A new report on Ecuador’s judiciary published by three civil society groups in the region is making waves in the South American country.
The report, “Judicial Independence in Ecuador's Judicial Reform Process” (Spanish, .pdf file), was authored by Peruvian jurist Luis Pasara. It was released this week by the Washington-based Due Process of Law Foundation, Colombia’s Dejusticia, and the Legal Defense Institute (IDL) of Peru. It takes an in-depth look at the effect of judicial reforms in Ecuador, which were ratified by a 2011 national referendum.
Pasara focuses on twelve recent cases in which opponents of President Rafael Correa; indigenous, environmental and student activists; and opposition journalists have been found guilty of disproportionate charges including defamation, sabotage, disturbing public order and even terrorism. Some of these, like the libel case against the directors of El Universo, were reported in international media and are relatively high-profile. Others, like the August 2013 conviction of three indigenous community leaders of “organized terrorism” following a 2009 anti-mining protest in which protesters clashed with police and one individual was killed, are less well-known outside Ecuador.
On top of the politicization apparent in these rulings, the researcher also points to evidence that judges who do not conform to the Correa administration’s preferences have been sacked. When the 2011 reforms were approved, they paved way for the creation of a new Judicial Council tasked with appointing judges and overseeing disciplinary proceedings in the court system. Based on a sample of 42 such disciplinary cases, the report determines that most of them involved allegations that judges committed “inexcusable errors” in their decisions.
In effect, Pasara argues, this amounted to removal of judges not because they applied laws incorrectly, but simply because the Judicial Council disagreed with their decisions.
The report’s publication was picked up by local (see El Comercio, La Hora) and international (Colombia’s El Espectador, Spain’s El Pais) press. El Pais also follows up on it today with a critical look at the selection process for Supreme Court justices in the country, noting concerns that a shift from lifetime appointments to nine-year terms could pave the way for undue executive influence on the court.
Pasara's findings have also struck a nerve in Ecuador. As El Comercio reports, yesterday Supreme Court Chief Justice Carlos Ramirez released a statement claiming that Pasara's selection of sample cases was biased, and responded to “political-media criteria” rather than judicial principles. According to El Universo, Judicial Council President Gustavo Jalkh has lashed out at the report as well, accusing its sponsors of having hidden motives.
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