Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (hereinafter, the “Commission”),
within the context of its competence established in the American Convention on
Human Rights (hereinafter, “the Convention” or “the American
Convention”) and other pertinent instruments, has continued to observe with
interest developments in the human rights situation in Ecuador.
In 1997, the Commission issued its first report on the human rights
situation in Ecuador, covering the period from the assumption of office of
President Durán Ballén, in mid-1992, to September 1996.
In its 1998 Annual Report, the Commission included a follow-up report on
the human rights situation in Ecuador, in order to assess compliance with
recommendations made earlier.
inclusion of Ecuador in this section of the Annual Report is in keeping with two
criteria previously established by the Commission for the inclusion of countries
in this chapter. First, the
criterion stipulating that States where “the free exercise of rights contained
in the American Convention or Declaration have been effectively suspended, in
whole or part, by virtue of the imposition of exceptional measures, such as a
state of emergency, state of siege, suspension of guarantees, exceptional
security measures, and the like.”
Second, the criterion that includes “…structural or temporary
situations that may appear in member States confronted, for various reasons,
with situations that seriously affect the enjoyment of fundamental rights
enshrined in the American Convention or the American Declaration. This criterion
includes, for example: (…) serious institutional crises.”
report focuses on the situation in Ecuador in late 1999 and early 2000, in
particular on two events: the mobilization of indigenous organizations that was
aimed at the removal of the three branches of the government (the Executive,
Legislature, and the Judiciary), and the events that occurred in January 2000,
which culminated in the departure of President Jamil Mahuad and his replacement
with Vice President Gustavo Noboa. Before
analyzing these two events, the Commission would like to comment on the
socio-economic context in which they took place.
Deterioration of the socio-economic situation in Ecuador
In the follow-up report on the human rights situation in Ecuador, the
Commission indicated that “Ecuador’s low socioeconomic figures have (…)
created intense discontent among the population, which has translated into
strikes and social mobilizations...”
In this report, the Commission added that “it took note of the
existence of a group of economic measures, presented by the President of the
Republic to the Congress, that were the object of protests and social
This situation of discontent worsened in late 1999 and early 2000.
The serious economic crisis being experienced in Ecuador is reflected in
the following indicators: inflation rose to 60.7% in 1999, the highest in the
Hemisphere, and in January 2000, it climbed to 78.1%, the highest monthly
inflation rate in 32 years. Gross
domestic product dropped by seven points in 1999.
During that year, the currency fell by 67%, the recession rate stood at
7.5%, and its external debt exceeded US$13 million.
The rate of unemployment rose to 17% and 62.5% of its inhabitants were
living below the poverty line.
The economy of Ecuador, which stands at approximately US$18 million, is
largely dependent on foreign exchange earnings derived from oil, banana, shrimp,
and flower exports. On March 8,
1999, the Government closed 39 commercial banks in the country over the course
of one week, due to the worsening financial crisis.
Fearing a collapse of the banking system, persons who held bank deposits
tried to withdraw their money, which prompted the Government’s decision to
close them. On March 9, President
Mahuad declared a 60-day state of emergency and announced an austerity program.
Taxi drivers throughout the country blocked roads, crippling
transportation and commerce, in order to protest the nearly 200% hike in the
price of fuel announced by the President as part of his austerity plan.
The crisis, considered the worst since the world depression of 1929, had
its roots in the damage caused by El Niño,
which was estimated at US$2.5 million, the drop in oil prices, and an inflation
rate of 43%, the highest in Latin America in 1998.
In addition, Ecuador’s big neighbor, Brazil, was plagued with serious
economic problems, which had a very negative impact on the Ecuadorian economy.
austerity plan, announced on March 9, 1999, led to the taxi strike mentioned
Bus drivers joined with taxi drivers, paralyzing the public
transportation system. Antonio
Vargas, leader of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities, (CONAIE), called for a popular
uprising to reject the austerity plan. As a result, the President lifted the state of emergency and
withdrew the increase in gas prices. However,
the Congress, with the support of the opposition, approved the austerity plan
and presidential decree, freezing bank accounts for a period of up to one year.
main problem in 1999 was the collapse of the banking sector.
The biggest banks are in Guayaquil and the Government made various
attempts to bail them out. The Government spent almost US$1 billion trying to bail out
banks, an amount equivalent to the total reserves of the country.
The special treatment accorded by the Government to the banking sector
generated a great deal of criticism from indigenous organizations and farmers.
In September 1999, Ecuador became the first country in the Hemisphere to
default on the interest payments of its foreign debt under the provisions of the
January 9, 2000, President Jamil Mahuad proposed the dollarization of the
economy as a way of halting the country’s serious economic crisis, and, in
particular, the decline in the sucre,
which had fallen by 20% in one week. Over
the course of one year, the value of the dollar rose from 7,000 to 29,000 sucres.
Ecuadorians protested the sudden loss of their purchasing power,
speculation, and the escalation in the cost of living caused by the new parity,
corruption in the banking sector, and the series of failed government measures.
The Mahuad Plan made provisions for the use of the dollar for all
commercial transactions, as well as the fixing of salaries and prices in U.S.
currency. The President of the
Central Bank resigned in protest against of the dollarization policy.
January 5, 2000, President Mahuad again declared a country-wide state of
Commission quoted correspondence from the Government on March 19, 1997, in its
report on the Human Rights Situation in Ecuador, published in 1997, which
indicated “that, at present, poverty is a serious obstacle preventing
Ecuadorians from enjoying the economic, social, and cultural rights recognized
in several international human rights instruments.”
This situation worsened in 1999. Four
million indigenous Ecuadorians of a total population of 12.5 million survive on
a salary of US$45 per month, whereas the basket of goods for a family of four
costs close to US$200. The minimum
living wage is the equivalent of four dollars per month.
In light of the serious economic crisis, several social organizations,
together with the indigenous movement, formed what was called the National
Parliament of Ecuadorian People, in a bid to effect political, economic, and
ethical change in the country.
and the Coordinator of Social Movements (CMS) called on indigenous peoples and
farmers to go to Quito to stage demonstrations in order to achieve a general
strike aimed at bringing down the Government.
