Concerned for judicial independence in Ecuador, UN legal expert seeks early visit

18 February 2005

Citing urgent concerns over judicial independence in Ecuador after a move by Congress to replace 27 of the 31 Supreme Court judges with magistrates of its own choosing and the resignation of the court’s president, a top United Nations legal expert today called on the Government to let him to visit much sooner than it had wanted.

In a statement in Geneva, the Special Rapporteur of the UN Commission on Human Rights on the independence of judges and lawyers, Leandro Despouy, said the Government had suggested the first week of May, due to reasons of availability, in response to the request he made on 1 February to visit the country next week.

“Considering the gravity of the situation and recent developments, the Special Rapporteur has made it known to the Government his interest in undertaking a visit at an earlier date and is currently taking steps towards that goal,” the statement added.

Mr. Despouy noted that the Congressional move appeared to constitute “grave interference by the executive and legislative into the judicial sphere and hence a violation of the independence of the judiciary,” a principle recognized by the country’s constitution and an essential requirement of the rule of law and of democracy, guaranteed also by international instruments to which Ecuador is a party.

“The crisis has worsened since, with the resignation of the President of the Supreme Court, Ramón Rodríguez, over his disagreement concerning the nomination of the members of the National Council of the Judiciary, a body which exercises such essential functions as the establishment of a shortlist of three candidates from which the Congress must choose the country’s Chief Prosecutor,” he said.

“These urgent concerns are of significant magnitude and could affect, in an irreversible way, the independence of the judiciary in Ecuador,” he added.

The proposed visit is intended to provide an opportunity to assess the situation on the ground and to then convey to the Human Rights Commission accurate information on the issues.

In another human rights development, Yakin Ertürk, Special UN Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, will begin on Sunday a weeklong visit to Mexico to gather first-hand information on the question of violence against women in the country.

She will meet with representatives of the Government, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and human rights workers, as well as UN officials, visiting several cities including Ciudad Juarez in Chihuahua State, where the human rights NGO Amnesty International USA reports that over 370 women have been murdered, at least 137 of them after being sexually assaulted, since 1993.


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