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Human Rights Developments

      Compared to many other Latin American countries, Ecuador is rarely the focus of scrutiny for its human rights practices. Rodrigo Borja Cevallos, who assumed the presidency in 1988, has expressed strong verbal support for human rights, and his government has granted domestic rights monitors significant access. Nonetheless, human rights abuses continue to be frequent, persistent and serious in this Andean nation.

      The most systematic problem is torture and other physical mistreatment of common criminal suspects by agents of the National Police Criminal Investigative Service (SIC). In September 1991, an international commission investigating the January 1988 disappearance of two young brothers reported that torture and physical mistreatment are a routine aspect of SIC operations.44 This finding confirmed long-standing allegations by local human rights organizations.

      Until recently, the government had failed to explain the disappearance of the two brothers, Pedro Andrés and Carlos Santiago Restrepo Arismendi, ages fourteen and seventeen. They were last seen in public in Quito on January 8, 1988, when they left home in their parents' vehicle to see a friend off at the airport. Andrés Vallejo, former minister of government and police under President Borja, was censured in October 1990 by a majority of the National Congress for "having failed to act upon or take decisions that would have led to clarifying the arbitrary arrest, torture and disappearance of" the two minors.45

      After several failed attempts by Ecuadoran and international investigators to clarify the facts of the case, on July 13, 1990, President Borja created a Special (International) Investigative Commission, comprised of six individuals: Dr. Toine van Dongen, as representative of the United Nations; Dr. Gustavo Medina de López, attorney general of Ecuador; Dr. Apolinar Díaz Callejas, a former government official in Colombia and the founder of the Colombian Committee for the Defense of Human Rights; Dr. Juan de Dios Parra, secretary general of the Latin American Association of Human Rights; Dr. Isabel Robalino of the Ecuadoran Episcopal Conference; and Dr. Guillermo Arismendi Díaz, an uncle of the disappeared boys, representing the family.

      On September 2, 1991, the commission released its conclusions: the Restrepo brothers disappeared at the hands of members of the National Police; the police were negligent in their efforts to investigate the case and some officers were involved in a cover-up; and although the bodies of the boys have not been found, they are dead. Central to the commission's findings was the testimony of former SIC agent Hugo Efraín España Torres, who revealed that the boys were tortured by SIC officials and that he collaborated in dumping their bodies in Lake Yambo, near Quito, during the night of January 11-12, 1988.

      España has reportedly been in provisional detention since September 4, 1991. Also detained in connection with the case are: Guillermo Llerena, a former SIC agent; General Gilberto Molina, who retired from his post as general commander of the National Police on August 16, 1991; and Colonels Trajano Barrionuevo and Gustavo Gallegos, Captain Marcelo Valenzuela and Sub-Lieutenant Doris Morán, all of the police. In October 1991, Dr. Walter Guerrero, president of the Supreme Court, ruled that the case should be tried in civilian court. Human rights monitors in Ecuador believe that General Molina is likely to exercise his right under the Ecuadoran Constitution to be tried in a police court.

      The Restrepo case is of historic significance in Ecuador. In addition to determining that SIC officials were responsible for the death of the two boys, the commission found that torture, arbitrary detention, and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment are systematic SIC practices.46 On the same day that the commission released its findings, President Borja abolished the SIC. Never before has the Ecuadoran government even implicitly acknowledged the institutionalized nature of human rights abuses committed by SIC agents or taken such a dramatic measure to curb abuses. Nor have so many officials or officials of such a high level been detained in Ecuador in connection with a human rights case. The case has lent unprecedented recognition and legitimacy to the cause of human rights in Ecuador. The resulting pressure of public opinion makes it likely that the case will be prosecuted vigorously.

      The armed forces also violate fundamental rights in Ecuador, though less frequently than the police. They have been implicated in cases of torture, homicide, illegal detention and physical mistreatment of common criminals and indigenous activists.

      Rural violence also remains a serious problem in Ecuador. Rural land conflicts occur in large numbers in the eastern coastal and central mountain regions, and are the predominant context within which rural violence occurs. Although Americas Watch takes no position on who has the right to land ownership in these disputes, we are profoundly concerned about the violent consequences of these conflicts, the consistent failure of the state to punish those responsible for acts of violence, and the repression directed at the Ecuadoran indigenous movement.

      In June 1990, the indigenous population in the Sierra participated in a three-day massive protest over land and other socioeconomic and cultural issues. A few months later, several landowners in the Sierra hired groups of armed men from the coastal province of Esmeraldas, ostensibly to serve as "security guards" for their rural property. Many of these men are former members of the armed forces; they dress in military uniforms and reportedly carry firearms issued only to the armed forces.47

      Abuses related to land conflicts are frequently committed during evictions by landowners and their "security guards," often in the presence of National Police officials. Beatings of indigenous community leaders and members are common, as are the burning of their homes and the destruction and theft of their property. From time to time, police and military officials play a direct role in evictions. "Guards" have also entered indigenous communities adjacent to the property they are protecting and subjected inhabitants to threats, theft, violence and destruction.

