In December 2015, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) issued a statement on the floor of the United States Senate declaring, in part, that, “Ecuador is a country where judicial independence is seriously compromised. I have spoken about this several times, and it has been well documented by the Department of State, the United Nations, and human rights organizations. It is also illustrated by the fact that the Council of the Judiciary, with the power to appoint and remove judges, is comprised of five former officials of the Correa administration.”
The handling of the fraudulent lawsuit against Chevron in Ecuador is a prime example of the lack of the country’s judicial independence and the government’s control over the outcome of high-profile cases. In 2014, a U.S. federal court agreed, stating, “In sum, this court finds that Ecuador, at no time relevant to this case, provided impartial tribunals or procedures compatible with due process of law.”
Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa’s shameful record on rule of law, corruption, human rights and press freedom has been well-documented by a variety of independent observers and global organizations. Here are just a few:
Rule of Law:
- Human Rights Watch: Human Rights Watch wrote in 2015: “The administration of President Rafael Correa has expanded state control over media and civil society and abused its power to harass, intimidate, and punish critics. […] Abuses against protesters, including arbitrary arrests, have not been adequately investigated. Other continuing concerns include limited judicial independence, poor prison conditions, and the limited access women and girls enjoy to reproductive health care…”
- Due Process of Law Foundation: In a 2014 report on Ecuador, the Due Process of Law Foundation stated that “there’s a tendency for the executive branch to interfere with the decisions of judges in matters of political interest.” This political interference “seriously weakens the separation of powers and the checks and balances that define a democratic system.”
- World Justice Project: The World Justice Project gave Ecuador a global ranking of 77 out of 102 countries in its 2015 Rule of Law Index, placing it between the African countries of Côte d’Ivoire (76) and Burkina Faso (78).
- U.S. Department of State: In 2014, the U.S. Department of State said in a report on Ecuador that “[the] main human rights abuses were lack of independence in the judicial sector; restrictions on freedom of speech, press, and association; and corruption. The communications law, enacted in 2013, continued to restrict journalists. […].” Other human rights abuses included “excessive force and isolated unlawful killings by security forces; prison overcrowding; arbitrary arrest and detention; and delays and denial of due process,” among others.
- Transparency International: Transparency International’s Corruption Transparency Index, which scores countries on how corrupt their public sector appear to be, ranks Ecuador 107th out of 168 countries – behind Egypt and Mexico and tied with Côte d’Ivoire.
- Committee to Protect Journalists: In 2015, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported that Ecuador “has one of the worst press freedom records in Latin America, with journalists subject to legal measures, defamation suits, and public insults.” It warned that local press freedom watchdog Fundamedios was in danger of closing after government charges that it “became a political organization critical of Correa.” Moreover, “authorities’ attempts to amend the constitution to categorize communications as a ‘public service’ are seen as another attempt to censor news and control information,” the CPJ said.
- Reporters Without Borders: The organization ranks Ecuador 108th out of 180 countries on its 2015 World Press Freedom Index. On its website it reports that “Government control of the media has increased steadily since Rafael Correa became president in 2006. Correa does not hesitate to personally and publicly criticize media outlets. Dismissal or defamation suits are the sanctions to which journalists are most often exposed.”
- Inter-American Press Association: In 2015, the Inter American Press Association passed a resolution stating, “2015 has become the most violent year for journalism, with attacks on media outlets and journalists exceeding the numbers seen in previous years”and that “the primary aggressors include the State, government agencies and, in particular, the Ecuadorian president himself.”
- Heritage Foundation: In the Heritage Foundation’s 2016 Index of Economic Freedom, the country ranks 159th and falls into the “repressed” category alongside countries like Cuba and North Korea. The report points out that “economic freedom is at grave risk in Ecuador” as “the government’s reach has expanded beyond petroleum and mining, and a restrictive entrepreneurial environment has marginalized the private sector.” It is also highlights that “the judicial system remains vulnerable to political interference.”