Freedom in the World
In December 2015, Ecuador’s National Assembly, dominated by President Rafael Correa’s ruling Alianza PAIS, approved a series of constitutional amendments that included the removal of term limits for all elected officials, among other measures. The amendments drew national protests throughout the year.
The government has increasingly cracked down on social media and other internet activity, leading some online outlets to disable public comment sections out of fear of reprisal. International and domestic organizations condemned the politically motivated closure of the press watchdog Fundamedios in September; the decision was later reversed.
Political Rights: 24 / 40 [Key]
A. Electoral Process: 7 / 12
The 2008 constitution provides for a directly elected president. The unicameral, 137-seat National Assembly is elected for four-year terms, with 116 members elected in 24 provinces (each province elects at least two representatives and then one additional representative for every 200,000 inhabitants), 15 elected through nationwide proportional representation, and 6 in multimember constituencies representing Ecuadorians living abroad. The president has the authority to dissolve the legislature once in his term, which triggers new elections for both the assembly and the presidency. The assembly can likewise dismiss the president, though under more stringent rules. The president can veto individual line items in legislation. The election law requires that women account for 50 percent of party lists in national legislative elections.
In the 2013 presidential election, Correa won a second term with more than 57 percent of the vote in the first round, followed by Guillermo Lasso Mendoza of the Creating Opportunities Movement (CREO) with 22 percent. In concurrent legislative elections, Correa’s PAIS won an overwhelming 100 of the 137 seats. CREO took only 11 seats; the Social Christian Party won 6; Patriotic Society, Avanza, and the Pachakutik Plurinational Unity Movement won 5 each; and five smaller factions took 1 seat each. Following a 2008 constitutional mandate calling for a significant female presence in public office, women won 53 of 137 assembly seats in the 2013 elections.
International observers said the elections were generally free and fair. According to the Organization of American States (OAS), the environment for political competition among candidates was more equal than in previous elections due to new regulations imposed during the campaign period. The OAS noted, however, that competition between candidates in the precampaign period remained unregulated, giving an advantage to the incumbent. Prior to the elections, the Correa administration promoted changes to the parliament’s seat-allocation formula that favored larger parties, which critics warned would benefit PAIS.
In 2014, the Constitutional Court announced that it would permit a legislative vote—as opposed to a referendum—on constitutional reforms proposed by the government, including the removal of the two-term limit for the presidency laid out in the 2008 constitution. Despite opposition calls to submit the proposals to a popular vote, the package only required two legislative discussions separated by 12 months. In December 2014, a majority in the National Assembly approved 15 constitutional amendments, including lowering the minimum age for running for the presidency to 30 years, limiting the subjects on which citizens and local governments could request a referendum, and ending term limits for elected officials. The removal of term limits included a provision restricting current officials who had already served two terms, including Correa, from running again in 2017, though they would be eligible again starting in 2021. The opposition and several civil society groups condemned the amendments.
B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 11 / 16
For decades, Ecuador’s political parties have been largely personality based, clientelist, and fragile. Correa’s PAIS alliance remains by far the largest in the legislature. Other parties include CREO, the Social Christian Party, and the Patriotic Society Party.
The 2008 constitution mandated that political organizations register as a requirement for eligibility in the 2013 general elections, although the process drew controversy. In preparation for the 2014 local elections, the registry of local organizations expanded. As of 2015, a total of 144 political organizations were legally recognized—10 at the national level and 134 at the local level.
Ecuador’s constitution promotes nondiscrimination and provides for the adoption of affirmative action measures to guarantee equality and representation of minorities. In practice, however, indigenous groups often lack a voice in key decisions pertaining to their land and resources. The Pachakutik movement is loosely affiliated with the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities (CONAIE), the leading national organization representing indigenous groups.
C. Functioning of Government: 6 / 12
Ecuador has long been racked by corruption, and the weak judiciary and lack of investigative capacity in government oversight agencies contribute to an environment of impunity. Investigations into alleged corruption fall under the jurisdiction of the government’s Office of Transparency and Social Control (FTCS), created under the 2008 constitution. In 2013, the agency launched a national plan aimed at eradicating corruption by 2017. The FTCS investigated 21 cases of corruption in 2015, though the budget for investigating such cases decreased by about 50 percent. In July, a corruption scandal involving the nation’s police force resulted in the resignation of police commander Fausto Tamayo. In November, PAIS assembly member María Esperanza Galván was sentenced to three years in prison for eliciting bribes from government contractors.