A peaceful takeover of Quito was scheduled to take place on Saturday,
January 15, 2000. The President of
CONAIE, Antonio Vargas, vowed that the indigenous people’s uprising would
paralyze the country. “Everyone
will come out to take over the cities and streets,” stated Vargas.
Thousands of indigenous peoples set off for Quito using the streets
connecting the cantons and provinces. For
example, almost 4,000 indigenous peoples from 220 communities in Tungurahua
came out on the night of January 13, 2000 to take over the capital.
According to a leader of the Indigenous Tungurahua Movement (MIT), they
also participated in protest activities organized by CONAIE, whose leaders
ordered the march to Quito.
protest coincided with Mahuad’s address to the Nation in Congress, in which he
analyzed his management, underscored the advantages of dollarization, and
highlighted the most important projects carried out during his term.
protestors were seeking not only the resignation of the President, but also the
dissolution of Congress and the Judiciary, which they considered to be
responsible for the economic crisis. Furthermore,
they were opposed to the presidential plan to dollarize the national economy as
a way of lifting the country out of the crisis. As far as the indigenous peoples were concerned, President
Mahuad’s address to Congress was riddled with deception.
They further maintained that dollarization would not benefit the people:
“It is not true that this measure (dollarization) is aimed at jumpstarting the
productive apparatus. On the contrary, it is a measure that will benefit
issued a call “together with other social organizations in the country to all
solidarity and human rights organizations … to take steps aimed at curbing the
levels of repression, searches, human rights violations, and a system of
discrimination and racial violence being applied by officials and the law and
order forces of Ecuador on the instructions of the Government of Dr. Jamil
to the National Police, in the days preceding January 15, 2000, the date on
which the event was scheduled, 152 citizens were arrested in Quito during
demonstrations held on Thursday, Friday, and Tuesday (January 6, 7, and 11
On Saturday 15, the protests took place but in smaller numbers than
anticipated. However, there were signs that the situation would worsen.
As a result of the declaration of a state of emergency, President Mahuad
called for the mobilization of approximately 30,000 police and military officers
throughout the country, as a precautionary measure.
The Commission has not received any information, other than newspaper
reports, regarding the status of the 152 persons who were reported to be
detained. The Ecuadorian press
reported that, of the 152 persons detained by the National Police, 83 were
minors and 69 were adults. Within a
48-hour period, most of the minors were released, although 17 remained in
detention for allegedly carrying arms and ammunition during student protests.
Monday, January 17, oil workers from Ecuador started a strike against the
Government. Oil is the main revenue
earner of the country and workers in this industry were calling for the
resignation of President Mahuad. They
were also calling for better conditions at Petroecuador, a company that provides
almost 80% of crude production in the country.
The movement of indigenous peoples and farmers stepped up its protest in
the days that followed. The effects of blocking the access roads to Quito began
to be felt, particularly the shortage of domestic products, such as gas.
The security forces tried to halt the movement by blocking the access of
indigenous people to the city. It
was reported that in anticipation of disorderly conduct and road blocks and of
the possible advance of indigenous people to Quito, the Armed Forces, acting
under the authority conferred by the state of emergency, proceeded to occupy the
streets. The military officers were controlling buses and cars on the
Pan-American roadway that crosses the most densely populated indigenous zone of
Ecuador. The official justification
for these measures was weapons control. The
Ecumenical Human Rights Commission (CEDHU), a non-governmental organization,
reported: “since Monday January 17, military officers have proceeded to detain
large numbers of indigenous peoples who where on their way to Quito and at other
times forced them off buses so that they could not get to the capital.
However, some 15,000 indigenous peoples reached our city, and held a huge
march on January 19 on several streets in the downtown area.”
weeks of street protests, on January 21, 2000 thousands of indigenous people and
farmers took over the headquarters of the Peruvian Congress and the Supreme
Court Building. The CEDHU reported
that it could see that, along with the barbed wire covered with newspaper,
antipersonnel mines had been placed at approximately two feet intervals at the
entrance doors of the National Congress. The
mines were interconnected by clearly visible wires.
press reported that the protests of the indigenous peoples who were calling for
the resignation of President Mahuad had led to violent acts and were paralyzing
traffic in downtown Quito.
Early on the morning of January 21, a bomb exploded in front of the
headquarters of the Bank Examiner of Ecuador in Quito.
No one was injured, but it destroyed the windows of the building,
according to National Police reports.
Furthermore, it was stated that:
20 indigenous persons, armed with sticks, pieces of
iron, and stones were staging a protest along 10 de Agosto street, about
100 meters from the Central Bank, burning tires and blocking the flow of
traffic. The press spokesman for the Police stated that the indigenous
people “proceeded to engage in acts of vandalism” in the southern part of
Quito, and burned a school bus, although no one was injured.
The violence seemed to be fueled by the street protests of the indigenous
people, who, since the day before, had closed the headquarters of Congress, the
Supreme Court, and the Office of the State Comptroller General, not allowing
anyone to leave the area. Even Red Cross intervention did not permit Supreme
Court justices or employees to leave the area of conflict.
At 9:30 a.m. on the morning of January 21, 2000, Antonio Vargas ordered
his followers to advance towards the legislative building.
At that time, Colonel Lucio Gutiérrez, one of the first of his group,
joined the indigenous movement and got off a bus of the School of Special Forces
of the Army, along with 75 officers in the vicinity of the Congress.
General Carlos Moncayo ordered that his troops be cleared from the area.
The indigenous peoples and farmers took over the assembly hall of
Congress and at 10:40 a.m., the “insurgents” issued their first press
release, removing the government of Mahuad and appointing a “National
Salvation Junta” [Junta Nacional de
Salvación] to replace him,
composed of Antonio Vargas, President of CONAIE, Colonel Lucio Gutiérrez, and a
former President of the Supreme Court, Carlos Solórzano.
By midday Gutiérrez had been replaced by Colonel Fausto Cobo, Commander
of the Military Academy. Around
midnight, the latter was replaced by General Carlos Mendoza.
