IACHR Condemns Deaths of 79 Inmates in Ecuadorian Prisons

February 26, 2021

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Washington, D.C.- The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemns the violence that left a total of at least 79 inmates dead in four incarceration facilities in the provinces of Azuay, Cotopaxi, and Guayas, in Ecuador. The Inter-American Commission urges the State to investigate the circumstances in which these events happened, and to identify and punish the people responsible for them. The Ecuadorian State must take all necessary measures to ensure that events of this kind do not happen again.

According to official reports, several clashes happened on February 23, 2021, among inmates belonging to rival gangs. These clashes happened simultaneously in social rehabilitation facility 1 in Azuay, social rehabilitation facility 1 in Cotopaxi, and social rehabilitation facilities 1 and 4 in Guayas. As noted by the head of the National Service for the Comprehensive Care of Adults Who Are Deprived of Liberty and of Adolescent Offenders (SNAI, by its Spanish acronym), the clashes started in the morning. As a consequence of these initial clashes, a high alert was issued for other incarceration facilities and around 800 police officers were deployed to brace security in penitentiary facilities, particularly those operated by the GEA Group. According to the SNAI, these actions prevented violence in other incarceration facilities.

According to official reports, during the night of February 24, police officers conducted a search where they seized banned objects including firearms (some of them homemade). Similarly, on February 25, the Interior Ministry asked provincial authorities to set up security committees, particularly in Azuay, Cotopaxi, and Guayas.

The IACHR notes that State authorities and officials of the Office of the Attorney General are investigating these events to establish what crimes may have been committed. The Commission stresses that States have an obligation to investigate on their own initiative and with due diligence all deaths of individuals while in State custody. These investigations must seek not only to establish who perpetrated the events, but also any masterminds and any authorities who might be to blame based on their actions or omissions.

The IACHR warns that, in a letter sent to Ecuador's President on February 23, the Ecuadorian Ombudsperson's Office said that violence within prisons has increased since 2018, with a gradual rise in the number of violent deaths. This is mainly due to a failure to adequately design, implement, and assess public policies targeting detainees.
The IACHR stresses the State of Ecuador's inescapable legal obligation—as the guarantor of the rights of all persons who are deprived of liberty—to take concrete action to protect the lives and personal integrity of these individuals. In the context of this obligation, the State must take measures to prevent and control potential outbreaks of violence in incarceration facilities, which include disarming inmates, imposing effective screening to prevent the introduction of weapons and other banned objects into prisons, investigating and punishing acts of violence in penitentiary facilities, and preventing the actions of criminal organizations present within prisons.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 044/21