Ecuador was ranked 107 out of 168 countries and territories surveyed in Transparency International’s 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Civil Liberties: 35/ 60
D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 12 / 16
Ecuador remained a hostile environment for freedom of expression in 2015. The press watchdog Fundamedios reported 377 cases of verbal, physical, or legal harassment against journalists during the year. Correa continued to use national broadcasts to castigate opposition leaders. The government also made use of its unlimited access to public service airtime to interrupt news programming on privately owned stations for the purpose of discrediting journalists.
After suing Correa for his response to a 2010 police revolt, opposition assembly member Cléver Jiménez and journalist Fernando Villavicencio were convicted of defamation in 2013 and received a reduced sentence of 12 months in 2014. They remained in hiding until changes to Ecuador’s penal code allowed their convictions to expire in March 2015.
Ecuador’s controversial Organic Law on Communications, approved by the National Assembly in 2013, has faced strong criticism from international press freedom groups and human rights commissions for overly broad restrictions on the media. Among other provisions, the legislation created powerful regulatory bodies with little independence from the executive, placed excessive controls on journalistic content, and imposed onerous obligations on journalists and media outlets, such as barring reporters from working unless they hold degrees from accredited institutions. The law also employs vague language that could be used to censor critical reporting, prohibiting “media lynching” and “character assassination.” The former extends to investigative reporting, while the latter covers the dissemination of any information that could undermine the prestige of an individual or institution. The Constitutional Court upheld the law in 2014, rejecting a challenge by opposition politicians and civil society groups. According to Fundamedios, 161 sanctions to journalists and media outlets have been issued under the law. Separately, the independent daily El Universo has been subject to a series of fines, most recently in June 2015, when the media regulator ordered it to pay $350,000 for refusing to publish the full response of the Ministry of Communications to an article that had appeared in the newspaper.
A new criminal code approved in 2013 contains potential restrictions on freedom of expression, including provisions penalizing the propagation of information that could erode equality, the unauthorized dissemination of personal information, the publication of false news that could affect the economy, and the defense of someone sentenced for a crime. The new code also retained existing libel and terrorism clauses. The constitutional reform package approved in December included a provision to make communications a “public service,” which gives the government broad regulatory powers over the media.
Critical content published online has been subject to increasing pressure from the government in recent years. The government has employed private firm Ares Rights to force the removal of YouTube videos and Twitter messages that are critical of the government on grounds of copyright infringement. In 2015, Twitter suspended the accounts of several government critics without explanation, including opposition assembly member Lourdes Tibán. In February, the website Crudo Ecuador, which had been critical of the government, closed after its administrator reportedly received death threats. In August, journalist Martín Pallares was fired from El Comercio for violating the newspaper’s policies by criticizing the government on Twitter.
Freedom of religion is constitutionally guaranteed and is generally respected in practice. Academic freedom is likewise unrestricted. Crackdowns on social media have led some online outlets to disable sections for public commentary for fear of reprisal. The government has also hired private firms for the monitoring of online content, and figures in the government have sued individuals for remarks made on social media, limiting free private discussion online.
E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 7 / 12
Numerous protests occur throughout the country without incident, including widespread protests over the 2015 constitutional amendments. However, national security legislation that predates the Correa administration provides a broad definition of sabotage and terrorism, extending to acts against persons and property by unarmed individuals. The use of such charges against protesters has increased under Correa. According to Human Rights Watch, delays in the appeals process of sabotage and terrorism cases are likely the result of political pressure.
Weeks of national protests in August over indigenous rights left more than 100 injured, including civilians and police personnel. Human Rights Watch condemned the police use of excessive force and arbitrary detentions in response to the protests.
While the right to organize civic groups and unions is provided for by law, domestic and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have come under increasing government scrutiny and regulation. A 2013 presidential decree, codified in August 2015, introduced onerous requirements for forming an NGO, granted officials broad authority to dissolve organizations, and obliged NGOs to register all members. Critics contended that the decree violated international standards, and activists challenged its constitutionality in Ecuadorian courts. The government closed Fundamedios on September 8, 2015, after invoking the decree in January 2014 to seize control of the media watchdog. After strong international and domestic pressure, the decision was reversed on September 25, though the government ordered Fundamedios to stop interfering in political issues.