On Friday, January 21, the OAS Permanent Council issued Resolution 76329,
by means of which it “strongly condemned the attack against the
legitimately constituted democratic order,” while backing the constitutional
Government of President Jamil Mahuad. It
also expressed its “concern at the grave political situation in Ecuador” and
the possible “serious consequences that could stem from any attempt to
destabilize the democratic system in that country.”
Furthermore, the Council decided to instruct the OAS Secretary General to
remain in constant contact with the Government of Ecuador and to inform the
Permanent Council of developments in the situation in the country.
On the morning of January 22, 2000, General Mendoza abruptly announced
that he was dissolving the junta that he headed, thereby ending the fleeting
reign of the junta resulting from the first coup
d’etat in a decade against an elected President in Latin America.
General Mendoza announced that he was taking this action to prevent the
isolation of Ecuador by the international community.
The “permanent” junta lasted a mere three hours.
The international community threatened to impose an economic and
political embargo on the new regime. As
a result, General Carlos Mendoza Poveda, the former chief of the Joint Command
of the Armed Forces, resigned from his military position and gave up the
triumvirate in favor of a legal and “constitutional” solution to the crisis
and in order to facilitate succession by former Vice President Gustavo Noboa
Bejarano. “It was a difficult
decision and I had to take a position in order to avoid the disintegration of
the military command structure and bloodshed,” Mendoza stated.
When the movement of indigenous peoples, farmers, and officials tried to
enter the Congress, General Carlos Moncayo, who was responsible for security in
the building, ordered his troops to leave the location and informed the
President that he could not guarantee the security of the Presidential Palace.
General Moncayo justified his actions by stating that “we let them
leave because we did not want a confrontation with the people.”
The Constitution of Ecuador is unequivocal in terms of the duty of the
Armed Forces to protect the President, the Chief of State, and the Government.
In this regard, Article 183 of the Ecuadorian Constitution states that
the “fundamental mission” of the Armed Forces is “the preservation of
national sovereignty, the defense of the integrity and independence of the
State, and the preservation of its legal system.”
Moreover, Article 184 states that “law and order forces owe their
loyalty to the State. The President
of the Republic shall be their highest authority….”
After the Armed Forces announced that they could not guarantee his
protection, former President Mahuad left the presidential palace under military
escort and went to an air force base where two planes were made available to him
so that he could leave the country. He
escaped and sought refuge at the Chilean Embassy and then at a private home.
On the morning of January 23, 2000, former President Mahuad condemned the
coup d’etat on television.
Mahuad congratulated the new President and stated that although he had
been deposed, he would never try to prevent the Vice President from assuming
power. The assumption of office by
Mr. Noboa was formally ratified by the Ecuadorian Congress in Guayaquil on
The Congress used the fact that Mahuad had sought refuge on foreign
territory (the Chilean Embassy) as a basis for his “abandonment” of his
presidential duties and for appointing his successor.
When the social protests began that culminated with the departure of
President Jamil Mahuad, both the National Police and Armed Forces observed the
institutional order. They were the
ones responsible for preserving safety and complying with the provisions of the
decree declaring the state of emergency. At
the time of takeover of the Congress, only a small group of military officers
had joined the social movement.
Initially, the leadership of the Armed Forces maintained its support for
the Government of Mahuad. This is
what was stated by General Carlos Mendoza, Chief of the Joint Command of the
Armed Forces, and by the Minister of Defense in the past week.
However, after the takeover of Congress, General Mendoza called for the
resignation of President Mahuad, “in order to avoid social upheaval.”
“Our responsibility is to maintain law and order,”
Mendoza stated. In addition to Gutiérrez,
other officers such as Colonel Fausto Cobo, were joining the revolt.
When the high command members of the Armed Forces saw that support was
growing for the rebellion among the rank and file, they changed their policy and
called for the renunciation of the President.
One military officer, who supported the rebelion announced on television
that his salary had fallen from US$1,100 to US$300 per month since Mr. Mahuad
came to office, thereby advancing a financial reason for the military support.
As was already mentioned, the Constitution of Ecuador states that the
President is the highest authority of the law and order forces.
In addition, Article 185 states that law and order forces shall be
“obedient and not deliberative.” It
is clear that the Minister of Defense is not vested with the authority, under
the Constitution, to call for the resignation of the President; rather, it is
his duty to use the Armed Forces to preserve law and order and protect the
President. According to Article 167 of the Constitution, the mandate of the
President may end prematurely because of “death, resignation accepted by the
National Congress, physical or mental incapacity that prevents him from
exercising his duties, which is legally corroborated and declared by the
National Congress, dismissal following political prosecution, or abandonment of
office, declared by the National Congress.”
On January 22, the Ecuadorian Ambassador to the OAS forwarded a
communication to the Chairman of the Permanent Council explaining the situation
in that country. He also forwarded
a copy of the address to the nation by former Vice President Noboa, who had just
been inaugurated as the eighty-fourth President in the history of Ecuador and
the sixth in the past four years, on the occasion of his assumption of office.
In that message, the new President, after stating that in assuming his
position he had received the support of the Armed Forces and National Police,
outlined the general policies of his new Government.
He referred, among other things, to the immediate normalization of the
activities of citizens, processes of State modernization, efforts to combat
corruption, and efforts to guarantee the swift and dynamic administration of
The new President underscored the attitude of General Mendoza “who,
through his noble and selfless attitude, had made it possible to consolidate
democracy.” President Noboa made
it clear that the state of emergency would remain in effect, which will be
On Wednesday, January 26, 2000, after the overthrow of Mahuad and the
assumption of office by Noboa, the OAS Permanent Council issued another
resolution, No. 76436. In
it, the Permanent Council reiterated “categorically its rejection of any
action to disrupt the democratic and constitutional order of Ecuador or any
Member State of the Organization..” Furthermore,
it condemned “strongly the events that jeopardized the legitimately
constituted democratic order in Ecuador,” and which had led to the departure
of the President from office. It
indicated further that the constitutional responsibility of the Armed Forces and
Security is to “defend and preserve democracy and the constitutional
authorities.” Lastly, the Council
decided “to support the Government of President Gustavo Noboa Bejarano…”
In the days that followed, Colonel Lucio Gutiérrez was detained along
with 11 officers, as a result of the military uprising. On January 27, 2000, the Chief of the Armed Forces, Telmo
Sandoval, announced that four colonels and scores of officers had been arrested
as a result of their support for the indigenous uprising.
