Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1989

Ecuador is a constitutional republic with a president and
71-member unicameral Congress chosen in free elections.
Members of the Supreme Court, chosen by Congress, preside over
an independent judiciary. In 1989 Ecuador celebrated the 10th
anniversary of its return to democracy after 7 years of
military rule. Fourteen registered political parties, a free
press, and numerous and active labor unions characterize an
open and lively political system. President Rodrigo Borja of
the Democratic Left party completed the first year of his
4-year term in August. Although the Popular Democracy (a
Christian democratic party) withdrew its members from the
executive branch coalition in July, it continues to cooperate
with the President's party in the legislature, as does the
small Communist party, the Broad Front of the Left (FADI).
Congressional elections are currently scheduled for June 1990.
The President controls the police through the Ministry of
Government. In 1989 there were few charges of police abuse of
citizens for political reasons, although Ecuadorian human
rights activists charge that lower level police officials
sometimes resort to force during investigations of common
A small group of violent leftwing terrorists, Alfaro Vive
Carajo (AVC) , that maintains links with the Colombian M-19
group, continues to operate in Ecuador. A few AVC members are
in jail, having been sentenced for participation in violent
crimes. Other AVC members were released from prison after
completing their sentences. The Borja Administration and the
AVC signed an accord in March 1989 in which the AVC agreed to
integrate itself into legitimate political activity.
Ecuador has a basically free enterprise economic system
although the Government controls petroleum production and
export. Petroleum, agricultural products, and fish account
for the bulk of exports. High foreign debt, unfavorable terms
of trade for key export items, and extensive rural poverty,
especially among highblood Indians, burdened the economy in
Most human rights were well respected by the Government in
1989. Problem areas included police or military mistreatment
of suspects during criminal investigations, brutal prison
conditions, lengthy detentions without charge, and faulty
judicial procedures.
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
      a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
There were no known political killings in Ecuador in 1989.
Some human rights observers believe the killing by unknown
assailants on September 6 of journalist Francisco "Pancho"
Jaime, who published a satiric magazine in Guayaquil
lampooning top politicians in Ecuador, was politically
motivated. Others discount this, believing it was likely a
personal matter. No arrests have been made in the case. One
person was shot and killed during a January 9 demonstration in
Quito, but it remains unclear who did the shooting. There
were no cases of excessive use of force by police resulting in
extrajudical killings in 1989 as there were in previous years.
      b. Disappearance
There were no known cases of disappearance attributable to
government forces in 1989. Four of the cases still unresolved
at the end of 1988 remain unresolved. The 1985 disappearance
of Consuelo Benavides Cevallos led to a multiparty
congressional investigation which concluded in 1989 that
Benavides was killed within a week of her disappearance, and
that the naval forces stationed in Esmeraldas Province
probably were responsible for the disappearance and killing.
The Supreme Court decided in 1989 not to hear the case brought
by the Benavides family and recommended that a lower court
hear the family's suit. That case was in progress in
Esmeraldas at year's end.
      c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Although torture and other such forms of intimidation or
punishment are prohibited by law, there are persistent
credible reports that excessive force is used by lower level
police officials, particularly against youthful suspects
during investigations of common crimes. There have been no
instances in recent years of police officials being tried and
punished for such conduct.
Prison conditions continue to be so brutal as themselves to
constitute cruel and inhuman treatment. Beatings for
disciplinary purposes are common. Use of solitary confinement
in an arbitrary manner as a disciplinary measure also
continues, although the Director of Prisons indicated to human
right activists his intention to end the practice.
      d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and prolonged
detention without charge. The criminal code provides for a
judicial determination of the legality of detention and
reguires that arrested persons must be charged within 48 hours
of arrest. In practice, some suspects are held substantially
longer than 48 hours before being charged. Five members of
the AVC, who were being held without charge in connection with
a 1985 murder case, were released in October; they had been
imprisoned since 1985. Preventive detention is limited to 48
hours by law. In 1989 there were no cases of arrest for
crimes which could be construed as political. Forced exile is
not practiced.
With regard to forced or compulsory labor, see Section 6.c.
      e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The Congress elects the Supreme Court and has the power to
impeach judges, to set the budget of the judicial branch, and
to ratify the Supreme Court's judicial review decisions. From
time to time, the Supreme Court investigates allegations of
judicial inefficiency or improprieties and may remove judges
of lower courts. In November the Congress enacted a law
granting authority to remove lower court judges to provincial
The autonomous Constitutional Guarantees Tribunal (TGC) is
composed of representatives named by the President, the
Congress, the judiciary, municipalities, business, and labor.
The TGC is empowered by the Constitution to investigate
breaches of constitutional or human rights. The TGC submits
its findings to Congress but has no statutory power to enforce
sanctions. Military courts may try only those cases involving
infractions of military regulations or acts against military
As in most civil law systems there is no trial by jury;
judges play a central role in deciding guilt or innocence. In
theory, defendants have the right to counsel as soon as
arrested, although in practice this can take time and depends
on defendants' economic resources. They can call witnesses on
their own behalf, cross-examine all witnesses, refrain from
testifying against themselves, and appeal to higher courts.
