Ecuador’s new president must move quickly to ensure respect for human rights, Human Rights Watch said today.

Yesterday, Ecuador’s Congress voted by a majority of 60 of its 100 members to dismiss President Lucio Gutiérrez from office. The vice president, Alfredo Palacio, was sworn in as interim president. Gutiérrez was reported to be in the Brazilian embassy in the Ecuadorian capital Quito and to have been granted asylum in Brazil. He is the third Ecuadorian president to be ousted in the last eight years.

“The transitional authorities must do everything in their power to restore public confidence in the rule of law, and get Ecuador’s democratic institutions working,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch.

On April 19 and 20, at least two people were reported killed in Quito during street demonstrations against Gutiérrez, which were met by police using large amounts of tear gas. The demonstrators included senior citizens, women and children. The Red Cross reported treating more than 200 people for acute respiratory distress caused by tear gas.

Others were reportedly hurt during violent clashes between government opponents and supporters of Gutiérrez, who were reportedly bused in from rural areas by the government.

Human Rights Watch called on the new authorities to ensure that the security forces act with restraint in dealing with demonstrations and to avoid the use of excessive force. The government should also conduct a thorough and impartial investigation into the circumstances of the deaths reported during the protests of April 19 and 20.

A 58-year-old Chilean news photographer, Julio García, died of cardiac arrest, reportedly from the effects of tear gas. A woman was reported to have died of serious head injuries after falling from a bus into the street and being run over by a military vehicle.

A group of about 100 protesters reportedly forced their way into the building where the Congress is temporarily housed, beat and threatened some members of Congress and demanded that all the Congress resign. Protesters also later occupied the airport tarmac to prevent Gutiérrez from leaving the country.

Public confidence in the rule of law in Ecuador was severely shaken on December 8 when Gutiérrez and his congressional allies dismissed 27 of the Supreme Court’s 31 justices, and replaced them with their own political allies. Facing mounting protests, on April 15 Gutiérrez fired the entire Supreme Court and declared a state of emergency.

The Organization of American States' Permanent Council met today and is due to reconvene tomorrow (April 22) to discuss the situation in Ecuador.

“Protection of human rights depends crucially on the rule of law and the checks and balances of democratic rule,” said Vivanco. “The Organization of American States must offer every support to help Ecuador strengthen the functioning of its democratic institutions as quickly as possible.”