Insecurity is a top concern for many Ecuadorians. The homicide rate had increased to nearly 16 per 100,000 citizens, as of October. In response to gang violence, the government in August declared the fourth state of emergency since October 2021.
Overcrowding and lack of state control in Ecuador’s prisons have enabled detained gang members to commit several massacres nationwide since 2021, killing around 400 detainees.
Anti-government protests in June highlighted longstanding structural problems impacting Indigenous communities and households in poverty. Demonstrators protested inadequate access to health care, education, and employment, and removal of fuel subsidies. Security forces responded with abuses at times, and violence by protesters—or infiltrators—erupted.
Weak rule of law, alleged corruption, lack of enforcement of Indigenous peoples’ rights, restrictions on access to abortion, and limited protection of children and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people remained serious concerns.
Prison Conditions and Killings
Poor prison conditions, including overcrowding, contributed to a string of gang-related mass killings. Between February 2021 and October 2022, nine massacres left approximately 400 detainees dead and dozens injured. Human Rights Watch documented insufficient steps to stop the killings, including an eight-hour delay before police entered a Guayaquil prison during a November 12, 2021, massacre.
As of August, nobody had been convicted for participating in any of the 2022 massacres.
Overcrowding appears to be rooted in excessive use of pretrial detention, harsh drug policies and delays in granting benefits. Prison guards are poorly trained and insufficient to contain violence.
In February, the government adopted a policy to improve prison conditions and detainees’ access to basic services. In April, it initiated a process to hire and train 1,400 guards.
In June, a commission of experts convened by the president to reform the prison system released its final report, concluding that Ecuador’s prisons are “punishment warehouses” rather than centers for rehabilitation.
Ecuador’s government has not kept accurate data on the number and identity of detainees. A census to collect socio-demographic information on the prison population started on August 22.
Use of Force by Security Forces
In Quito and Guayaquil, police responded to peaceful demonstrations commemorating International Women’s Day, March 8, with excessive force, including indiscriminate use of teargas and pepper spray.
During anti-government protests starting June 13, police responded several times with excessive force, shooting teargas canisters directly at demonstrators or close to areas sheltering children and injured people. Protests began peacefully but turned violent. Demonstrators blamed provocateurs for vandalism, looting, and blocking medical deliveries to hospitals. Six civilians and one member of the military died, and over 300 people suffered injuries, Ecuadorian human rights groups and media reported. In one case, the government confirmed a death by teargas canister impact.
On August 22, a law took effect prohibiting security forces from using excessive, arbitrary, or illegitimate force, and stressing that the use of force should follow principles of legality, necessity, proportionality, precaution, humanity, non-discrimination and accountability. The law allows use of lethal weapons only under threat of severe injury or death.
Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption Efforts
Democratic institutions damaged under former President Rafael Correa (2007-2017) remain fragile, amid allegations of corruption, interference in the appointment of authorities, and politically motivated removal of authorities prior to the end of their term. Several reforms improved the independence of key judicial institutions. But reports of trial delays, lack of due process and improper pressure on courts continued.
Rights of Indigenous Peoples
On June 30, officials and Indigenous leaders reached an agreement to stop the protests organized in response to authorities’ perceived unwillingness to address structural problems. Protesters’ demands included guaranteeing Indigenous peoples’ collective rights and access to health, education, and employment; lowering the prices of food and other essential goods; and repairing the social and environmental impacts of mining and oil extraction in Indigenous territories.
The 90-day dialogue between government and Indigenous groups to discuss the issues that prompted the protests concluded on October 14 with over 120 agreements.
Many Indigenous communities have long-opposed oil development in the Amazon. In January, the Heavy Crude Oil Pipeline ruptured, affecting areas of the Cayambe Coca National Park. Contaminated water reached dozens of Indigenous Kichwa communities. The company and government started a cleanup, and authorities began an investigation into the cause and environmental impact.
That same month, the Constitutional Court ruled Indigenous communities must be consulted on extractive projects that could affect their lands, and that only in exceptional circumstances can officials authorize projects without the community’s consent.