Although a public defender system is mandated by the
Constitution, the quality, reliability, and availability of
the defenders are inconsistent.
Due to both inefficiency and corruption, detainees often face
extended periods of pretrial detention after being charged and
tried. Time spent awaiting trial and sentencing counts toward
completion of the final sentence, but some long-term detainees
have been found innocent, and, because of incompetent defense,
many prisoners never see their final sentences reduced
concomitantly. The poor and other disadvantaged groups who
cannot afford to hire private lawyers usually face the longest
periods of pretrial detention.
According to some human rights activists and political
figures, corruption charges against Abdala Bucaram (President
Rodrigo Borja's opponent in the 1988 presidential campaign and
mayor of Guayaquil in the mid-1980 's) as well as the ongoing
suit against the son-in-law of former President Febres-Cordero
are politically motivated, and demonstrate that the Ecuadorian
legal system is open to political manipulation.
There were no political prisoners in 1989.
      f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
Police are required to have a warrant to enter a private home
or business except in cases of hot pursuit. The police
generally respect the sanctity of private homes and
correspondence, although there have been cases of illegal
entry in past years. Police surveillance is permitted and
used in practice in criminal investigations. No specific
cases of illegal surveillance or entry were reported in 1989.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
      a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and
communication and this is respected in practice. Most of the
major media organs—television, print and radio—are in
private hands, although the Government owns one radio
network. The Government occasionally requires television and
radio to broadcast government programs featuring the President
and requires newspapers to carry a minimum amount of news
prepared by the National Secretariat of Social Communication.
The media are lively and open, and represent the spectrum of
political opinion from conservative to Communist. There are
two major dailies in the capital, three in the principal
commercial center, Guayaquil, and more than 20 additional
papers published daily throughout the country. There are also
numerous newsmagazines published in Ecuador. There are four
national television networks and over 400 radio stations, as
well as programming from the United States available in
Ecuador by cable, all of which operate freely, without
There is no evidence of government interference with academic
      b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Constitution provides for the rights of free assembly and
association for peaceful purposes, rights which are generally
respected in practice. Public rallies require prior approval
(which is generally granted unless public order or safety are
threatened) from local government agencies.
For a discussion of freedom of association as it relates to
labor unions, see Section 6. a.
      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. The
Constitution prohibits discrimination against persons for
religious reasons, although members of the clergy of any
religious faith are barred from election to the Congress, the
presidency, or vice presidency. Foreign-based religious
orders are active in Ecuador and generally have cooperative
relations with the Government.
      d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
The Constitution provides all citizens the right to travel
freely throughout the country, choose their place of
residence, and depart from and reenter Ecuador freely. These
rights are respected in practice. Persons from other
countries have readily found asylum in Ecuador. Some human
rights activists and lawyers report that Ecuadorian
immigration authorities have occasionally not respected the
right of foreigners in deportation proceedings. No cases of
forced resettlement were reported in 1989.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens
to Change Their Government
Following 7 years of military rule, free and open democratic
elections for president took place in 1979, 1984, and 1988.
Congressional elections take place every 2 years, with the
next scheduled for June 1990. There are currently 14
political parties legally registered in Ecuador, including 2
Communist parties—the Soviet-oriented FADI and the more
extreme Popular Democratic Movement (MPD) (more sympathetic to
the Chinese Communist Party), both of which are represented in
Congress. In total, 11 of the 14 registered parties are
currently represented in the legislature. Voting is mandatory
for literate citizens over 18 years of age, and voluntary for
the illiterate. Active duty members of the military service,
according to the Constitution, may not vote. All citizens,
regardless of sex, religion, socioeconomic status, or ethnic
origin, have the right to form and join political parties.
Only legally registered political parties can present
candidates for election, and a candidate has to be a member of
a legally registered party to stand for election.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
In 1989 there were no reports of lack of cooperation by the
administration of President Rodrigo Borja with either domestic
or international human rights groups. There were complaints
that lower level security officials occasionally did not
cooperate in reviews of specific human rights cases. However,
human rights observers agree that at the political level
government officials are normally cooperative and often try to
resolve problems which occur in the first instance at lower
The organizations most active in monitoring human rights in
Ecuador during 1989 were the Ecuadorian Ecumenical Commission
on Human Rights, the Latin American Human Rights Association
(ALDHU, headquartered in Quito), and the Ecuadorian
Congressional Commission on Human Rights.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Language, or Social Status
Although the Constitution specifically outlaws discrimination
for racial, religious, linguistic, gender, political, or
social reasons, in practice such discrimination does occur.
There is no overt or legally sanctioned discrimination against
these groups, but historically the urban poor have been and
remain predominantly black, Indian, or of mixed ethnic
background. The vast majority of the Indian population is
rural and poor. Indigenous groups complained that government
programs encouraging economic development and migration to
sparsely populated areas traditionally inhabited by various
Indian tribes are destroying indigenous cultural and economic
life. The Government promotes colonization in the Oriente,
which has the effect of negating the land rights of the
indigenous people of the region. This colonization process
reflects a desire on the part of some in the Government to
fortify the frontier with Peru. Other government agencies are
attempting to establish mechanisms to ensure that the rights
of the Indian population are protected, but to date these
efforts have been only minimally successful, if at all.
