GENEVA (6 December 2021) ̶ UN human rights experts* today called on Ecuador to take urgent action to prevent further loss of life in the country’s jails following a series of riots which have left more than 280 inmates dead and hundreds injured this year.
“We are appalled and gravely concerned by repeated riots that have resulted in the death of so many prisoners, and the clear risk of further incidents,” said the experts.
During the most recent outbreak of violence, on 12 November, at least 62 inmates were killed and 44 were injured at the Centre of Deprivation of Liberty Guayas Nr. 1 (El Litoral Penitentiary) near the coastal city of Guayaquil. This was the fourth deadly riot at the prison this year. A few days earlier, four inmates were shot and killed during clashes inside the wards. In September, El Litoral Penitentiary saw the deadliest riot ever recorded in Ecuador, with 118 inmates killed and more than 80 injured. In July, eight people had been killed during an uprising at the same prison and 13 in another. Nearly 80 other inmates were killed in incidents earlier in 2021.
“Prompt, independent and impartial investigations must be carried out to establish the circumstances of all of these deaths and, in case of violations, prosecute those responsible,” the experts said. “Urgent and effective measures must be put in place to stop further carnage.”
According to information received by the experts, specific concerns include severe overcrowding in detention facilities – largely as a result of a highly punitive “war on drugs” policy – budget cuts and lack of staff, including professionals trained in fields necessary for social rehabilitation. Availability of weapons, violence between rival criminal gangs and inadequate separation of inmates in prisons have further exacerbated problems at jails. In addition, the medico-legal investigations which followed resulted in confusing reports about the number of dead, which were first reported by the authorities as totalling 68 bodies and later 62 deceased inmates. This discrepancy is a source of additional suffering for the anguished relatives of the deceased.
“We remind the authorities that they have an obligation to protect the life and physical integrity of all individuals in detention,” said the experts. This includes the duty to investigate unlawful deaths to the highest standards, such as those enshrined by The Minnesota Protocol on the Investigation of Potentially Unlawful Death. “The failure to do so amounts to the arbitrary deprivation of life, torture and other ill-treatment for which the authorities are responsible.
“We note the Government has put the prison system under a state of emergency. However, we urge them to take concrete steps to relieve overcrowding, prevent the inmates’ access to weapons of any kind, and to promote the use of alternative measures to incarceration and to ensure strict adherence to the 2015 United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Mandela Rules).
“Human rights-based approaches must be at the centre of criminal and penitentiary management and reform.”
The experts have written to the Government to express their concerns.