U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Ecuador
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||30 January 1998|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Ecuador, 30 January 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa3d0.html [accessed 23 September 2014]|
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.
ECUADOREcuador is a constitutional republic with a president and an 82-member unicameral legislature chosen in free elections. Interim President Fabian Alarcon was elected by Congress to an 18-month term in February after Congress voted to dismiss his predecessor on the grounds of "mental incompetence." Congress also has sweeping powers to question and censure cabinet ministers; such censure results in automatic dismissal of the minister in question and often is used as a political tool by opposition party congressmen. Members of the Supreme Court preside over a judiciary that is constitutionally independent, but in practice susceptible to outside pressure. The military enjoys substantial autonomy, reinforced by guaranteed revenues from the nation's oil exports, as well as from civil aviation, shipping, and other commercial sectors. The military has maintained a low profile in domestic politics since the return to constitutional rule in 1979. The National Police, responsible for domestic law enforcement and maintenance of internal order, falls under the civilian Ministry of Government and Police. There continued to be credible allegations of human rights abuses by the police and, in some isolated cases, members of the military. The economy is based on private enterprise, although there continued to be heavy government involvement in key sectors such as petroleum, utilities, and aviation. The per capita gross domestic product of $1,669 provides most of the population with a low standard of living. The inflation rate for the year was 30 percent. The principal exports are oil, bananas, and shrimp, which are the country's leading sources of foreign exchange. Manufacturing for regional export markets is of growing importance. Most citizens are employed in the urban informal sector or as rural agricultural workers; rural poverty is extensive, and underemployment is high. The most fundamental human rights abuse stems from shortcomings in the politicized, inefficient, and corrupt legal and judicial system. People are subject to arbitrary arrest; once incarcerated, they may wait years before being convicted or acquitted unless they pay bribes. More than one-half the prisoners in jail have not been formally sentenced. Other human rights abuses included isolated instances of extrajudicial killings; torture and other mistreatment of prisoners and detainees by the police; poor prison conditions; and violence and pervasive discrimination against women, Afro-Ecuadorians, and indigenous people. The Government failed to prosecute and punish human rights abusers. Following a referendum in May that called for the Supreme Court to be depoliticized, and in response to continued public demands for profound reform of the justice system, Congress replaced the entire Court, selecting the justices from a list of candidates nominated by designated civic groups and chosen by a panel of civic leaders. The Truth and Justice Commission was no longer active; an Ombudsman was chosen, but had not yet begun work by year's end.