On February 5, 2000, General Norton Narváez, Commander of the Army,
announced that 113 members of the Armed Forces would be prosecuted.
Congresswoman Nina Pacari submitted a draft amnesty document in favor of
the civilian and military officers who were involved in the events of January
The indigenous organizations have publicly stated that they feel angry
and deceived by the fact that their uprising only led to the rise of former Vice
President Gustavo Noboa to power. As
far as they are concerned, President Noboa represents a continuation of the
economic policies of former President Mahuad.
President Noboa, who enjoys the support of the Ecuadorian Congress and
the military leadership, has stated that he will continue the economic policies
of the former President.
Both the American Convention and OAS Charter are based on the premise of
a Hemisphere composed of democratic countries.
Human rights cannot be exercised in a context of military dictatorship. The arguments advanced by a given sector of society that
wishes to change government policy may be perfectly legitimate; however, in a
democratic society the rules of the game must be respected.
ANALYSIS OF THE INSTITUTIONAL CRISIS
33. In the context of the American Convention,
the events described above constitute a serious institutional crisis in Ecuador,
which justify the concern shown by the Commission.
In fact, in the period under study, actual conditions arose in that
country that fit the description provided in the “Fifth Criterion” prepared
by the Commission for the preparation of country reports, mentioned in paragraph
2 of this report.
Commission has always maintained that institutional crises have an impact on the
exercise and enjoyment of rights. It
therefore underscores the positive fact that the street demonstrations that took
place in Ecuador in 1999 and 2000 did not lead to bloodshed or the loss of human
life. However, they undermined and
weakened some institutions, among them the very ones that are intended to
guarantee citizens the ability to exercise their rights.
replacement of a President elected by popular vote before the end of his mandate
is always a serious development and one that must be frowned upon from the
standpoint of the safeguarding of democracy.
The Commission is aware that there are occasions on which Presidents
themselves precipitate institutional crises (for example, when, without
authority they shut down Congress or undermine the independence of the
Judiciary). In such instances, the
restoration of the rule of law may require the replacement of the President.
To the extent that this is done in accordance with the mechanisms set
forth in the Constitution in question (political trial, presidential succession
in the case of resignation), such solutions are compatible with the American
Convention on Human Rights.
36. That was
not, however, the case in Ecuador in January 2000.
President Mahuad was illegally removed from power by the actions of a
number of civilians and public officials, particularly military officers.
His own actions were not at the root of the crisis.
However, the foregoing cannot be interpreted as an articulation of the
Commission’s opinion on the prudence of the economic measures adopted by
former President Mahuad, a subject which, in the case at hand, is outside the
jurisdiction of the Commission. The Commission considers it necessary to make it clear that
an economic crisis does not justify the illegal removal of the President of the
Republic from office.
sober analysis of the facts as they are known, the Commission holds the view
that what happened in January 2000 was a coup
d’etat. The solution reached,
that is, succession by Vice President Noboa, is an appropriate remedy in light
of the gravity of the events that occurred.
Furthermore, President Noboa derives his own legitimacy from the ballot
box; in electing him Vice President, Ecuadorians were expressing their wish for
one of his functions to be the assumption of the presidency in the event of a
38. It is
clear, however, that the vacancy did not occur because of the resignation of the
President elected by the Ecuadorian people or by an act that can be attributed
to him. In the view of the Commission, the decision of the Congress
to consider his temporary exile at the Chilean Embassy to be tantamount to
“abandonment” of his position is not a convincing one, although it is
understandable given the complicated political context and the need to find a
39. In the
opinion of the Commission, the popular leaders who were involved in the events
and the military officers who supported them dealt a blow to democracy.
Each citizen naturally has the right to call for the resignation of the
authorities, even those elected by the people and to take to the streets to do
so. This is part of freedom
of expression and association. The
line is crossed, however, when attempts are made to create an alternative
government by occupying certain public buildings and preventing key institutions
from functioning, such as the three branches of government.
40. In the
view of the Commission, the acts of force that took place on January 21, 2000,
in particular the attitude of certain top officials and State authorities,
constituted a violation of the basic principles of international law in the
Americas and of the rights enshrined in the American Convention.
The complete functioning of the powers that are legitimately constituted,
without prejudice to their independence and on the same level with the other
State powers, is an essential requirement of democracy adopted by the OAS
Charter (Article 3). The OAS
Charter is a multilateral treaty that creates obligations among member States
and the “democratic clause” is one such obligation.
the acts of force indicated, and the fact that they resulted in the removal of
Mr. Mahuad, violate Article 23 of the American Convention in which the right to
political participation is enshrined. This
right is both individual and collective. Insofar
as Mr. Mahuad is concerned, his irregular removal violated his right to election
and to be elected. The right of
choice of the electorate who cast their vote for him at the appointed time was
also violated. This right is
meaningless if it does not include respect for the obvious expectation that the
authorities elected by individuals will be able to carry out their functions, in
a context of law, for the term originally stipulated.
interruption or premature cessation of electoral mandates can certainly be
compatible with the right to political participation.
This happens when such an act is carried out using the methods or for the
reasons set forth in the Constitution and laws.
An impeachment trial of the President of the Republic is fitting in the
event of the commission of offenses against State security or for the offenses
of extortion, bribery, embezzlement, and illicit enrichment (Article 130(9) of
the Constitution). Another method
provided for in modern democracies is the revocation of a mandate by referendum.
The current Constitution of Ecuador makes provisions for a referendum in
Articles 103-108, although its rules are not clear with regard to its
application to the President.
Commission concludes that the events of January 21, 2000 violated the
international obligations of the State, although this should not be taken to
mean that the Commission is calling for a return to the status
quo ante. First, the statement
of Mr. Mahuad that he supports President Noboa can be construed as an
endorsement of the solution reached. Furthermore,
the Commission is aware of the need to offer realistic solutions, the effect of
which is to produce stability rather than to prolong the crisis. However, the Commission holds the view that the actions of
senior officials and officers of the Armed Forces who have a duty to protect
democracy but instead played a role in undermining it warrant investigation.