      Two indigenous activists were killed in 1991. Julio Cabascango, human rights officer of the Indigenous and Peasant Federation of Imbabura (FICI), was knifed to death in the community of Huaycopungo, province of Imbabura, on March 31. Members of the community allege that the assailant was a hired guard from the neighboring hacienda. According to the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, Virgilio Ganzino was shot to death on September 21 by landowner Washington Albán. The killing took place in the community of Churo Lozán, the province of Cotopaxi, while Ganzino was on his way to a meeting about a local bilingual education program.

      Minister of Government and Police César Verduga told Americas Watch in a July 14 interview that the armed guards fill a gap in a country which has 15,000 police officials but requires 45,000. Verduga indicated that at no time has the government contemplated the dismantling of such groups. On the contrary, he intends to "control their existence" with government regulations requiring them to function as employees of a legally constituted security company, to submit curricula vitae to the government, and to use specified firearms and uniforms.

      What is missing, in our view, is a commitment by the government to end the impunity exercised by some landowners and their guards for violent abuses against peasants. Americas Watch is concerned that the government is tolerating, rather than punishing, the abuses committed by landowners and their hired guards. We are aware of no cases in which landowners or their guards have been convicted for the violence regularly committed against peasants or indigenous activists.

      Repression against the indigenous population has also taken the form of illegal detention (without warrant and not during the commission of a crime) and arrest based on false charges levied by landowners against community members and leaders. This problem reflects the level of influence landowners enjoy at a local level over the police and judiciary. Indigenous detainees have on several occasions been subject to torture or other physical mistreatment.

The Right to Monitor

      The government does not significantly impede the right to monitor human rights in Ecuador, and government officials display a cordial and open attitude toward prominent human rights activists. Since 1988, a nationwide network of human rights organizations has begun to take root. Investigations by international human rights organizations are allowed, and in July 1991, Americas Watch enjoyed access to high-level government officials during the course of an investigation.

U.S. Policy

      The United States and Ecuador collaborate on a number of anti-narcotics measures. In fiscal year 1991, the State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics Matters (INM) provided $1.5 million for anti-narcotics equipment and training by U.S. personnel for the Ecuadoran Army, National Police and Military Customs Police. According to an INM trainer interviewed by Americas Watch, training in Ecuador is related strictly to law enforcement techniques and does not address human rights. According to the Pentagon, Ecuador received $800,000 in International Military Education and Training funds in fiscal year 1991. In addition, Ecuador received approximately $14 million in development assistance from the U.S. Agency for International Development. Unlike past years, Ecuador did not receive Economic Support Funds in 1991. Several U.S. officials attributed this change to Ecuador's low priority for the United States and limitations in State Department resources.

      Ecuador enjoys a favorable trade relationship with the United States. In the first six months of 1991, ninety-four percent of Ecuador's imports to the United States were eligible for reduced tariffs under the Generalized System of Preferences, up from eighty-six percent in 1990. Ecuador is also in line to receive trade benefits under the Andean Trade Preference Act if the legislation is passed by the U.S. Congress.

      Despite these economic and military links to Ecuador, the Bush Administration was conspicuously silent on human rights abuses in Ecuador in 1991. State Department officials claimed that human rights concerns are raised as part of the regular dialogue with Ecuadoran officials, but declined to provide a single example of when that had occurred.

      The Ecumenical Commission for the Defense of Human Rights, in Quito, reported that although they are contacted each year by the U.S. Embassy's human rights officer, the bulk of the information they provide is excluded from the chapter on Ecuador in the State Department's annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. While the report on 1990, published in February 1991, made reference to pervasive discrimination against the indigenous population, it gave almost no information about rural violence or repression of the indigenous movement. Furthermore, while the report made blanket statements about the persistence of arbitrary detention, torture and other mistreatment of common criminals, the statements were bland and excluded cases that would have effectively illustrated the gravity of the abuses.

The Work of Americas Watch

      In July, Americas Watch sent a researcher to Ecuador to assess the overall human rights situation and to investigate rural violence related to land conflicts and the indigenous population. The representative interviewed leaders of indigenous organizations, victims of abuses and local human rights monitors, and met with government officials, members of the Ecuadoran Congress and representatives of the U.S. Embassy. She also visited several indigenous communities where violent evictions had taken place.

"Informe Restrepo: Arrancados del Hogar," supplement to Hoy (Quito), September 4, 1991, p.5.

Andean Newsletter, November 12, 1990.

"Informe Restrepo: Arrancados del Hogar," p.5.

Eduardo Tamayo, "Chronicle of a Reported Death," Punto de Vista, as reported in Foreign Broadcast Information Service, May 31, 1991, page 35.

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