An independent United Nations human rights expert has urged the Government of Ecuador to tackle the high level of impunity for killings in the South American nation, which is compounded by allegations of corruption at many levels.
“The level of impunity for all types of killings in Ecuador is shocking. For every 100 killings, only one perpetrator is actually convicted,” Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, said as he presented his preliminary findings after a 10-day visit to the country.
“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.”
While he applauded the Government for many reforms in the constitutional and human rights areas, he noted that the homicide rate in Ecuador has doubled since 1990 to 20 killings per 100,000 inhabitants. In some areas, the rate is five times higher.
“Hired killers are paid as little as $20 to ‘solve’ a problem, but they can confidently expect to get away with murder because the criminal justice system functions so badly,” he 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,” Mr. Alston stated, adding that these problems are compounded by allegations of corruption at most levels.
The expert, who reports in an independent and unpaid capacity to the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council, also voiced concern about the situation along Ecuador’s northern border with Colombia.
“The conflict in Colombia has increasingly spilled over to Ecuador and civilians are trapped between the FARC [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia], 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,” he noted, adding that the Ecuadorean military is not well equipped to deal with the situation, since its relations with citizens have soured and it increasingly relies on abusive tactics to obtain information.
Mr. Alston said the recently published report of Ecuador’s Truth Commission is an important step towards accountability for many past killings, and called on the Government to ensure that the cases documented by the Commission are investigated and that the family members of victims are provided compensation.
The expert’s final report on Ecuador will be made public later this year.