The actions taken by the Government
Province of Guayas
44. The Ecumenical Human Rights Commission [CEDHU]
submitted a document to the IACHR on February 3, 2000, in which it reported that
the Government of Ecuador “had repeatedly violated the American Convention on
Human Rights by declaring a state of emergency when the requirements set forth
in Article 27 of said Convention had not been met.” The document presents the following information on the states
of emergency declared in Ecuador in 1999.
to the information provided by CEDHU, the first state of emergency was declared
on January 7, 1999 in the Province of Guayas for 60 days:
January 7, 1999, Dr. Jamil Mahuad, pressured by the productive sectors and the
mass media in the Province of Guayas, using as a pretext the need to combat
crime, declared a state of emergency in that province by means of Executive
Decree No. 483, which appears in the second supplement of Official Register No.
105 of Monday, January 11 of that year. This
decree suspends the effective exercise of the rights set forth in Article 23(12)
(inviolability of domicile) and
(14) (freedom of movement) of the Constitution, authorizes the use of members of
the Armed Forces, provides for the application of the National Security Law
under which any civilian accused of committing an offense during this state of
emergency may be prosecuted by the military courts, and establishes a Regional
Security Committee chaired by the Governor and composed of the Armed Forces,
National Police, and Civic Council of Guayas.
This Regional Security Committee expanded these measures, prohibiting
assembly in parks and public places, and ordered the detention of persons who
were not carrying identification cards. That
broadening of suspended constitutional rights is a clear violation of the
Constitution. In fact, Article 57
of the Statute of the Administrative and Legal System of the Executive states
that under no circumstances shall the constitutional powers of the President of
the Republic be delegated. Since
the President has exclusive authority to declare a state of emergency and thus
to limit or suspend constitutional rights, the Regional Security Committee, in
expanding these powers without having the authority to do so, was exercising
authority that was not vested in it, inasmuch as public law does not permit
expanded or analogous interpretations and officials can take only the action
that is provided for in the Constitution and the Law.
to CEDHU, the information that follows pertains to actions conducted by the
public forces during the state of emergency imposed in January 1999.
According to official figures, between January 9 and May 20, 1999, 5,253
persons were detained. Of this
number, 1,600 persons were detained for not carrying documents, although under
Ecuadorian law this is not an offense. Between
January and April, 40 arbitrary arrests of homosexuals were reported in Guayas,
which included punishment and mistreatment.
The Commission does not know whether homosexuality constitutes an offense
under Ecuadorian Law. Furthermore,
it sees no relation whatsoever between homosexuality and the circumstances that
may have given rise to the state of emergency. There were also 17 reports of
torture at the hands of the public forces.
During anti-crime activities, eight persons were shot and killed by the
police, among them two minors. In
addition, three persons died while in custody under conditions of extreme
cruelty. On March 5, 1999, Jimmy Contreras was detained by military
officers on charges of suspected robbery and taken to a judicial police cell.
After two days, he was transferred to the provisional detention center. On March 13, he was taken to the polyclinic’s penitentiary
because of a hemorrhage. He died
one hour later. The Commission,
however, has not received complaints from any of those victims.
In May, seven persons from the Las Malvinas neighborhood were riddled
with bullets in incidents involving armed and hooded individuals.
The Commission has not received complaints regarding these deaths either. It is clear that this type of action, carried out by the
security forces, in the context of a state of emergency, cannot be described as
the “exigencies of the situation” (Article 27 of the American Convention).
Application and observance of the Convention requires the investigation
by Ecuador of each and every one of these acts and the possible sanctioning of
November 1999, the Government once again decreed a state of emergency in the
Province of Guayas. Once again, the
productive sections and the mass media, together with the Civic Council,
pressured the Government to declare a state of emergency in that province,
arguing that this was the only way to suppress the crime taking place there as a
result of the Christmas and end-of-year celebrations.
On November 30, 1999, the President issued Executive Decree Nº 1557,
which was published in Official Register Nº 332 of Friday, December 3. This decree, like the one in January mentioned above,
declared a state of emergency in the Province of Guayas, suspended the exercise
of the rights established under Article 23(12) (inviolability of domicile) and
14 (freedom of movement) of the Constitution, authorized the use of the members
of the Armed Forces, provided for the application of the National Security Law
under which any civilian accused of an offense had to be prosecuted by the
military courts, and established a Regional Security Committee chaired by the
Governor and composed of the Armed Forces, National Police, and Civic Council of
48. On March 9, 1999, faced with a serious
economic crisis, the Government of Ecuador declared a nation-wide state of
emergency in view of the fact that several social sectors had announced the
organization of marches as a form of protest and in order to get the government
to change its economic policy.
The national state of emergency, ordered by Executive Decree No. 681
published in Official Register No. 148 of March 15, 1999, suspended the
effective exercise of the rights established in Article 23(12) (inviolability of
domicile), 14 (freedom of movement), and 19 (freedom of association and
assembly) of the Constitution of Ecuador.
On March 18, 1999, Executive Decree No. 787 was issued and published in
the Supplement to Official Register No. 153 of Monday, March 22, 1999.
It declared the lifting of the national state of emergency in effect
since March 9, 1999.
49. In 1999,
CONAIE declared its open opposition to the Government of President Mahuad. Antonio Vargas, its President, along with leaders of the oil
sector, called on President Mahuad to step down if he did not abandon his
neo-liberal policies and the policies of the International Monetary Fund.
to information provided by CEDHU, a state of emergency was declared in early
July 1999, and more than 500 persons were imprisoned, most of whom were taxi
drivers and demonstrators. In Manabí,
a camera man was assaulted by the Police and his camera destroyed.
Since the guarantee of justice through the normal channels was not
possible, the majority of persons detained during the protests were subjected to
military justice, without the guarantees of due process. The application of the rules of the National Security Law for
the prosecution of civilians, based on the military code, violates the right to
be prosecuted by independent and impartial tribunals. Also, the military courts dispense justice over matters that
are not within the military sphere and affect civilians. The People’s Democratic Movement (MPD) submitted a petition
to the Ombudsman to have the emergency decree and mobilization issued by
President Mahuad declared unconstitutional.
