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UN independent expert finds “astonishingly high rates of impunity for killings in Ecuador”

QUITO (15 July 2010) – The level of impunity for killings in Ecuador is astonishingly high, according to the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, Philip Alston*. “The number of murders carried out by hired killers, criminal gangs and others is rising steadily, but at the same time fewer and fewer are being caught,” he said. “Because of this vicious circle of impunity, Ecuadoreans feel increasingly insecure”.

“Hired killers are paid as little as US$20 to ‘solve’ a problem, but they can confidently expect to get away with murder because the criminal justice system functions so badly,” Mr. Alston said. “It consists of a police service that all too rarely undertakes serious and sustained investigations of killings, a prosecution service which seems more concerned with public relations than with convicting major criminals, and a judicial system which is almost universally condemned for its inefficiency and mismanagement. These problems are compounded by allegations of corruption at most levels.”

Mr. Alston was delivering his preliminary findings on a ten-day fact-finding mission to Ecuador, undertaken at the invitation of the Government. He applauded the Government of President Rafael Correa for many far-reaching reforms in the constitutional and human rights areas. He noted, however, that the homicide rate in Ecuador has doubled since 1990 – to 20 killings per 100,000 inhabitants. In some areas, the rate is 5 times higher.

The UN independent expert also expressed concern about the situation along the northern border with Colombia. “The conflict in Colombia has increasingly spilled over to Ecuador and civilians are trapped between the FARC, ex-paramilitaries, drug-traffickers, and the Colombian and Ecuadorean armed forces,” he said. “Citizens are forced to cooperate with one armed group; and then abused and killed by a competing group for doing so. The Ecuadorean military is not well equipped to deal with the situation, and as its relations with citizens have soured, its reliance on abusive tactics to obtain information has increased.”

“The level of impunity for all types of killings in Ecuador is shocking. For every 100 killings, only one perpetrator is actually convicted. In addition to the shortcomings of the police investigative process, it seems that the police often don’t bother to pursue an investigation seriously once they have decided that the killing was part of a ‘settling of accounts’, defined as inter-gang or other criminal violence,” he said.

“This category seems largely designed to provide a justification for the police not to bother too much with investigating a large proportion of the killings that take place, while reassuring the public that those involved were essentially just crooks,” the Special Rapporteur noted. “The analysis is often wrong, but more importantly it leaves killers free to murder again, and prevents the capture of organized criminal groups. It also creates an easy cover for police who are themselves implicated in killings.”

In Mr. Alston’s assessment, the recently published report of Ecuador’s Truth Commission is an important step towards accountability for many past killings. He called on the Government to ensure that the cases documented by the Commission are now the subject of effective criminal investigations and that the family members of victims are provided with appropriate forms of compensation.

The human rights expert also noted that he had been presented with no evidence that indigenous justice had led to extrajudicial executions and stressed that it was entirely inappropriate to confuse mob lynching with indigenous justice.

The Special Rapporteur’s final report on Ecuador will be public later in the year.

Philip Alston, appointed Special Rapporteur in 2004, reports to the UN Human Rights Council and the General Assembly. His experience in the human rights field includes eight years as Chairperson of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, principal legal adviser to UNICEF in the drafting of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and Special Adviser to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. He is John Norton Pomeroy Professor of Law at New York University School of Law.

Check the Special Rapporteur’s full statement: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/executions/index.htm

OHCHR Country page – Ecuador: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/LACRegion/Pages/ECIndex.aspx