Covering events from January - December 2003

Police courts, which were neither independent nor impartial, continued to claim jurisdiction to investigate and try police officers accused of grave human rights violations. Torture and ill-treatment of detainees remained widespread. People who filed complaints of torture and ill-treatment were threatened, harassed and intimidated.


Lucio Gutiérrez Borbua, a retired army colonel, took office as President in January with the support of the Pachakutic Movement, the political party backed by the indigenous communities. However, by August the Pachakutic Movement broke ranks with the government amid accusations that the government was continuing to implement economic policies that did not serve the interests of the majority of the population.

Throughout the year, trade unions and grassroots organizations, including those based in the indigenous communities, staged demonstrations against the growing poverty and government economic policies.

The President declared states of emergency in November in the city of Cuenca and the province of Azuay. According to the decree, this was prompted by a "wave of delinquency with loss of human life and the material damage which was unquantifiable".

Concerns remained about the effect the escalating conflict in Colombia (see Colombia entry) was having on Ecuador, in particular in the border areas. It appeared that the native population in Ecuador was blaming rising crime levels on the increasing number of Colombian migrants in the country.

Impunity and the use of police courts

The use of police courts to try members of the security forces allegedly responsible for human rights violations continued to be a concern. Police officers tried in these courts for crimes such as torture and ill-treatment usually go unpunished. In October, AI launched in the capital, Quito, a special report on this issue. The organization welcomed the commitment expressed by the authorities to make the necessary changes so that police courts do not deal with cases of human rights violations. However, the Commander in Chief of the Police disagreed with AI's concerns and insisted that human rights violations by police were a "thing of the past".

Torture and ill-treatment

Torture and ill-treatment of detainees and prisoners remained widespread. Victims and their relatives were intimidated and threatened after lodging complaints.

  • Wilmer Lucio León Murillo told AI in October that he received death threats after he filed a complaint in July of torture and ill-treatment by five police officers in Quevedo town, Los Ríos province. Wilmer Lucio León and three others were detained in July outside Quevedo on suspicion of belonging to a well-known armed gang and were driven to an open space on the outskirts of the town. Wilmer Lucio León said that he had been tied up and made to lie on a concrete floor where two officers held him down and a third covered his mouth and poured water into his nose with a hose until he lost consciousness. The prosecution subsequently said that there was no case to answer against Wilmer Lucio León and he was released.

Abuses in the army

Torture and ill-treatment of junior army officers and conscripts in military installations were reported.

  • Carlos Javier Paredes Rosero told AI in February that he had been tortured and ill-treated while on military service. In September 2002 he had reportedly been forced to wear a tyre around his neck for 12 days and made to fight other conscripts until he lost consciousness. After his family filed a complaint, Carlos Javier Paredes reportedly received death threats and was verbally abused by army personnel in the hospital where he was being treated.

Threats against indigenous activists in oil zones

In February, two leaders of the Sarayaku indigenous community in Pastaza province received death threats. The two men strongly opposed the extraction of oil in the region, the contract for which had been granted to an Argentine oil company. In November 2002 the community had declared a "state of alert" to mobilize against the incursion of the oil company into their territory. Since then, the community reportedly faced a campaign of intimidation and defamation. Other surrounding communities were allegedly induced to surrender part of their land by offers of financial and other benefits, such as employment and schools. Some individuals from the Sarayaku community were also approached, which allegedly created divisions within the community.

AI country visits

In February an AI delegation carried out research in Ecuador. In October another delegation visited the country to launch the above report and met various authorities, including representatives of the President and Minister of the Interior, the President and magistrates of the National Police Court, the Attorney General and members of Congress.

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