On July 13, 1999, Congress revoked the decree imposing the state of
51. On July
16, the National Congress granted a general amnesty to all detainees or persons
prosecuted for work stoppages during the state of emergency.
According to CONAIE, in addition to the persons detained, 30 indigenous
people were injured and three were killed during the state of emergency.
The Commission has not received any complaints regarding those acts.
52. On July
17, 1999, the indigenous movement signed an agreement with the Government
providing for a number of benefits, not only for the indigenous peoples but also
for broad sectors of Ecuadorian society, which put an end to the unrest and the
state of emergency. In order to
achieve this, some 10,000 indigenous people had to stage protests and the
society came to a standstill for 12 days. The
freezing of the price of fuel, the establishment of a subsidy for electricity
rates for the poorest sectors, and the gradual unblocking of the bank accounts
of all Ecuadorians were some of the things agreed upon.
collapse of that agreement led to the events of December 1999 and January 2000.
On January 5, 2000, the Government of Ecuador again declared a
nation-wide state of emergency in light of the pervasive crisis existing at that
54. Based on
the information provided by CEDHU, social and indigenous groups called for a
national mobilization in January 2000, in order to protest the economic measures
that were being adopted by the Government, in view of the decision not to turn
over to citizens the funds that had been frozen in banks since March 1999,
mentioned above. Faced with this
decision of the population, the Government, early on the morning of January 5,
2000, issued Executive Decree No. 1674, published in the Supplement to Official
Register No. 357 of Monday, January 10, 2000, suspending the rights listed in
Article 23 (12), (14), and (19) of the Constitution, and providing for the
application of the National Security Law.
January 7, 2000, the Ambassador to the OAS, Patricio Vivanco Riofrio, pursuant
to Article 27(3) of the American Convention, informed the Secretary General
of the OAS, César Gaviria, of the “declaration of a state of
emergency” and attached a copy of the pertinent Executive Decree (No. 1674).
Article one of the Executive Decree declares “a national state of
emergency and … establishes the entire territory of the Republic as a security
zone.” Article two makes
provisions for the “total mobilization under the terms of the National
Security Law and for the requisitions necessary, pursuant to law, as well as the
use of the public forces, in order to reestablish the conditions required for
the normal conduct of the activities of citizens.”
The third article suspends the rights established in Article 23(12)
(inviolability of domicile), 14 (freedom of movement), and 19 (freedom of
association and assembly) of the Constitution.
56. In a
letter dated January 6, 2000 forwarded by the Minister of Foreign Affairs to the
Secretary General of the OAS, providing notification of the state of emergency,
it was stated that “this measure is prompted by the serious internal upheaval
caused by the economic crisis in the country.”
January 11, 2000, Executive Decree No. 1682 was issued and published in the
Supplement to Official Register No. 360 of Thursday, January 13, which amended
Decree No. 1674 by replacing the second Article with the following:
“provisions are made for a total national mobilization under the terms and
with all the consequences established by the National Security Law, the
requisitions necessary pursuant to law, and the use of the public forces, under
a single military command, in order to reestablish the conditions required for
the normal conduct of the activities of citizens. To that end, all the powers
conferred by the National Security Law shall be exercised.”
This amendment expanded the former decree and provided for the use of the
Armed Forces to deal with the protests.
58. Based on
the information received by the Commission on January 7, 2000 from CEDHU, after
the declaration of the state of emergency, the security forces detained more
than 22 persons in different cities of the country, many of whom were students
who were on the streets participating in the protests.
This report does not include the names of the persons detained or details
on how or where these detentions took place.
January 31, 2000, President Noboa issued an Executive Decree extending the state
of emergency in Guayas. According
to CEDHU reports, this decree and the one declaring the national state of
emergency were issued without meeting the conditions set forth in Article 27 of
the American Convention. The
compatibility between the declaration of the state of emergency in January 2000
and the American Convention on Human Rights will be analyzed below.
Analysis of the state of emergency declared in January 2000
Constitution of Ecuador vests the President with the authority to declare a
national state of emergency and to exercise specific powers.
Pursuant to Article 180 of the Ecuadorian Constitution, "The
President of the Republic shall declare a state of emergency in all or part of
the nation’s territory in the event of imminent external aggression,
international war, serious internal disturbances, or natural disasters.”
Moreover, the President shall notify the Congress of this declaration
within 48 hours of issuance of the decree.
The Congress may, “if the circumstances so warrant,” revoke the
decree at any time.
the obvious emergency situation existing in Ecuador, the State was not and is
not relieved of its obligations. In
ratifying the American Convention, the State assumes different obligations
regarding the declaration of a state of emergency.
In that regard, it establishes special standards for emergency situations
such as those faced by Ecuador. With
regard to the requirements for the declaration of a state of emergency , the
Inter-American Court has indicated the following with regards to a legal
analysis of Article 27 of the Convention:
Article 27 of the American Convention, the State may adopt only measures that
have the effect of suspending the guarantees enshrined in the Convention “in
time of war, public danger, or other emergency that threatens its independence
or security.” The measures
adopted as a result of the declaration of a state of emergency must fulfill the
requirements related to reasonableness, proportionality, time limits, and the
circumstances required by Article 27 of the Convention.
The suspension of certain guarantees established in the Convention should
be exceptional in nature and be ordered for the reasons specifically set forth
suspension of the guarantees enshrined in the Convention during a state of
emergency may take place only if the strict conditions set forth in Article
27(1) are met. Furthermore, even
when these conditions are met, Article 27(2) stipulates that a certain category
of rights may never be suspended, regardless of how serious the situation may
27(1) provides for different situations and stipulates that the measures adopted
must be in keeping with the “exigencies of the situation.” The lawfulness of
the measures taken to deal with the different situations referred to in Article
27(1) will depend, according to the Court, on “the character, intensity,
pervasiveness, and particular context of the emergency and upon the
corresponding proportionality and reasonableness of the measures.”
