IACHR Condemns Violence Inside Ecuadorian Prisons, Which Has Claimed the Lives of More than 100 Inmates in 2021 So Far

August 23, 2021

Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemns the violence inside various Ecuadorian State penitentiary facilities that has claimed the lives of at least 121 inmates so far this year. The Commission urges the State to take immediate, effective measures to protect the rights to life and personal integrity of all individuals in State custody, as well as to prevent further violence. 

According to public reports, since January 2021, several clashes among inmates who belonged to rival groups have left at least 121 inmates dead and scores of people injured, including several prison officers. There has been violence at the penitentiary facilities Azuay 1, Cotopaxi 1, Guayas 1, Guayas 4, Manabí 4, and Ríos 2. The most recent incidents happened on August 12 and 22. On August 12, according to official reports, clashes at the Ríos 2 penitentiary left six people dead and three injured, with gunshot wounds. According to publicly available reports, alerts were issued for the police and the armed forces to head to these facilities to deal with clashes. On August 22, according to data issued by Ecuador's penitentiary system, violence at the Guayas 1 facility led to the death of one inmate. The actions of special units of the National Police and the penitentiary system prevented further clashes, the latter said. 

The Inter-American Commission warns with concern that these deaths happened in a context of persistent violence inside Ecuador's penitentiary facilities. In a statement issued on July 22, the IACHR condemned the violent events that left 21 people dead and 57 injured (including several prison officers) at the penitentiary facilities Guayas 1 and Cotopaxi 1. In an earlier statement issued on April 29, the IACHR had already condemned outbreaks of violence at Guayas 1, which had left 5 people dead and 15 injured. In a statement issued on February 26, The Commission had addressed the violence that had taken place at the penitentiary facilities Azuay 1, Cotopaxi 1, Guayas 1, and Guayas 4, which claimed the lives of at least 79 inmates. 

The IACHR notes the different measures taken by the State in response to the crisis in Ecuador's penitentiaries. According to official data, Ecuador's penitentiary system created a Special Penitentiary Action Group on April 17. On July 28, in Resolution SNAI-SNAI-2021-0038-R, the director general of the penitentiary system declared a 60-day state of emergency in the national social rehabilitation system. The Ecuadorian penitentiary system said that monitoring raids were conducted on August 14–15 at various facilities around the country. The head of the penitentiary system met with the Ecuadorian National Assembly's Committee on Sovereignty, Integration, and Comprehensive Security on August 17, to discuss the situation in the country's social rehabilitation system and the measures that had been adopted. On August 18, the head of the penitentiary system told a press conference that new measures included adapting and reassigning infrastructure within penitentiary facilities. 

In this context, in compliance with the IACHR's Principles and Best Practices on the Protection of Persons Deprived of Liberty in the Americas, the IACHR stresses that States have an inescapable duty to take concrete, immediate action to protect the rights to life and personal integrity of individuals who are deprived of liberty. Given this obligation, the Ecuadorian State must take effective action to prevent and control violence within penitentiaries. The required measures include adopting protocols to prevent riots and to restore security; increasing staff with security and internal surveillance tasks; enforcing effective control to keep weapons and other illegal objects out of penitentiary facilities; and preventing the actions of criminal organizations present inside prisons. States also have a duty to protect the safety and personal integrity of all the staff active inside detention facilities.

The Commission stresses that States have an obligation to investigate on their own initiative and with due diligence all violence within detention facilities and, in particular, 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. 

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. 218/21

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