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Ecuador’s Judiciary: A Decade of Decline

In March 2014, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York issued a judgment against Steven Donziger and his associates, finding the Ecuadorian judgment against Chevron the product of “egregious fraud”.

Ecuador political news

In March 2014, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York issued a judgment against Steven Donziger and his associates, finding the Ecuadorian judgment against Chevron the product of “egregious fraud”.

In addition to detailing the numerous fraudulent acts committed by Donziger and his team, the court also described the weakened state of the Ecuadorian judiciary, observing, “[A]t the time the Ecuadorian courts’ decisions in the Lago Agrio case were rendered, the judicial system was not fair or impartial and did not comport with the requirements of due process.”

Steven Donziger made repeated comments about the state of Ecuador’s courts and used judicial intimidation to execute his fraudulent scheme:

  • “They’re all [i.e., the Ecuadorian judges] corrupt! It’s—it’s their birthright to be corrupt.” (Source: Crude outtake)
  • “These judges are really not very bright – it is like a vocational job to them, they deal with resolving disputes at a very basic level[;] there is little or no intellectual component to the law.” (Source: Donziger notes)
  • “It’s incredible that a judge can – you can just walk in his office, with all the media, and it’s obvious what we’re doing, and he doesn’t have the power to say, ‘get the fuck out of my office,’ like at least to the press. I mean, I’ve never seen such utter weakness. It’s the same kind of weakness that leads to corruption.” (Source: Crude outtake)
  • “You know, what . . . just happened with this judge, um, is sort of sad to me because it represents the fact that the judicial system here is so utterly weak – like the only way you can secure a fair trial is if you do things like that, like go in and confront the judge with media around, and fight and yell and scream and make a scene, and, you know, that would never happen in the United States. That would never happen in any judicial system that had integrity. And it’s that very weakness that, you know, let people do that. That is also– lets people corrupt the process.” (Source: Crude outtake)
  • “[I]t’s a problem of institutional weakness in the judiciary, generally, and of this court, in particular. We have concluded that we need to do more, politically, to control the court, to pressure the court. We believe they make decisions based on who they fear the most, not based on what the laws should dictate…[I]t’s a critically important moment, because we want to send a message to the court that, ‘don’t fuck with us anymore – not now, and not – not later, and never.’” (Source: Crude outtake)
  • “You can solve anything with politics as long as the judges are intelligent enough to understand the politics. [T]hey don’t have to be intelligent enough to understand the law, just as long as they understand the politics.” (Source: Crude outtake)

The collapse in Ecuador’s judiciary has been well-documented by a variety of respected independent international organizations.

Here are some of their findings over the past decade:

The United Nations, the Organization of American State’s Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and the international legal community widely criticized former Ecuadorian President Lucio Gutierrez after he purged the Supreme Court, the Constitutional Court and The Electoral Court in 2004.

The Organization of American States issued a report in 2005 stating that Ecuador’s judiciary was “politicized” and “controlled” by other branches of government.

In 2007, Rafael Correa was elected President. At his inauguration, he stated, “The Judicial Branch depends on the Executive Branch. If I don’t give it money, it has no means to act…”

The Millennium Challenge Corporation ranked Ecuador in the sixth percentile for the rule of law in 2011—compared to 29th percentile in its 2006 report.

In January 2011, Correa called for a constitutional referendum “to get my hands on the justice system.”

In 2012, Freedom House, an independent watchdog organization dedicated to the expansion of freedom and democracy around the world, issued a report stating President Correa, “eliminated the legal barriers to a constitutional referendum, using questionable maneuvers to remove opposition legislators and members of the constitutional court.”

In 2013, the U.S. Department of State reported that Ecuador’s courts “may be susceptible to outside pressure and are perceived as corrupt, ineffective, and protective of those in power.”

Human Rights Watch also condemned Ecuador’s restrictive media law. The organization stated that “President Correa has long made it clear that he’s willing to go after anyone who criticizes him, from civil society leaders to media critics … [but] his abuse of power to suppress those he sees as his enemies has reached new and alarming heights.”

Freedom House also reported in 2014 that Ecuador is “racked by corruption. The weak judiciary and lack of investigative capacity in government oversight agencies contribute to an atmosphere of impunity.”

The U.S. Department of State also identified a presence of “corruption and denial of due process” within Ecuador’s judicial system. A UN Special Rapporteur stated that Ecuador has “a judicial system that virtually everyone condemns for its inefficiency and mismanagement.”

The World Justice Project’s 2015 Rule of Law Report ranked Ecuador 89th out of 102 countries in “civil justice”, 77th out of 102 countries in “criminal justice”, and 88th out of 102 on constraints on government powers. Overall, it ranked Ecuador 77th of 102 countries in overall rule of law experienced by its citizens on a daily basis, behind Russia and many of its South American neighbors.

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