In view of the fact that the Commission has not received any specific
report from any of the victims of these incidents, a more in-depth analysis of
the manner and the circumstances under which they occurred falls outside the
scope of its competence.
has a long history of declaring states of emergency in order to mitigate social
and economic problems, as well as crime. In
that regard, last year the Commission recommended to Ecuador that it refrain
from declaring a state of emergency to combat that type of problem.
Given the large number of states of emergency that were declared in 1999,
as well as the reasons for them, the Commission deems it necessary to reiterate
Commission is aware of the difficult economic situation facing Ecuador, the
social unrest this has created, and the seriousness of the crime rates in
certain areas of the country, including the province of Guayas. In this regard,
the State is obliged to take the steps necessary to guarantee the security of
the citizenry through mechanisms that observe the standards of respect for human
rights applicable in a democratic society. The Commission is of the opinion that
to reduce the social unrest caused by the economic situation and to fight crime
by the suspension of the guarantees declaring the state of emergency does not
comply with the American Convention’s guidelines as to when such declarations
are admissible. The State has--and is required to have--other mechanisms for
channeling social unrest and fighting crime that do not involve suspending the
population’s fundamental guarantees.
However, the declaration of the state of emergency in January 2000,
because of the inability of the Executive to face the economic crisis that led
to “internal unrest” is different. In
this case, the Executive was clearly confronting an emergency situation that was
undermining the democratic order and threatening the powers that comprise the
State. Therefore, the “internal
unrest” that gave rise to the declaration of a state of emergency led to a coup d’etat, by means of which President Mahuad, who was
constitutionally elected, was removed from office and replaced with the current
President, Gustavo Noboa. In that
regard, the Inter-American Court has stated that:
67. Based on
Article 27 of the Convention and the rules indicated by the Inter-American
Court, there is a basic prerequisite of respect for the system of
representative democracy and certain requirements for a State to have
grounds for declaring a state of emergency.
In this case, the President of Ecuador declared a state of emergency to
preserve a democratic government. The
use of the provisions of the Constitution by the Congress to justify the removal
of Mahuad shows that Congress respects the form of the Constitution without
respecting its substance.
regard to the prerequisite of respect for the system of representative
democracy, it should be pointed out that, pursuant to Article 3(d) of the Bogotá
Charter (1948), one of the fundamental principles governing the Organization of
American States is that member states organize themselves in accordance with the
principles of representative democracy. In
turn, the Convention reaffirms in its preamble that its goal is "to
consolidate in this Hemisphere, within the framework of democratic institutions,
a system of personal liberty and social justice based on respect for the
essential rights of man." In
that same spirit, Article 29 prohibits the interpretation of any of its
provisions as precluding “other rights or guarantees that are inherent in the
human personality or derived from representative democracy as a form of
government,” while Articles 15, 16, 22, and 32 also refer to democracy as a
prerequisite for the political organization of the states parties.
69. In both
instances where a state of emergency was declared (in the Province of Guayas and
throughout the country), both were extended despite the fact that the emergency
no longer existed. It is important
to point out that in both cases, provisions were made for the use of the law and
order forces to protect citizens. In
this regard, the Commission reiterates, based on its experience in the
Hemisphere, its concern over the use of the Armed Forces to perform functions
that are assigned to the civil police, in view of the fact that the Armed Forces
are trained to carry functions that are different from those that pertain to
controlling crime and protecting citizens.
In both cases also, the application of the National Security Law was
ordered, according to which the events that occurred during the state of
emergency and violate that law and those punished with imprisonment have to be
prosecuted under the military penal code.
As the Commission has already maintained, the trial of civilians in
military courts is incompatible with and in violation of Article 27 of the
Convention, since it involves a suspension of the “judicial guarantees
essential for the protection of such rights,” which, according to the
Convention, cannot be suspended.
71. The Commission has followed with concern the
serious institutional situation existing in Ecuador, characterized by the
confrontation between the Executive, on the one hand, and well- organized
indigenous groups that formed an alliance with one sector of the Armed Forces,
on the other, who tried to assert their rights by means of insurrection against
the democratically elected government.
The Commission urges the Ecuadorian authorities and their public
institutions to take all steps possible to ensure the complete enjoyment of the
rule of law. The Commission will
continue to monitor developments in Ecuador until a state of institutional
normalcy is restored, in the context of the strengthening of representative
democracy in the Hemisphere. To
that end, it will use all the powers conferred upon it as a principal organ of
the OAS, within the framework of the American Convention, its Statutes, and its
73. The solutions to the crisis must be found within the framework of legality and the rule of law, the ultimate expression of which is the Constitution, which forms the bedrock of the democratic system of government and confers legitimacy on all the authorities that exercise power in Ecuador. The Commission is available to provide its assistance in finding solutions to the crisis within the framework of the American Convention.
PROCESSSING OF THE REPORT
The draft report on the situation of human rights in Ecuador was approved
by the Commission during its 106º regular session.
It was sent to the State on March 10, 2000, pursuant to Article 63(h) of
the Commission´s Regulations, in order to allow for the submission of
observations within thirty days.
The Ecuadorean State failed to present observations within the time
On April 13, 2000, the Commission approved this report and its
publication within Chapter IV of the present Annual Report.
Report on the Human Rights Situation in Ecuador, OEA, Ser.L/V/II.96, Doc. 10
Rev. 1, April 24, 1997. This
report was based on an in loco
visit by the Commission in November 1994, and on information furnished
subsequently by government, non-governmental, and international
organizations and cooperation and technical assistance agencies.
Follow-Up Report on Compliance by the Republic of Ecuador with the
Recommendations Offered by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in
its 1997 Report on the Situation of Human Rights In Ecuador.
IACHR, Annual Report 1998, Vol. II, p. 1139.
See IACHR, 1997 Annual Report, p. 929.
This refers specifically to the declaration by the Government of
Ecuador of a state of emergency throughout the country on January 5, 2000,
as a means of curbing a series of popular protests and permitting government
forces to preserve law and order.
Idem, page 930.
Cf. Follow-up Report, op. cit. Vol. II, p.
“President Noboa states that a rejection of dollarization would be
tantamount to suicide for Ecuador,” CNN in Spanish, January 31, 2000.
