in bond) Law passed in 1990 permits the hiring of
temporary workers for the maquila industries only. While there
is no express prohibition on association rights in the Maquila
Law, organizing temporary contract workers will be difficult in
practice, as many will be temporary employees with short term
contracts. The Government approved a law permitting the
creation of free trade zones, but none had been established by
year ' s end.
      b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
Ecuador has a highly segmented labor market with a minority of
workers in skilled, usually unionized, positions in state-run
enterprises or in protected import substitution industries.
The vast majority of the economically active population is
either unemployed or underemployed in the informal sector.
Most rural labor is not organized. The Labor Code requires
that all private employers with 30 or more workers belonging to
a union must negotiate collectively when the union so
requests. This broad right does not extend to most public
sector employees in nonrevenue earning ministries nor to
management in certain entities with social or public
objectives. The new Labor law has streamlined the bargaining
process in stated-owned enterprises by requiring workers to be
represented by only one labor union. The Labor Code prohibits
discrimination against unions and requires that employers
provide space for union activities upon the union's request.
The COE, however, reiterated in its 1991 report that the Labor
Code inadequately protects against antiunion activity at the
time of recruitment. The ILO Committee of Freedom of
Association's review of a specific complaint involving
antiunion discrimination was rendered moot when union strike
leaders accepted compensation in lieu of job reinstatement.
Despite the reforms promulgated in November 1991, the Labor
Code remains highly unfavorable to employers and is a
disincentive to the hiring of union members and to employment
in general. Employers often try to avoid hiring additional
workers and unionization by substituting machinery for workers
or "atomizing" their production processes to maintain plants
employing less than the number needed to form a union.
Employers are not permitted to dismiss a worker without the
express permission of the Ministry of Labor. Dismissals ruled
as unjustified require payment to the worker of large
indemnities or separation payments by employers, although the
reforms have set a cap on such payments. The Labor Code
provides for resolution of labor conflicts through an
arbitration and conciliation board comprised of one
representative of the Ministry of Labor, two from the union,
and two representatives of management. Participation in this
process is voluntary, and strikes and lockouts occur even while
arbitration is under way.
      c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
Compulsory labor is prohibited by both the Constitution and the
Labor Code and is not practiced.
      d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
Persons less than 14 years old are prohibited by law from
working except in special circumstances such as
apprenticeships. Those between the ages of 14 and 18 are
required to have the permission of their parent or guardian to
work. In practice, enforcement of child labor laws is
seriously inadequate. In rural areas most children leave
school at about 10 years of age to contribute to household
income as farm laborers. In the city many children under age
14 work in family-owned "businesses" in the informal sector,
shining shoes,- collecting and recycling garbage, or as street
      e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The basic minimum wage is not adequate to provide a decent
standard of living for a worker and his family. The vast
majority of organized workers in state industries and formal
sector private enterprises earn substantially more than the
minimum wage and also have significant other benefits.
However, the minimum wage is the operative wage in many
informal sector activities where the majority of the
economically active population is employed. The Ministry of
Labor has the principal role in enforcing labor laws and
carries this out with a corps of labor inspectors who are
active in all 21 provinces. The Labor Code provides for a
40-hour workweek, a 15-day annual vacation, a minimum wage, and
other variable employer-provided benefits such as uniforms and
training opportunities.
The Labor Code also provides for general protection of workers'
health and safety on the job. In the formal sector
occupational health and safety is not a major problem. The
Government enforces health and safety standards and regulations
through the Social Security Institute. There are no specific
regulations governing health and safety standards in the
agricultural sector and, in practice, there is no enforcement
of safety rules in small mines and remote locations.