In September, the government declared a temporary moratorium on 15 extraction areas and said it will grant no further mining concessions until a law regulating consultation processes is approved.
At time of writing, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights was considering its first case on Indigenous communities in voluntary isolation. The Tagaeri and Taromenane ethnic groups sued Ecuador for harming their territories, natural resources, and way of life, and for failing to prevent violent deaths of community members. Ecuador has accepted partial responsibility, including for failing to investigate the deaths.
A Constitutional Court ruling in 2021 decriminalized abortion in rape cases, setting in motion an effort to amend legislation accordingly.
President Guillermo Lasso, in March, partially vetoed an abortion bill. Legislators accepted his proposed restrictions on access, including short deadlines, broad conscientious objection, and unreasonable requirements like first reporting rapes to authorities. The amended law entered into force in April.
The Constitutional Court provisionally suspended measures requiring raped girls to obtain a legal representative’s authorization for abortion. At time of writing, a final decision was pending.
Stigmatization, mistreatment, fear of criminal prosecution, and a narrow interpretation of the health exception to the general abortion ban remain barriers to access.
The Attorney General’s Office reported 53 femicides—murders of women deemed gender related—between January and August. Civil society organizations reported an increase in all killings of women compared to previous years; over 200 as of September.
On September 16, complying with an Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruling, Ecuador publicly recognized its responsibility for the disappearance of Luis Eduardo Guachalá Chimbo, a 23-year-old with a mental health condition. Guachalá disappeared from a hospital in 2004, and Ecuador did not fulfill its obligation to search for him, the court found. The ruling established standards on informed consent, legal capacity and supported decision making for people with disabilities.
Sexual violence is a longstanding problem in public and private schools. Nearly 30 percent of over 14,000 reports of sexual violence that Ecuador’s Ministry of Education registered between January 2014 and April 2022 happened in schools. Publicly reported cases probably represent only a fraction of cases. Many survivors face re-traumatization at school and barriers to accessing justice.
Human Rights Watch research found that Educa Contigo, an Education Ministry website launched during the Covid-19 pandemic, collected and transmitted children’s personal data to third-party companies, enabling them to track and target children for advertising purposes.
Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The National Assembly has yet to comply with Constitutional Court orders to revise civil marriage provisions to include same-sex couples; to allow self-determination in gender recognition procedures; to regulate assisted reproduction methods; and to allow same-sex couples to register children with their surnames.
The constitution discriminates against same-sex couples by excluding them from access to adoption.
Refugees, Asylum Seekers, and Migrants
From January to July 2022, Ecuador recognized 1,857 people as refugees. As of September, the country was sheltering more than 500,000 Venezuelan migrants and refugees. Most asylum seekers are Venezuelan.
President Lasso decreed a year-long regularization process for Venezuelans, starting September 1. Those with irregular status who entered through official border checkpoints before June 1 can receive temporary visas lasting two years, with an option to extend for a third.
Freedom of Expression
During June protests, the non-governmental organization Fundamedios documented physical and verbal attacks by, mainly, protesters against 114 journalists, 40 cameramen and 80 media outlets.
On October 3, the Constitutional Court ruled some provisions of a communications bill restricted the right to freedom of expression, partially agreeing with an August veto by Lasso. At time of writing, the bill has not entered into force.
Key International Actors and Foreign Policy
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) released a report, in March, describing longstanding government abandonment of the prison system. In May, a spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights reiterated deep alarm at recurring prison violence.
On June 9, Ecuador was elected as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council starting in January 2023.
On June 10, Ecuador signed the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection, committing to strengthening and expanding paths toward safe, legal migration and asylum.
During the June protests, the IACHR and its special rapporteur for freedom of expression expressed concern about attacks against journalists and violence. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed concern over security force violence against children, including indiscriminate use of tear gas.
Ecuador condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and human rights violations in Venezuela. After sham elections in Nicaragua, it did not send a delegation to Daniel Ortega’s inauguration.
Ecuador and five other countries in the region led the renewal, in October, of the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Venezuela.