"Ecuador should assure judicial independence"
Impeachment of hundreds of judges fogs up judicial reform

Washington, DC. January 24, 2014.-

The process of judicial reform in Ecuador has placed the judicial Independence of the country in doubt, said Human Rights Watch in a letter sent to Gustavo Jalkh, President of the Judicature Council.  Since 2011, the Judicature Council made up almost entirely of former officials of President Rafael Correa’s government have appointed and impeached hundreds of judges using seriously questionable methods.

“The Ecuadorean judicial reform promoted by the Government should have helped to contribute to the consolidation of judicial power and deepen its Independence”, observed Miguel Vivanco Human Rights Watch Director for the Americas. “Up until now the reform is going in the opposite direction”.

Correa’s government, on the basis of the referendum held in 2011 that supported constitutional reform, set in motion an ambitious judicial reform process destined to address chronic problems that affect the judicial power in Ecuador, such as corruption, inefficiency and political influence.

The current Judicature Council was inaugurated in January 2013.  Previously, the reform was in the hands of the Transitional Judicature Council.  The Transitional Council and later the Judicature Council appointed 1, 430 judges, suspended 273 and impeached 380 between July 2011, when the judicial reform began, and November 2013, according to official data provided by the Council itself.  During this time period, the total number of seated justices increased from 1,117 to 1,708.

In the majority of the impeachments, both Councils considered that the justices had violated an article of the Organic Code of Judicial Function that vaguely written, prohibits judges from committing “deceit, manifest negligence or inexcusable error”.

However, according to international judicial standards, the judges could only be suspended or impeached from their posts “for incapacity or behavior prevents them from carrying out their duties”.  The Special Rapporteur of the UN regarding the Independence of judges and attorneys has indicated in particular that judges should not be removed from their posts due to errors in their decisions.

In 2012, the Transitional Judicature Council appointed a total of the 21 members to the highest court in Ecuador, the National Court of Justice, as well as their alternates, using a mechanism that lacked objectivity and the transparency demanded by international standards relating to judicial Independence.  All of those judges are still on the bench.

The Government gathered an international group made up of members from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Guatemala, Mexico and Spain to supposedly evaluate the judicial reform process.  In its final report, issued in December 2012, the overseers invited by the government criticized the article that was invoked to remove judges, as well as, the selection for the members of the National Court of Justice.

The Judicature Council, in an important step in this process, has inaugurated more than 30 new buildings that house courtrooms and judicial offices in various regions of the country.  It has developed an electronic system to speed up the hearings of the judicial proceedings and has trained thousands of judicial employees.  According to official sources, the amount of judges for every 100,000 people has increased from 4.5 to 10 during this period.

Ecuador has ratified many conventions on human rights, - among them, the International Pact for Civil and Political Rights and the American Convention for Human Rights – that demand it preserve the independence and impartiality of its judicial power. The current reform process does not comply with such dispositions stated Human Rights Watch.

It is indispensable for justice and the state of law that the Judicature Council adopt measures to ensure that the Ecuadorean government comply with international standards of judicial independence stated Human Rights Watch.  Concretely, the Council should:

  • Implement the recommendations relative to the appointment and impeachment of judges formulated by the international overseers appointed by the government;
  • Work with the Ministry of Foreign Relations and Human Mobility to invite the Special Rapporteur of the UN on independence of judges and attorneys to visit Ecuador and evaluate the situation of judicial independence in the country;
  • Improve the infrastructure of the edifices of the judicial system is without a doubt a necessary investment, but more important than building new courtrooms is to ensure the strength and independence of the institution itself”, expressed Vivanco.

Source: Human Rights Watch

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