Even though some changes in law in 1987 and 1989 granted
additional rights to women in the areas of property, divorce,
and inheritance, women still suffer discrimination under civil
law. No recent data on women in the Ecuadorian work force are
available but women's rights activists agree that women's wage
rates are lower than men's even in the same occupation.
Violence against women probably occurs with greater frequency
than is reported in the media or in official data. Wife
beating is believed to be common but is rarely reported. Wife
beating is not prohibited by law. Human rights groups believe
that in this male-dominated traditional society, women are
either afraid or ashamed to report rapes when they occur. In
addition, until recently, Ecuadorian men had the legal right
to beat a female relative caught in an "illicit" sexual act.
In 1989 there were no official government programs designed to
address the problem of violence against women.
Section 6 Worker Rights
      a. The Right of Association
Workers by law enjoy the right of association in forming and
belonging to trade unions, as well as the right to strike.
The only limitation on these rights is the prohibition against
unionization for the military, police, and those government
employees (the vast majority) who are covered by the
Ecuadorian Administrative Code. (Public employees covered by
the Ecuadorian Work Code do have the right to form unions and
to strike).
Approximately 12 to 15 percent of the labor force is
unionized. There are four large labor centrals or
confederations, and numerous unaffiliated unions, some of
which are quite effective, such as the National Drivers'
Federation. Unions are free of government control and are
free to join international labor organizations. The
Confederation of Free Trade Union Organizations is affiliated
to the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions
In a rare instance, the Government took into custody the
president of the National Drivers Federation in an attempt to
break a June strike, but the union leader was only held for 48
hours and the strike took place anyway.
In its 1989 report, the International Labor Organization (ILO)
Committee of Experts (COE) reiterated its observation that
several of the provisions of Ecuador's labor code are
incompatible with ILO Convention 87 on Freedom of
Association. Among them: prohibitions on public employees
forming trade unions; the requirement that members of works
councils' executive committees be Ecuadorian; dissolution of a
works council when union membership falls below 25%;
prohibition of unions participating in political or religious
activities; and the penalty of imprisonment for instigators of
collective work stoppages. The Government's failure to bring
its legislation into compliance with Convention 87 and
Convention 105 on forced labor (see below) was the subject of
a "special paragraph" in the report of the Committee on
Application of Conventions and Recommendations (CACR) to the
1989 International Labor Conference.
      b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
All private employers with more than 15 employees who belong
to a union or employees' association are obliged by the Labor
Code to negotiate collectively when the union so requests.
This broad right does not extend to most public sector
employees, nor to management in certain entities with social
or public objectives, "nor to employees of entities financed
by municipal or central government taxes, tariffs, or
subsidies." The Labor Code prohibits discrimination against
unions, and requires that employers provide space for union
activities if the union requests. However, the report of the
ILO's COE, cited above, noted Ecuadorian law does not provide
protection against antiunion activity at the time of
The Labor Code provides for resolution of labor conflicts
through an Arbitration and Conciliation Board which consists
of the labor inspector of the Ministry of Labor, two
representatives named by the workers, and two named by the
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employer. Participation in this arbitration process is
voluntary, and strikes and lockouts are permitted even while
arbitration is under way.
The ICFTU executive board in May 1989 resolved to ask the
ICFTU general secretary to lodge a complaint with the ILO
against the Government of Ecuador for its actions in
connection with a strike against the National Brewers Company
because these actions "contribute to flagrant disregard for
recognized international labor standards." Some observers
within Ecuador's labor movement, however, are not in agreement
that the employer is guilty of "flagrant disregard."
The labor law is enforced uniformly throughout the country;
there are no export processing zones.
      c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
Compulsory labor is prohibited under the Constitution as well
as the Labor Code. In 1989 there were no reports of forced
labor. The ILO's COE called on the Government to repeal
Decree 105, which provides punishment, including compulsory
labor, for anyone who participates in a work stoppage.
      d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
Persons of less than 14 years of age are prohibited by law
from working, except in special circumstances such as
apprenticeships. Those between ages 14 and 18 are required to
have parental or guardian permission to work. In practice, in
rural areas and in the active informal economy which is
particularly evident in major cities, many children under the
age of 14 work in family-owned businesses, as shoeshiners,
street peddlers, or on family-owned farms. Rudimentary
enforcement mechanisms exist but are totally inadequate.
      e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The Labor Code provides for a 40-hour workweek, a 15-day
annual vacation, a minimum wage, and employer-provided
benefits. The minimum wage was recently raised to
approximately $47 per month. This minimum wage is not
sufficient to provide a decent standard of living for a worker
and his family. Many must supplement the minimum wage with
income from other sources. Employers are responsible for
maintaining safe and clean working conditions. The Social
Security Institute is responsible for enforcement, which is
generally adequate