Larry Rohter, “Banks in Ecuador Reopen after Week’s Closing, but Taxi
Strike Aggravates Tensions,” New
York Times, March 16, 1999.
Taxi drivers were protesting the hike in the price of a gallon of gas from
US$.89 to US$2.33.
CONAIE is a grouping of 11 organizations of the same number of indigenous
nationalities, to which 4 million of the 12.5 million persons living in
Ecuador belong. This
organization is structured like a pyramid.
At the head is its President, Antonio Vargas, Vice President Ricardo
Ulcuango, several secretaries, and representatives of every nationality
throughout the country. Since
1990, it has organized five uprisings in defense of its economic, social,
and ethnic rights. In June
1998, it forced Jamil Mahuad to freeze fuel prices and to form several
negotiating groups to address a variety of demands.
On February 7, 2000, the Government announced that on March 11, 2000, it
would lift the freeze on 92% of the deposits seized since 1999.
See N. 1, p. 20.
In correspondence of January 16, 2000, it was announced that: “the
National Parliament of Ecuadorian People, formed democratically with the
participation of 21 provincial parliaments, and numerous communal, cantonal,
and neighborhood parliaments, has directly assumed the exercise of national
sovereignty in order to save the Republic of Ecuador from national
dissolution precipitated by the decision of Jamil Mahuad to renounce
monetary sovereignty by announcing the replacement of the sucre,
our historical monetary unit, with the dollar.”
“The indigenous march towards Quito has begun.”
El Universo newspaper,
January 13, 2000.
In July 1999, CONAIE declared open war on the Government.
The indigenous uprising in July 1999 had its roots in Tungurahua,
where the indigenous peoples seized Pilis Hurco hill, the location of
Pacifictel transponders and the radio and television broadcast stations in
“4,000 indigenous people from Tungurahua.” El
Universo newspaper, January 13, 2000.
On January 15 of each year, by means of constitutional mandate, the
President is required to submit to the National Congress “… the report
on the execution of the Government’s plan, human development indicators,
the general situation in the Republic, the objectives sought by the
government in the year ahead, the actions to be taken to achieve those
objectives, and the financial statement pertaining to his management …”
(Article 171.7 of the Constitution of Ecuador).
“The protests of the indigenous peoples of Ecuador is beginning.”
CNN in Spanish, January 15, 2000.
Call published on the Internet,
Equipo Nizkor, January 20,
“Army and indigenous people are ready …”
El Comercio Newspaper,
January 14, 2000.
“Petrol workers in Ecuador stage a strike.” CNN in Spanish, January 17,
Information provided by CEDHU on January 21, 2000 to the IACHR.
“Demonstrations by indigenous peoples lead to acts of violence,” AFP,
Quito, January 21, 2000.
Lucio Gutiérrez was the aide-de-camp of former President Abdalá Bucarám.
OEA/Ser.G CP/RES. 763 (1220/00), January 21, 2000.
“The resignation of General
Mendoza is breaking up the National Salvation Junta.” Equipo Nizkor, op. cit. 2/1/00.
“Indigenous mobilization is heightening political and social instability
in Ecuador,” Equipo Nizkor,
press summary, January 21-23, 2000.
Votes to declare that Mahuad had resigned his position and that Noboa should
succeed him numbered 87 to 1.
 “Chaos in Ecuador.”
Magazine, January 27, 2000.
“Mahuad rejects the call of the Armed Forces to resign,” CNN in Spanish, January 21, 2000.
OEA/Ser.G CP/RES. 764 (1221/00), January 26, 2000.
At the end of the 60-day period established in Article 182 of the
Constitution in March 1999, and again in May of that year, the Government
extended the state of emergency in the
Province of Guayas, and confirmed that the National Security Law was
in effect, constitutional rights had been suspended, and the Regional
Security Committee was operational.
The state of emergency imposed in March 1999 has already been analyzed by
the Commission. See IACHR, 1998
Annual Report, pp.1146 et seq.
By means of Executive Decree Nº 1674 of January 5, 2000.
As stipulated in Articles 180, 181, and 182 of the Constitution of Ecuador.
Article 182 of the Constitution of Ecuador.
According to the doctrine of the Commission, the requirements for declaring
a state of emergency are:
Necessity: Pursuant to Article 27 of the Convention, an extremely serious
situation must exist in the country if it is to be considered a true
emergency, such as war, public danger, or another emergency that threatens
the independence or security of the State party.
The Commission has stated that the measures related to a state of
emergency “can be justified only in the face of real threats to public
order or State Security).”
Duration: This requirement
refers to the duration of the suspension, which, as established in Article
27(1) of the Convention, should be only for the time period that is strictly
limited to the exigency of the situation.
The Commission has noted that it is even more serious to decree
states of emergency for indefinite or prolonged periods, particularly if it
concentrates a great deal of power in the hands of the Head of State,
including the withdrawal of the judiciary with respect to the measures
decreed by the Executive, which in certain instances can lead to the very
disappearance of the rule of law.
Proportionality: Article 27(1)
of the Convention states that suspension can take place only to the extent
strictly required by the exigencies of the situation.
This requirement refers to the prohibition to suspend unnecessarily
certain rights, impose restrictions greater than those necessary, and the
unwarranted suspension to areas unaffected by the emergency.
Non-discrimination: Pursuant to the provisions of Article 27(1) of the
Convention, in accordance with Articles 1 and 24, the suspension
of rights cannot involve discrimination against a person or group.
Compatibility with other international obligations: The suspension of specific rights must be compatible with the
other obligations established in other international instruments ratified by
Pursuant to Article 27(3) of the Convention, the declaration of a
state of emergency should be reported immediately to the other States
Parties to the Convention, through the Secretary General of the OAS.
Inter-American Court of Human Rights, “Habeas Corpus and the Suspension of
Guarantees” (Articles 27(2), 25(1), and 7(6) of the American Convention on
Human Rights). Advisory Opinion
OC-8/87, January 30, 1997, para. 19.
Idem, para. 22.
IACHR, Follow-up report, op. cit. No. 2, para. 44, p. 1148.
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights, “Habeas Corpus…” op. cit. n.
43, para 20.
Pursuant to Article 145 and 147 of the National Security Law.