Ecuador: Government must protect life and integrity of Ombudsman

Following repeated death threats received by the Ombudsman, Freddy Vinicio Carrión Intriago, the Ecuadorian government must guarantee his safety and that of his family, Amnesty International said today. In addition, it must ensure that the Ombudsman’s Office can carry out its work to protect and advocate for human rights with autonomy, independence and free from threats or intimidation. 

“Throughout the crisis in Ecuador in October 2019, the Ombudsman’s Office played a key role documenting human rights violations, protecting those affected, and providing independent information,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International.

“It is ironic that the human rights defenders and organizations that played a key role reporting human rights violations throughout the crisis are those who now find themselves at risk and without adequate protection. The case of the Ombudsman and Ombudsman’s Office is clear evidence of this situation. The Ecuadorian authorities must immediately take the measures necessary in order to guarantee his safety in light of the serious threats he faces.”

On 11 February, the Ombudsman’s Office released a public statement expressing its concern over the threats, unfounded allegations and politically motivated attacks received by the Ombudsman through traditional and social media. The institution claimed that these were a result of their work to document the human rights violations that took place in the context of the national strike in October 2019.

Throughout the crisis in Ecuador in October 2019, the Ombudsman’s Office played a key role documenting human rights violations, protecting those affected, and providing independent information
Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International

The statement highlights that the Ombudsman filed a complaint over the threats, to which Amnesty International had access, with the Attorney General’s Office on 6 February in which the Ombudsman requests that “measures be implemented to guarantee his safety and that of his family.”

Despite this, seven days later on 13 February at around midday, while the Ombudsman was in Guayaquil, the security guard in the residential complex where the Ombudsman lives in Quito with his family received a call saying that there was a bomb in the Ombudsman’s home.

The Ombudsman told a media outlet today that the threats were “essentially due to [the fact that] the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) report was published establishing that the Ecuadorian state is responsible for excessive use of force” in the context of the national strike in October.

On 14 January the IACHR presented its observations from its visit to Ecuador, in which it urged the authorities to promptly and comprehensively investigate all reports of violence and establish the appropriate penalties, both in terms of reports of excessive use of force by police officers and security forces and also of incidents of attacks and looting by a proportion of the population.

In an open letter published today, the Ombudsman stated that in addition to the personal attacks he has received the Ombudsman’s office has suffered a series of attacks in an attempt to affect the credibility of the institution, along with administrative obstacles attempting to undermine the effective realization of its work.

The response from the Ecuadorian government to the Commission’s report has been to reject any accusation of excessive use of force. On 20 January, President Lenín Moreno said in a message to the public that the protests were the result of “an organized terrorist attack” and he denied any use of lethal weapons by the police, and claimed that no member of the Armed Forces had fired “even one bullet”.

Furthermore, on 24 January, the Ministry of External Affairs and Human Mobility issued a statement rejecting the observations of the IACHR, saying that they are biased and lack objectivity. The Ministry described the human rights violations committed by the state throughout October as “isolated incidents…that are still under investigation”.

It is ironic that the human rights defenders and organizations that played a key role reporting human rights violations throughout the crisis are those who now find themselves at risk and without adequate protection. The case of the Ombudsman and Ombudsman’s Office is clear evidence of this situation
Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International

Finally, Interior Minister María Paula Romo, General Commander of the Police Nelson Villegas, and Inspector General Patricio Carrillo stated that the police “never used lethal force”. The report was also rejected by other government officials.

On 11 October, through immediate verification of audiovisual evidence, Amnesty International confirmed five cases that illustrate the excessive use of force by security forces. In these cases, police officers knocked down, beat or threw tear gas at individuals, some of them journalists, in an unnecessary and disproportionate manner, injuring them and violating international human rights standards.

Amnesty International calls on the Ecuadorian government to provide the Ombudsman and his family with immediate protection in order to safeguard their lives and physical integrity. The authorities must immediately, impartially and independently investigate the threats received by the Ombudsman; bring those suspected of criminal responsibility to justice and guarantee that the Ombudsman’s office be free from threats and political pressure in order to continue its important and legitimate work in a free and safe environment. 

For more information or to arrange an interview, contact Duncan Tucker: duncan.tucker@amnesty.org