A 2011 presidential decree used broad language to limit the scope of foreign-sponsored NGOs, forbidding activities “incompatible with public security and peace,” among other things. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) left Ecuador in 2013 after the government denied it permission to renew existing programs or begin new activities.
Private-sector labor unions have the right to strike, though the labor code limits public-sector strikes. The December 2015 constitutional amendments limit public sector collective bargaining. There are more labor unions in the public than in the private sector. It is estimated that only a small portion of the general workforce is unionized, partly because many people work in the informal sector. Under the 2013 criminal code, public servants who “impede, suspend, or obstruct the execution of a law or regulation” may face sentences of one to three years in prison.
F. Rule of Law: 6 / 16
As established under a 2011 reform, Ecuador’s highest-ranking judicial bodies are the 21-member National Court of Justice and the nine-member Constitutional Court. Opposition members and foreign experts expressed concern about the pronounced lack of transparency in the appointment process for the National Court of Justice, and the Constitutional Court has likewise faced criticism because members of the selection committee are closely aligned with the government. The system used by the Council of Popular Participation to vet candidates for the attorney general, appointed in 2011, was similarly criticized for its lack of transparency.
Judicial processes remain slow, with many inmates reaching the time limit for pretrial detention while their cases are still under investigation. Overcrowding plagues the prison system, and torture and ill-treatment of detainees and prisoners are widespread. The 2013 criminal code introduced more restrictive rules on pretrial detention, penalties for specific crimes such as hired killings, and tougher sentences for existing offenses. The government maintains strict visitation protocols for inmates’ families.
Indigenous people continue to suffer discrimination at many levels of society. In the Amazon region, indigenous groups have attempted to win a share of oil revenues and a voice in decisions on natural resources and development. The government, however, has steadfastly refused the claims of indigenous inhabitants, maintaining that development of protected land is a matter of national interest. Those who continue to campaign against the government often face harassment or violence. In August 2015, amid a nationwide protest against the government, indigenous leaders Salvador Quishpe and Carlos Pérez were imprisoned while demonstrating in downtown Quito and subsequently released. Pérez’s partner, Brazilian journalist Manuela Picq, had to leave the country after the government canceled her visa on the grounds that she had violated its terms by participating in the protest. Critics denounced the move as politically motivated.
Ecuador is the largest recipient of refugees in Latin America. A 2015 report by the UN Refugee Agency asserted that Ecuador needed to better uphold the right of asylum and to fight discrimination against refugees.
The government has shown some responsiveness in upholding the rights of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people. The constitution includes the right to decide one’s sexual orientation, and discrimination based on sexual orientation is prohibited by law. Nevertheless, LGBT individuals continue to face discriminatory treatment.
G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 10 / 16
Freedom of movement outside and inside the country is largely unrestricted. Individuals can determine their place and type of employment. There has been some controversy over entrance to public institutions of higher education since the government introduced a nationwide examination and reorganized admission procedures.
Citizens have the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue influence by nonstate actors. While there may be delays due to red tape, Ecuador’s business environment is close to the regional average, according to the World Bank’s 2016 Doing Business report. A 2011 referendum, followed by an antimonopoly law, prevents asset holders in private financial institutions or private companies in the communications sector from simultaneously holding stakes outside each of these sectors.
Employment discrimination is common. The government has taken steps to protect women’s rights through public campaigns and legal measures. The 2013 criminal code included femicide as a crime carrying penalties of up to 26 years in prison, and sexual harassment is punished with up to two years in prison. Since the code went into effect, the number of reported family violence cases rose significantly, registering a high of 3,748 from August 10 to December 31 of 2014 according to the Prosecutor’s Office. The National Institute for Statistics and Censuses 2011 Survey on Gender Violence reported that 6 out of every 10 women have suffered from some form of gender violence; one in four of those has been subjected to sexual violence, though the most prevalent form of gender violence is psychological. The constitution does not provide for same-sex marriage, but civil unions are recognized. Impoverished, indigenous, and Afro-Ecuadorians as well as Colombian migrants are the most vulnerable to sex trafficking and forced labor in Ecuador.
X = Score Received
Y = Best Possible Score
Z = Change from Previous Year