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Ecuador Table of Contents


Standards of Police Conduct

Although Ecuadorian police authorities had no tradition of massive or systematic human rights violations, public attention focused on police conduct during the latter part of the 1980s. Evidence was presented of torture and abuse of prisoners in the hands of the police and, in some cases, the military. A number of official and private organizations--including the Tribunal of Constitutional Guarantees (Tribunal de Garantías Constitucionales-- TGC), the Special Commission on Human Rights of the Ecuadorian National Congress, and the Ecumenical Commission of Human Rights (Comisión Ecuménica de Derechos Humanos--CEDHU)--recorded and investigated human rights complaints.

According to CEDHU, the police frequently subjected detainees suspected of political infractions to violence in efforts to extract confessions and information. Common-crime suspects also suffered torture or maltreatment, especially in rural areas. CEDHU reported sixty-nine cases of torture and eighty-nine cases of brutality in 1987 and a further twenty cases of torture during the first half of 1988. CEDHU believed that police abuse was more widespread than these statistics indicated since many cases went unreported. In 1985 and 1986, five persons arrested by the police or the military disappeared and were believed to have died in custody. No disappearances had been recorded since 1986. According to CEDHU, forty persons in 1986 and thirty-four in 1987 died while in police custody. Many of these, including several of the ten AVC leaders killed by the police, were believed to have been victims of extrajudicial executions.

The United States Department of State's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1987 noted that, although mistreatment of detainees was not officially sanctioned, the government of Febres Cordero made no clear statement condemning the use of excessive force, nor were penal actions taken against police or military personnel believed to have taken part in deaths, disappearances, or torture. Upon taking office in August 1988, the Borja administration stated its unequivocal opposition to official use of abusive measures. The Department of State reported that, although some police abuse--including torture--occurred after Borja's inauguration, human rights groups hoped that over time the new president's promises of respect for human rights would have an impact on police behavior.

The TGC, an autonomous body, is empowered under the 1979 Constitution to investigate breaches of constitutional or human rights. Although the TGC had little real power to enforce its rulings, it focused public attention on human rights issues by hearing complaints of human rights activists and calling upon government officials to respond to questions (see The Judiciary , ch. 4).

Charges against members of the police were reviewed by special police courts under a three-tiered system consisting of tribunals, district courts, and the National Court of Police Justice. Although the courts were ostensibly independent, some observers called into question their impartiality, especially inasmuch as most police judges were active or retired police officers. According to a survey by two human rights groups, Americas Watch and the Andean Commission of Jurists, the number of cases involving wrongful homicide and torture was inexplicably small in relation to the number of complaints against the police in the 1984-86 period. Apparently none of the trials had resulted in convictions; all were either still pending or had been dismissed.

Data as of 1989